Saturday, 2 March 2013

Scarlett Saturdays: Chapter 1

I first read Gone with the Wind when I was thirteen years old.  My grandmother had given me a 1937 edition of the novel - a beautifully bound copy that I still have - and it took me a mere nine days to finish all 1037 pages, complete with tears of devastation.

Probably the first classic romance novel to make me react like that, I've decided to devote Saturdays to Scarlett Saturdays.  A week by week, chapter by chapter, review of the great novel.

And why is it great?  It is dated - there are moments that are undeniably uncomfortable - and its main character is startlingly unlikeable at times, but despite all that, it is gripping.

Take the opening words, for example.
Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful.
Scarlett O'Hara, feisty, stubborn and utterly beguiling, is not your typical southern belle.  She's not quiet and she's certainly not retiring.  We shouldn't like her, and yet Mitchell helps us to understand her, and in understanding her, we come to love her.

The first chapter merely sets up the action.  It introduces the intricacies of the coming war, the hint of conflict in the Tarleton twins' announcement that Ashley Wilkes will marry Melanie Hamilton, and Tara.

Tara.  In some ways the whole novel is a love letter to the landscapes of the deep south.  Land is all that matters to this gentry, and Tara is the best kind of land:  lush and majestic:

Spring had come early that year, with warm quick rains and sudden frothing of pink peach blossoms and dogwood dappling with white stars the dark river swamp and far-off hills.  Already the plowing was nearly finished, and the bloody glory of the sunset colored the fresh-cut furrows of red Georgia clay to even redder hues.  The moist hungry earth, waiting upturned for the cotton seeds, showed pinkish on the sandy tops of furrows, vermilion and scarlet and maroon where shadows lay along the sides of the trenches.

The whitewashed brick plantation house seemed an island set in a wild red sea, a sea of spiraling, curving, crescent billows petrified suddenly at the moment when the pink-tipped waves were breaking into surf.  For here were no long, straight furrows, such as could be seen in the yellow clay fields of the flat middle Georgia country or in the lush black earth of the coastal plantations.  The rolling foothill country of north Georgia was plowed in a million curves to keep the rich earth from washing down into the river bottoms.
You can practically breathe in Georgia.  The perfect setting for the perfect epic love story.


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