Day 5, Thursday, January 25, 2018
After the High Museum and lunch, I made my way over to the Margaret Mitchell Museum; if you don’t recognize the name, she wrote Gone with the Wind. She was an affluent, very intelligent and ambitious woman who started writing the book as a distraction as she was recovering from a broken leg.
My guide at the museum was excellent; he was a graduate student studying Mitchell for his thesis. I was all alone on my tour (fortunately I got there right after the big bus tour departed), and we had some pretty interesting conversations about Mitchell and the book. He encouraged me to think about Scarlett O’Hara, and imagine her coming of age in the flapper era, which of course, was exactly when Mitchell was writing the book.
Scarlett and Margaret Mitchell were both women ahead of their time, of course you know about Scarlett’s story, but Mitchell divorced an alcoholic, abusive husband at a time when divorce was uncommon, and later married her ex-husband’s friend (the best man at her first wedding). She worked as a journalist, but actually talked her way into the job with no experience.
Mitchell’s second husband was a business manager, so she wasn’t really very affected by the Great Depression, which was occurring during the time as well. The guide and I talked about the fact that Mitchell’s grandfathers were Civil War officers for the Confederacy, so of course her view of the Old South, the war, and slavery were deeply shaped by the stories that she heard growing up. Gone with the Wind is one of the books that is often considered for book ban lists, but it is important to learn about all perspectives on history, not just the one that is politically correct now. Despite your viewpoint, it was a pivotal novel of the time and remains so today.
Interesting, the guide and museum exhibits shared that the US military took copies of Gone with the Wind over to Japan after the defeat of Japan in World War II. They thought that the story would resonate with the Japanese people – rising up from the ashes and overcoming obstacles to rebuild your life. They suspected (and were right), that if he could give the Japanese people something to connect with, they would be more likely to maintain the motivation to overcome their hardships and rebuild their lives. Gone with the Wind is extremely popular to this day with the Japanese market – and the bus tour I mentioned earlier was filled with Japanese tourists! I never knew that! A quick internet search couldn’t corroborate this story, so who knows, but it seems plausible, given the popularity of the novel in Japan.
Mitchell’s writing process was interesting – she wrote the chapters of the book out of order and then stashed them all over the house in manila envelopes. She stuffed envelopes in drawers, under couch cushions, and sometimes lost them. She started her book at the end.
The tour takes place in the apartment that Mitchell lived in after marrying her second husband. She called it “The Dump”, but it was a fairly nice apartment for the time, and she did have a black servant. The house it was in contained several apartments, and was abandoned after she lived there and later in was purchased in order to renovate it for the museum. When the historical society was almost finished, someone set the building on fire, but fortunately the area of the house that contained Mitchell’s former apartment wasn’t badly damaged and they rebuilt it after the fire.
The furniture is period, rather than having belonged to Mitchell, but you still get an idea of what it would have been like when she lived there. I thought it was actually a pretty decent, and pretty large, apartment.
Once I got back to the hotel, I went out to eat at Pitty Pat’s Porch, just around the corner from my hotel. I sat in the bar, and ordered a German Riesling, which I ended up getting for free because the bartender forgot about me for a while. Oops. I ordered the Shrimp and Grits, which came with their version of a salad bar. There were all sorts of traditional southern “salad” foods – including pickled watermelon rind. To be honest the pickled watermelon rind doesn’t taste like much, and was kind of weird. The shrimp and grits were amazing though!