(A reworked post from 2013.)
BOOK REVIEW: GONE WITH THE WIND
By Margaret Mitchell
It is the winter of 1861. Scarlett O’Hara, a pretty Southern belle, lives on Tara, a large plantation in Georgia. She concerns herself only with her numerous suitors and her desire to marry Ashley Wilkes. One day she hears that Ashley is engaged to Melanie Hamilton, his frail, plain cousin from Atlanta. At the Super Bowl party at the Wilkes plantation the next day, Scarlett confesses her feelings to Ashley. He tells her that he does love her but that he is marrying Melanie because she is sweet, caring and very rich, and that he would appreciate if she waited until the commercial to speak again. She slaps his face and he leaves the room. Suddenly, she realizes that Rhett Butler, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Clark Gable, has been watching the whole scene, and he compliments Scarlett on being unladylike.
The Civil War begins. There is a lot of fighting, but that’s of no importance to this story. Charles Hamilton, Melanie’s timid, dull brother, proposes to Scarlett. She spitefully agrees to marry him, hoping to hurt Ashley. Scarlett and Charles marry, Charles joins the army and dies of the measles, and Scarlett learns that she is pregnant. She gives birth to a son and soon becomes bored. She goes to Atlanta to stay with Melanie and to date Rhett. He infuriates Scarlett with his bluntness and mockery, but he also encourages her to flout the severely restrictive social requirements for mourning Southern widows and to move in with him, sort of a “friends with benefits” thing. As the war progresses, food and clothing run scarce in Atlanta. Scarlett and Melanie fear for Ashley’s safety. After the bloody battle of Gettysburg, Ashley is captured and sent to Stalag 13, where he meets the cast of “Hogan’s Heroes”, and the Yankee army begins bearing down on Atlanta. Scarlett desperately wants to return home to Tara, but she has promised Ashley she will stay with the pregnant Melanie, who annoyingly could give birth at any time.
On the night the Yankees capture Atlanta and set it afire, Melanie gives birth to her son. Rhett helps them escape the Yankees, escorting them through the burning streets of the city, but he abandons them outside Atlanta so he can join the Confederate Army because girls are turned on by a uniform. Scarlett thanks heaven for her GPS and drives the car all night and day through a dangerous forest full of deserters and soldiers, at last reaching Tara. She arrives to find that her mother is dead, her father has lost his mind and the Yankee army has looted the plantation, leaving no food or cotton. Other than that, everything is fine. Scavenging for subsistence, a furious Scarlett vows never to go hungry again and drives to the local Sizzler, where she singlehandedly clears the salad bar.
As if this weren’t enough aggravation, the war ends and taxes are raised. She marries her sister’s beau and he agrees to pay her taxes. She has another baby and her husband dies before the April 15 tax due date. Rhett has emerged from the war a fabulously wealthy man, dripping with earnings from his blockade-running operation, food speculation and some dabbling in the black market, but he is in prison for tax evasion and cannot help Scarlett. She marries someone else, has yet another kid and pays her taxes. She considers becoming a professional widow, but Rhett gets out of prison, proposes and they marry.
After a long, luxurious honeymoon in New Orleans, Scarlett and Rhett return to Atlanta, where Scarlett builds a garish mansion and socializes with wealthy Yankees. Scarlett becomes pregnant again and has child number 4, Bonnie Blue Butler. Rhett dotes on the girl and begins a campaign to win back the good graces of the prominent Atlanta citizens in order to keep Bonnie from being an outcast like Scarlett.
Bonnie is sent off with the other children to boarding school and Rhett nearly loses his mind. His marriage with Scarlett sours. She concludes that she truly loves Rhett. He, however, says that he has lost his love for her and he leaves. Grief-stricken and alone, Scarlett makes up her mind to go back to Tara to recover her strength in the comforting arms of her childhood nurse, Mammy, and to think of a way to win Rhett back. She makes a beautiful dress out of some material that she has hanging around and tries to seduce him. (Click here.) It doesn’t work. He makes some comment or other (I forget what it was; something like "I could care less") and leaves.
She finds a good lawyer and divorces Rhett, taking him for everything he has. She moves to Hollywood, changes her name to Elizabeth Taylor, begins a successful career in the movies and continues to add to her collection of husbands.
An even briefer review of the book: