Margaret Mitchell's Weak Moment

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Margaret Mitchell's WEAK MOMENT
by Alinka Zyrmont

The secret of Margaret Mitchell's success as the author of Gone With the Wind seems to be the excessive amount of research she did about the South. She had grown up listening to first-hand accounts of the Confederate veterans who had returned from the Civil War, when her grandfather sat her on his knee and told her all the horrible things he had experienced from the Yankee blood suckers! She later used this information to write one of the best-loved novels of all time, on par with War and Peace. Her book was published in about forty different languages and won the 1936 Pulitzer Prize.

She was extremely meticulous about documenting every minute detail of the Civil War and visited many Civil War cemeteries in Georgia, listening with particular attention to the different Black accents in the region. She was insistent when David O. Selznick, the producer of the movie, wanted white columns in front of Tara, that they should not be used, citing homes in Georgia simply did not have them. Her mother's family, the Fitzgeralds, owned a huge cotton farm and peach and apple orchards with a farmhouse she used as the blueprint for her imaginary Tara. The Fitzgerald farm, where Confederate and Union soldiers fought, was very dear to her heart and was the inspiration for her novel.

Her skills as a writer were honed working as a feature reporter for The Atlanta Journal. It was then that she toyed with her unnamed manuscript, and began banging away at her love story with a hunt and peck system of typing on an old manual typewriter making many typographical errors. She was a lousy typist but a voracious reader, leaving the library with dozens of history books under her arm.

It was not until her second marriage to John Marsh, a reporter for The Georgian and later an editor, that her manuscript began to take form. She had no intentions of publishing it, rather amusing herself with recording Civil War history for her family's entertainment. She stuffed the chapters in manila folders leaving them carelessly around her house on Peachtree Street which is now a museum, I visited her tiny apartment while attending the recent Romance Writers of America Conference in Atlanta.

John Marsh was instrumental in helping her develop this masterpiece, and without his educated eye as an editor, there is doubt that it would have ever been published. Some whisper he wrote a great part of this book although he always denied it. However, it is dedicated to him: "To J.R.M."

It seems there is a lot of Margaret Mitchell's personality in the character of Scarlett O'Hara. And Rhett Butler also appears to have been modeled after her first husband, Red Upshaw, a bootlegging scalawag.

Peggy Mitchell never had much belief in her talent as a writer. She felt she was just typing it for her own entertainment and would not let anyone look at her manuscript save John. It took her about ten years to finish her only novel. But it was her husband's editorial pen, fascination with her story and moral support, which ultimately got it published by Macmillan Company in 1936. She did not give it a title until the last moment.

Later, piracy problems surfaced with the foreign translations; and thanks in great part to her husband's relentless efforts and her brother's lawyering, we be grateful to them now for our present day foreign copyright protections. Margaret worried that her story could be vastly distorted by foreign translations, such as when the Danish publisher informed her that the name of her novel would be: BORTE MED BLAESTEN, (Blown Away With The Wind.)

Because the United States had not entered the treaty of the Berne Convention Agreement of 1886, they were dismayed to find out that her work could be pirated from serial publications without protection or royalties to her. John Marsh was plagued for years with publishing, copyright infringement and foreign copyright problems and lawsuits.

This petite, fascinating, attractive, funny, cat loving, and one-book author, died at the age of 48 when killed by a speeding car as she crossed the street a few blocks away from her home.

"In a weak moment I have written a book..." Margaret Mitchell Marsh