Here's one that I wrote for the June issue of our community magazine.
In the world of literature there are several famous authors, among them Edgar Allen Poe, Oscar Wilde, and Boris Pasternak, who, though they wrote in other forms, wrote only one novel. Also among those few are two southern writers, two very different personalities, Harper Lee and Margaret Mitchell.
To Kill a Mockingbird and Gone with the Wind: two Pulitzer Prize winners. Just to read the names of the novels brings the stories to our minds. Many people have read both books, many only one, yet most of us have seen both of the movies. Gregory Peck’s Atticus Finch, Vivien Leigh’s Scarlett O’Hara, both Academy Award-winning roles, and Clarke Gable’s Rhett Butler, for which he was nominated for the Academy Award, are three unforgettable, iconic characters. The movies are two that will never, should never, be remade.
There’s been quite a bit of attention paid these days to Harper Lee, to To Kill a Mockingbird, and to the recent publication of Go Set a Watchman, Lee’s original version of Mockingbird. Though it set a record for pre-orders from Amazon, once it was read, Go Set a Watchman was not too well received by today’s readers. They know Mockingbird too well, they know Mockingbird’s Atticus Finch too well, and they judge by moral and ethical standards that have matured somewhat in the last fifty-five years.
Watchman is not a “sequel” to Mockingbird, nor is it Lee’s “second book” as it was described by the publishers. It is the original book, the one-off book that was heavily revised by the author and her editor, Tay Hohoff, to become To Kill a Mockingbird. In Watchman, Atticus is a segregationist and the story is told from the point of view of an older Scout; in it, Tom Robinson is acquitted and Scout’s brother Jem has died. Writing students and literary critics are having a field day comparing the two versions.
The current interest in Gone with the Wind (GWTW as it is known in print) surrounds this month’s 80th anniversary of the publication of the book in 1936. Compared to around 300 pages for the localized, intense story in Mockingbird, the scope of GWTW, somewhat of a historical romance, is as large as its 1,037 pages. It is a story of the Civil War years in Georgia, Sherman’s destruction of Atlanta, and the effects on a young, spoiled, southern belle during those years.
The impact of GWTW was tremendous and prize winning. It sold millions of copies and is still in print. The impact of the movie, winner of eight Academy Awards was just as great. Among the great scenes filmed in this first picture in color to win for Best Picture, the scenes of the burning of Atlanta are most memorable. When seen on the big screen it had a huge impact on its audiences. Every few years, the movie is re-released in theaters to celebrate milestones in the book’s publication and the movie’s original showing.]
Nelle Harper Lee, who died this past February, never married. She was a very private person, rarely granting interviews, content to spend her days at home in Alabama in the town where she was born. There are many autobiographical aspects in Mockingbird. For instance, Lee’s own father was a lawyer, her mother’s maiden name was Finch, and her friend Dill in is based on her real-life life-long friend Truman Capote.
Margaret Mitchell, born in 1900, a deb in Atlanta during the “Roaring Twenties,” was once engaged to five men at the same time, and had two husbands. Among her many and varied interests and writings, Mitchell wrote feature articles for The Atlanta Journal. She suffered a broken ankle that wouldn’t heal properly, so she spent weeks in bed or hobbling around. Complaining about having to fetch and carry books for her to and from the library, her husband quipped “For God's sake, Peggy, can't you write a book instead of reading thousands of them?” So she did, and Gone with the Wind was the result.