by Ellen F. Brown & John Wiley, Jr.
One of my favorite books (and favorite movies) is Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind. I’m not alone in my opinion, it seems - GWTW is thought to be one of the ten most widely read books in the world, right up there with The Bible and Harry Potter and The DaVinci Code:
It’s hard to believe that such a popular book was the author’s first and only novel, but as Ellen Brown and John Wiley Jr. explain in their new book – which is not so much a biography of Mitchell as of GWTW itself – the instant bestseller proved to be such a behemoth that it dominated Mitchell’s time and energy for decades. From the beginning, Mitchell was under pressure; her manuscript was in disarray and it very nearly missed its publication date. A brilliant marketing campaign by Macmillan, her American publisher, created an insatiable demand for GWTW. The book’s popularity was on a scale unprecedented in the industry, but with critical acclaim came voracious fans and never-ending requests for Mitchell’s time. Worse still, copyright protection laws for American authors in foreign countries were weak or nonexistent, and Mitchell and her family (first her husband and later her brother, too) constantly fought to protect the author’s work.
This book is fascinating. Although I knew that I liked GWTW, I never realized the huge impact the book had on how books are marketed and distributed. The Mitchell Estate has been a powerhouse in protecting the rights of authors both in America and overseas, whether they were chasing down rogue publishers printing pirated copies of the novel or stopping the production of unauthorized sequels and merchandise. GWTW is not just a novel, it’s an entire industry – and I had no idea.
Reading about Margaret Mitchell’s life after the novel was released really highlights the American obsession with celebrity. She disliked public speaking, and absolutely refused to go on speaking tours or make public speeches. (Can you imagine a first-time author refusing such publicity today?) She had great respect for her fans, and endeavored to answer each letter she received (sometimes dozens or hundreds each day) – if anyone wants to know why a second novel never appeared, I’d blame the mountain of correspondence. Although some of her choices might come across as ungrateful – at one point she decided that she would cease to sign books, and stuck to the decision for the rest of her life – the book also reveals just how detrimental the attention was to her health, and how completely her story took over both her life and her husband’s.
But I found the second half of the book even more interesting. It covers the history of GWTW after Mitchell’s death, when management of the Mitchell Estate passed to her husband, her brother, and ultimately to a group of lawyers who continue to defend the work today. The book has never gone out of print, largely to the careful management and marketing that continues today. I’m left wondering if the book would have experienced the same longevity and success if the movie hadn’t been such a hit. If the author hadn’t worked so vigilantly to protect the book in overseas market, would the copyright laws be in their present state or would they still be as weak as they were in the 1930s-50s?
It feels strange to call this the “biography of a book” but that’s essentially what Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind is. If you’re a fan of the original novel, or if you’re interested in the publishing world, it’s a fascinating study of one book’s impact on an author’s life, on an industry, and on the world.
5 out of 5 stars
To read more about Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.
Peeking into the archives...today in:
2011: Ingenue (Flappers #2) by Jillian Larkin
2010: Closing down for the end of the year…
2009: Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Sthol
2008: From Fasting to Feasting: A Unique Journey Through the Jewish Holidays by Joe Bobker