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Friday, May 19, 2006

Scarlett’s 70th Birthday

Seventy years ago this week, on May 19, 1936, Margaret Mitchell published her classic novel about the Civil War, Gone With the Wind. The book would go on to win a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award. Three years later it would be turned into an Academy-award winning film with Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh as Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara.

The novel has been published in 40 different countries and spawned sequels such as Scarlett by Alexandria Ripley, published in 1991, and The Wind Done Gone by Alice Randall, which retold the story from the slaves’ viewpoint.

Mitchell insisted none of the characters were based on real people, but some researchers believe Rhett Butler is modeled on Mitchell’s first husband, Red Upshaw, who she married in 1922, but divorced several years later because he was a bootlegger.

Theodore Roosevelt’s mother, Martha Bullock Roosevelt, may have been a model for Scarlett’s physical beauty. Mitchell, who was a reporter for the Atlanta Constitution, apparently conducted an interview with one of the president’s mother’s friends, according to the author David McCullough, who wrote a biography of Teddy Roosevelt (Gone With the Wind -- Wikipedia).

Mitchell, who died at the age of 48 after being hit by a taxi, might have been surprised at the enduring popularity of novel. She apparently submitted it to the publisher only after she overheard a friend say “Imagine, Peggy writing a novel.”

What do you think makes a novel a classic? Are there any published in the last decade or two that will have the staying power of GWTW?

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