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Margaret Mitchell-Gone With the Wind Author
I subscribe to a number of email lists and one particular email caught my eye yesterday. It was from Daily Inspirations. Yesterday's quote was from Margaret Mitchell. I knew I recognized the name, but did not immediately know where from. I scrolled down to read the short biographical paragraph that always accompanies the quotes. The information given indicated that Margaret Mitchell was the author of "Gone With the Wind".
The thing that interested me the most in this short paragraph was the claim that "Gone With the Wind" was the only book she had ever written and that she had even had second thoughts about allowing a publisher to read it. I knew I had to know more about her.
I wanted to know more about her background and what inspired her to write. I also wanted to know why she had doubts about her book that caused her to hesitate showing it to the publisher.
Early Days of Margaret Mitchell
Margaret Mitchell was born on November 8, 1900 in Atlanta, Georgia. She was an imaginative young girl who was fascinated by the Civil War stories told to her by famiy members.
She attended private school but was not considered an exceptional student. Having trouble with her math classes, she came home to announce that she would not be returning to school. Her mother took her to an area of town where the plantations sat in ruin. She told Margaret that what had happened there could happen again and that it was a person's ability to think for themselves and their own hard work that would see them through times like that. Maragaret returned to school and actually went on to attend college.
The 1920s and the Apache Dance
Margaret Mitchell made her society debut in the early 20s. She was an opinionted woman who is said to have been intellectual, head-strong, and free-spirited. She scandalized Atlanta society by performing a provocative dance for the time, called an Apache Dance, with a male student from Georgia Tech. The Apache Dance is pronounced ah-POSH (not ah-PATCH-ee, like the Native America indians). It is a dance depicting violence between a woman and a man, presumably a sleazy prostitute and her pimp.
Margaret was snubbed and was not allowed back into the Junior League after this stunt.
Margaret, who often went by the nickname "Peggy", was said to have had a lot of men lining up for her attention. She fell in love and became engaged to Clifford Henry. He was fighting in France for the military in World War I when he was killed in action before they could be wed.
Margaret Mitchell later was being heavily courted by two gentlemen at the same time. She reportedly married the one who asked her first, bootlegger "Red" Upshaw. They divorced after about two years with her citing his violent and cruel treatment as the cause for the divorce.
While married to Upshaw she took a job at The Atlanta Journal Sunday magazine making $25 a week to supplement her husband's irregular income. During her time there she wrote over a 120 feature stories about Atlantic life.
The editor, and her mentor, at the magazine was John Marsh. He was the other gentleman that had been courting her at the same time as Upshaw and was the best man at their wedding. She and Marsh married about a year after her divorce to Upshaw. A couple of months after they married she quit her job due to some injuries from a horse-riding incident and began convalescing at home in their cramped one bedroom apartment she affectionately referred to as "The Dump".
The Writing Begins
While at home, recovering from these ankle injuries, she played around with writing some fiction, but for some reason was quite secretive about it. She did confide in her husband John and he encouraged her to continue writing. It is reported that she wrote several pieces that she destroyed. One, after only thirty pages and the other, a novella called Ropa Carmagin.
John would bring her books from the library and after she appeared to have read everything he could bring her, he told her she'd just have to write her own book if she was going to have anything further to read. When she asked him what she should write about he told her to "write what you know".
She begin typing chapters on a Remington portable typewriter and storing them all around her apartment in manila envelopes. Tall stacks were hidden everywhere. She was careful to keep the pages hidden from friends. She never felt her work was worthy of attention. However, a friend, Lois Cole, who was working at MacMillan Publishing had noticed the scattered bits of the book and arranged for her boss, Harold Latham, to meet Margaret.
Discovering Gone With the Wind
Even after meeting Harold Latham with some friends, she still vehemently denied the existence of her book. Once alone in the presense of her friends, she confided that she felt the book was "lousy" and she was ashamed of it. Though the accounts of what happened next vary a bit, it was evidently a remark that was made by one of her friends that irritated her enough to go home and get the book and present it to Mr. Latham. She told him, "here, take this before I change my mind." Later, she telegraphed him saying that she had changed her mind and requested to have the book back.
But, it was too late. Mr Latham had already read enough to know what he had was "of tremendous importance." What Mr. Latham had was a book that was missing the first chapter, other chapters were incomplete, and the main character's name was Pansy O'Hara, which Mr. Latham didn't care for.
Margaret Mitchell agreed to change the name of the main character to Scarlett and after months of edits and revisions, Gone With the Wind was published in 1936, ten years after she first started writing it.
The Phenomenon known as "Gone With the Wind"
Gone With the Wind was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in mid-1937. It has sold more copies than any other book, other than the Bible. It continues to sell over 200,000 copies each year.
The movie rights were sold for $50,000, the largest amount ever at it's time. The movie starred Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable. The movie premiered in Atlanta on December 15, 1939.
The publicity from the book and upcoming movie sent Margaret into a tailspin she wasn't prepared for. Many believe all the publicity is what kept her from writing any more novels.
A Tragic Ending
Margaret Mitchell was struck August 11, 1949 while crossing the intersection of Peachtree and 13th by an off-duty taxi driver. He claimed that she had stepped out into the roadway without looking. Her friends agreed that she often did that. She was taken to the Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta where she never regained consciousness and was pronounced dead five days later on August 16, 1949. She is buried in Oakland Cemetary in Atlanta.
For more information on Margaret Mitchell
- Gone With The Wind
The Official GONE WITH THE WIND Movie Website
- Apache Dance-Streetswings Dance History archives
Early 1900s.The Apache Dance originated in the Parisian lower classes. Basically, a domestic street fight between two men and a woman in the Montmart' section of the Paris underworld in front of a night club.
- Margaret Mitchell -- Britannica Online Encyclopedia
- Welcome To The Official Margaret Mitchell House Home Page
Information about Atlanta's Margaret Mitchell House and Gone With The Wind Museum