Margaret Mitchell (1900-1949)
Margaret Munnerlyn Mitchell was born on November 8, 1900, in Atlanta. Her great-great-great-grandfather Thomas Mitchell fought in the American Revolution (1775-83), and his son William Mitchell took part in the War of 1812. Her great-grandfather Isaac Green Mitchell was a circuit-riding Methodist minister who settled in Marthasville, which later was named Atlanta. Mitchell was thus a fourth-generation Atlantan. Her grandfather Russell Mitchell fought in the Civil War and suffered two bullet wounds to the head during the fighting at Antietam. Twice married, he had twelve children, the oldest of whom was Mitchell's father, Eugene.
Mitchell began making up stories before she could write, dictating them to her mother. Later she made her own books with cardboard covers and filled them with adventure stories using her friends, relatives, and herself as characters. As she grew older she switched to copybooks, which her mother stored in inexpensive enamel bread boxes. A few of the hundreds of tales that she wrote have survived, including two Civil War tales. When the family moved to Peachtree Street, the young Mitchell attended the Tenth Street School and later Woodberry School, a private school. She branched out to writing, directing, and starring in plays, coercing the neighborhood children to take part.
From 1914 to 1918 Mitchell attended the Washington Seminary, a prestigious Atlanta finishing school, where she was a founding member and officer of the drama club. She was also the literary editor of Facts and Fancies, the high school yearbook, in which two of her stories were featured. She was president of the Washington Literary Society.
In September 1918 Mitchell entered Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, where she began using the nickname "Peggy." Her freshman year at college was disrupted when an influenza epidemic forced the cancellation of classes. In January her mother contracted influenza and died the day before her daughter reached home. Mitchell completed her freshman year at Smith, then returned to Atlanta to take her place as mistress of the household and to enter the upcoming debutante season. During the last charity ball of the season, Mitchell created a scandal by performing a sensuous dance popular in the nightclubs of Paris, France.
In the same year that she married, Mitchell landed a job with the Atlanta Journal Sunday Magazine. She used "Peggy Mitchell" as her byline. Her interviews, profiles, and sketches of life in Georgia were well received. During her four years with the Sunday Magazine, Mitchell wrote 129 articles, worked as a proofreader, substituted for the advice columnist, reviewed books, and occasionally did hard news stories for the paper. Complications from a broken ankle led her to end her career as a journalist.
Gone With the Wind
Mitchell's second marriage was to John Robert Marsh on July 4, 1925, and the couple set up housekeeping in a
In 1926, to relieve the boredom of being cooped up with a broken ankle, Mitchell began to write Gone With the Wind. Setting up her Remington typewriter on an old sewing table, she completed the majority of the book in three years. She wrote the last chapter first and the other chapters in no particular order. Stuffing the chapters into manila envelopes, she eventually accumulated almost seventy chapters. When visitors appeared, she covered her work with a towel, keeping her novel a secret. There has been much speculation on whether the characters were based on real people, but Mitchell claimed they were her own creations.
As she revised the manuscript, Mitchell cut and rearranged chapters, confirmed details, wrote the first chapter, changed the name of the main character (originally called Pansy), and struggled to think of a title that suited her. Titles considered included Tomorrow Is Another Day, Another Day, Tote the Weary Load, Milestones, Ba! Ba! Blacksheep, Not in Our Stars, and Bugles Sang True. Finally she settled on a phrase from a favorite poem by Ernest Dowson:
Gone With the Wind was a phenomenal success and received rave reviews. Overnight, Mitchell became a celebrity and remained very much in the public spotlight through the production and premiere of the film based on her novel in 1939. She was in constant demand for speaking engagements and interviews. At first she complied, but later, pleading poor health, she usually declined these requests and stopped autographing copies of her book. She said she wanted to remain simply Mrs. John Marsh.
Gone With the Wind was
Possibly one of the reasons that Mitchell never wrote another novel was that she spent so much time working with her brother and her husband to protect the copyright of her book abroad. Up until the publication of Gone With the Wind, international copyright laws were ambiguous and varied from country to country. Correspondence also took much of her time. During the years following publication, she personally answered every letter she received about her book. With the outbreak of World War II (1941-45), she worked tirelessly for the American Red Cross, even outfitting a hospital ship. She also set up scholarships for black medical students.
Patrick Allen, ed., Margaret Mitchell, Reporter (Athens, Ga.: Hill Street Press, 2000).
Ellen F. Brown and John Wiley Jr., Margaret Mitchell's "Gone With the Wind": A Bestseller's Odyssey from Atlanta to Hollywood (Lanham, Md.: Taylor Trade Publishing, 2011).
Anne Edwards, Road to Tara: The Life of Margaret Mitchell (New Haven, Conn.: Ticknor and Fields, 1983).
Jane Eskridge, ed., Before Scarlett: Girlhood Writings of Margaret Mitchell (Athens, Ga.: Hill Street Press, 2000).
Finis Farr, Margaret Mitchell of Atlanta, the Author of "Gone With the Wind" (New York: William Morrow, 1965).
Richard Harwell, ed., Margaret Mitchell's "Gone With the Wind" Letters, 1936-1949 (New York: Macmillan, 1976).
Darden Asbury Pyron, Southern Daughter: The Life of Margaret Mitchell (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991).
Marianne Walker, Margaret Mitchell and John Marsh: The Love Story behind "Gone With the Wind" (Atlanta: Peachtree, 1993).
Jane Thomas, Greensboro, North Carolina
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