‘GWTW’: unifier of the nation?

“For any young person ‘growing up Southern’ in the ’30s, ‘Gone with the Wind,’ the massive novel itself, had an impact far beyond its literary merits.

“My classmates at the then small women’s college of the University of North Carolina read it and talked to grandmothers and great-grandmothers who had lived through ‘Mr. Sherman’s visits’ and as youngsters saw his ‘calling cards,’ the blackened chimneys still standing along the 600 miles of Sherman’s track.

“And over at tiny Atlantic Christian College in eastern North Carolina, ‘Gone with the Wind’ was the only novel Ava Gardner ever read until she went to Hollywood and got ‘educated.’

” ‘Gone with the Wind’ meant that ‘we’ had won. We could begin to rejoin the Union, a process that took 30 years, and that we could even enter the 20th century….

“The universality of the book, as the country took first the novel, then the film to its heart, was attested to by a New England friend who said that even in school she had never really learned of the invasion and occupation of the South and its devastation until she had read and then reread ‘Gone with the Wind.’

“Because of its widespread appeal, ‘Gone with the Wind’ actually helped make us one country again. For me that is the ultimate importance.”

—Margaret Coit Elwell, author of “John C. Calhoun: American Portrait,” commenting in American Heritage (October 1992) 

W. J. Cash apologizes to Margaret Mitchell

On this day in 1941:  W.J. Cash writes Margaret Mitchell to explain a reference to her “Gone With the Wind” in his “The Mind of the South”:

“About that ‘sentimental’ crack: thinking it over, I have an idea that what inspired that carelessly thrown-off judgment was the feeling that your ‘good’ characters were shadowy.

“On reflection, I think the feeling may have proceeded less from themselves than from the fact that they were set beside that flamboyant wench, Scarlett. There were good women all over the place in the South, of course. But Scarlett is a female to go along with Becky Sharp [in “Vanity Fair”], wholly vivid and convincing. Beside her everybody else in the book, including even Butler, seems almost an abstraction.

“I hope you don’t mind my saying it; I know how stupid the judgments of others on his creation sometimes seem to a writer. Indeed, I am often madder at the critics who are trying to be kind than at those obviously out to do me dirt.”