Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell

Second paragraph of third chapter:

She [Scarlett’s mother, Ellen O’Hara] would have been a strikingly beautiful woman had there been any glow in her eyes, any responsive warmth in her smile or any spontaneity in her voice that fell with gentle melody on the ears of her family and her servants. She spoke in the soft slurring voice of the coastal Georgian, liquid of vowels, kind to consonants and with the barest trace of French accent. It was a voice never raised in command to a servant or reproof to a child but a voice that was obeyed instantly at Tara, where her husband’s blustering and roaring were quietly disregarded.

Having watched the film, it took me ages to get through the book, which at 1056 pages is the longest I have read since A Suitable Boy. I can see why it was such a best-seller in its day (it tops the Publisher’s Weekly lists for both 1936 and 1937, and won the Pulitzer Prize); it’s a great story of a strong woman in adverse times, which is both very feminist and also thoroughly racist.

Although it’s so long, it wears its length much better than the film. The second half in particular, once the war is over, gels much more effectively plot-wise, with Scarlett becoming tougher and tougher to the point where she steals her sister’s lover, uses forced labour in her mills, and puts profit above reputation by cultivating the occupiers of Atlanta. The O’Hara family background is given more detail, explaining the oddity of an Irish Catholic immigrant who is also a slaveholder (he won the land in a poker game). There is a lot more about the politics of the time (while making clear Scarlett’s own rather limited interest in that side of things). The film jumps between the high points of the second half of the story (skipping only the scene where Tara is raided by Union troops, which perhaps was a bit much for general distribution); it might have been better to concentrate more on a smaller number of plot strands. A couple of really interesting characters in the book are omitted from the film, notably Will Benteen, the Confederate veteran who ends up managing Tara and marrying Scarlett’s sister Suellen.

The book’s treatment of race and slavery is much worse than the film’s. Slavery was a good system, especially for the house slaves, and the field hands were too stupid to deserve anything better. Silly Northerners take Uncle Tom’s cabin seriously. The Ku Klux Klan are heroic gentlemen who act only to restore order when the Northern occupiers fail (and Scarlett’s carelessness is anyway responsible for them killing people). The end of slavery means a nastier and less civilised society (as personified in Scarlett’s journey from Southern belle to hard-nosed entrepreneur); the old days are gone with the wind.

You can get it here.

1920s: Wings (1927-28) | The Broadway Melody (1928-29)
1930s: All Quiet on the Western Front (1929-30) | Cimarron (1930-31) | Grand Hotel (1931-32) | Cavalcade (1932-33) | It Happened One Night (1934) | Mutiny on the Bounty (1935, and books) | The Great Ziegfeld (1936) | The Life of Emile Zola (1937) | You Can’t Take It with You (1938) | Gone with the Wind (1939, and book)
1940s: Rebecca (1940) | How Green Was My Valley (1941) | Mrs. Miniver (1942) | Casablanca (1943) | Going My Way (1944) | The Lost Weekend (1945) | The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) | Gentleman’s Agreement (1947) | Hamlet (1948) | All the King’s Men (1949)
1950s: All About Eve (1950) | An American in Paris (1951) | The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) | From Here to Eternity (1953) | On The Waterfront (1954, and book) | Marty (1955) | Around the World in Eighty Days (1956) | The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) | Gigi (1958) | Ben-Hur (1959)
1960s: The Apartment (1960) | West Side Story (1961) | Lawrence of Arabia (1962) | Tom Jones (1963) | My Fair Lady (1964) | The Sound of Music (1965) | A Man for All Seasons (1966) | In the Heat of the Night (1967) | Oliver! (1968) | Midnight Cowboy (1969)
1970s: Patton (1970) | The French Connection (1971) | The Godfather (1972) | The Sting (1973) | The Godfather, Part II (1974) | One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) | Rocky (1976) | Annie Hall (1977) | The Deer Hunter (1978) | Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
1980s: Ordinary People (1980) | Chariots of Fire (1981) | Gandhi (1982) | Terms of Endearment (1983) | Amadeus (1984) | Out of Africa (1985) | Platoon (1986) | The Last Emperor (1987) | Rain Man (1988) | Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
1990s: Dances With Wolves (1990) | The Silence of the Lambs (1991) | Unforgiven (1992) | Schindler’s List (1993) | Forrest Gump (1994) | Braveheart (1995) | The English Patient (1996) | Titanic (1997) | Shakespeare in Love (1998) | American Beauty (1999)
21st century: Gladiator (2000) | A Beautiful Mind (2001) | Chicago (2002) | The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) | Million Dollar Baby (2004, and book) | Crash (2005) | The Departed (2006) | No Country for Old Men (2007) | Slumdog Millionaire (2008)