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Going With the Wind

A review of Margaret Mitchell's bestseller

Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images

I have to thank Miss Rosa Hutchinson of the Macmillan Company for a series of press releases that is more impressive than any published review of the season’s best seller:

June 19—Gone with the Wind, the forthcoming novel of the real South in the sixties and seventies, by Margaret Mitchell of Atlanta, is having a record-breaking advance sale. Already—two weeks before publication—this Macmillan novel has piled up the largest advance sale of any book of recent years. It is the choice of the Book of the Month Club for July.

Ellen Glasgow is enthusiastic about it. She writes: “The book is absorbing. It is a fearless portrayal, romantic yet not sentimental, of a lost tradition and a way of life. I hope it will be widely read and appreciated.”

June 29—A fifth large printing of Margaret Mitchell’s first novel, Gone with the Wind, has been ordered, although the book is just out this week. The book may be out of stock at Macmillan’s for a few days, but booksellers throughout the country will have copies available.

July 13—A sixth printing of Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell, making a total of 140,000 to date, is being rushed through the press and will be ready this week, so that all current orders can be taken care of.

July 15—Motion-picture rights in Margaret Mitchell’s novel, Gone with the Wind, have been sold to Selznick International Pictures, Inc. The price is believed to be the highest ever given for a first novel.

July 20—176,000 copies of Margaret Mitchell’s novel, Gone with the Wind, have now been printed by Macmillan in an attempt to cope with the steady inrush of orders. The demand for the book certainly reflects credit on the taste of the American reading public, for Gone with the Wind has been likened by various prominent critics to the work of Thackeray, Galsworthy, Tolstoy, Undset, Hardy, Trollope, and Dickens—and to The Three Musketeers.

July 23—What is believed to be a record in recent years has been established by Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind. Although it has been published only one month, printings already total 201,000 copies.

In the first three days of this week alone, Macmillan shipped out on booksellers’ reorders 16,468 copies.

July 24.—The Macmillan Company reports that orders booked yesterday for Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind totaled 10,753.

Early in August—Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell—nationwide best seller in fiction lists —has as one of its chief characters Melanie Wilkes. Miss Mitchell writes Macmillan’s that many people seem to be troubled as to the correct pronunciation of Melanie, some giving it the accent on the second syllable and with a long “a.” The correct pronunciation puts the accent on the first syllable.

Gone with the Wind is now going into its ninth printing, bringing the total number of copies to 236,000.

August 17—The sales department of The Macmillan Company is mathematically minded. It has figured out some interesting facts about Gone with the Wind, the best seller by Margaret Mitchell. It appears that if all the copies of Gone with the Wind that have been printed were piled on top of each other the stack would be 50 times as high as the Empire State Building in New York City. Or if the pages of all these copies were laid end to end they would encircle the world at the Equator two and two-thirds times.

Some forty-five tons of boards and 34,000 yards of cloth have been used in the physical make-up of these books, and the paper already used would fill 24 carloads. Two printing plants are working on the book in three eight-hour shifts, and two binderies are fastening the sheets together.

September 3—333,000 copies of Margaret Mitchell’s novel, Gone with the Wind, were printed to fill the demand up to August 30, two months after publication. Another large printing is now going through, which will bring the total up to 370,000.

September 8—The feelings of a lady who sailed for Europe last week were somewhat mixed when, among her bon-voyage packages, she found nine copies of Gone with the Wind.

That is the story to date of what promises to be the higgest publishing success since the good old days of The Sheik and If Winter Comes. Obviously Miss Mitchell’s first novel meets the specialized demands of the book-buying public (as distinguished from the larger and less prosperous public that borrows its books from the library). It is written from the woman’s point of view, and most book buyers are women. It flatters people who like to think of themselves as aristocrats, and this amiable weakness is more than usually common among the patrons of bookstores. Moreover, it is very long, and people who pay $3 for a novel like to think that they are getting their money’s worth, are getting entertainment that will carry them through the idle moments of a whole fortnight. But beyond all this, an essential reason for its popularity lies in the big yet comfortably familiar theme that Miss Mitchell has chosen.

Gone with the Wind is an encyclopedia of the plantation legend. Other novelists by the hundreds have helped to shape this legend, but each of them has presented only part of it. Miss Mitchell repeats it as a whole, with all its episodes and all its characters and all its stage settings—the big white-columned house sleeping under its trees among the cotton fields; the band of faithful retainers, including two that quaintly resemble Aunt Jemima and Old Black Joe; the white-haired massa bathing in mint juleps; the heroine with her seventeen-inch waist and the high-spirited twins who come courting her in the magnolia-colored moonlight, with the darkies singing under the hill—then the War between the States, sir, and the twins riding off on their fiery chargers, and the lovely ladies staying behind to nurse the wounded, and Sherman’s march (now the damyankees are looting the mansion and one of them threatens to violate its high-bred mistress, but she clutches the rusty trigger of an old horse pistol and it goes off bang in his ugly face)—then the black days of Reconstruction, the callousness of the Carpetbaggers, the scalawaggishness of the Scalawags, the knightliness of the Ku KIux Klansmen, who frighten Negroes away from the polls, thus making Georgia safe for democracy and virtuous womanhood and Our Gene Talmadge—it is all here, every last bale of cotton and bushel of moonlight, every last full measure of Southern female devotion working its lilywhite fingers uncomplainingly to the lilywhite bone.

But even though the legend is false in part and silly in part and vicious in its general effect on Southern life today, still it retains its appeal to fundamental emotions. Miss Mitchell lends new strength to the legend by telling it as if it had never been told before, and also by mixing a good share of realism with the romance. She writes with a splendid recklessness, blundering into big scenes that a more experienced novelist would hesitate to handle for fear of being compared unfavorably with Dickens or Dostoevsky. Miss Mitchell is afraid of no comparison and no emotion—she makes us weep at a deathbed (and really weep), exult at a sudden rescue and grit our teeth at the crimes of our relatives the damyankees. I would never, never say that she has written a great novel, but in the midst of triteness and sentimentality her book has a simple-minded courage that suggests the great novelists of the past. No wonder it is going like the wind.