In what probably remains the greatest novel ever written about the Civil War, Margaret Mitchell laments…with a nostalgia so keen it makes the reader weep…the Old South that is “gone with the wind that had swept through Georgia.”
I love Gone With The Wind. I started reading it when I was sixteen and never stopped reading it for the next ten years. When I reached the end, I immediately turned back to the beginning and began it again. Whatever else was going on in my life, whatever else I was reading, I was always, simultaneously, partway through Gone With The Wind. The vivid characters, the dramatic sweep of storytelling, the tears and laughter and thrills it evoked, never grew old to me. What a story! What a voice! The braiding together of a tumultuous romance and a rip-roaring, suspenseful, edge-of-your-seat war story is unique.
And yet. And yet.
What does the book romanticize, after all? What precious, irreplaceable world is “gone with the wind that had swept through Georgia”–? Why, lookee here. It’s the loveliness of slavery, that’s what. It’s the languid, beautiful life of the Southern slave-holding aristocracy.
Guess it’s not so sad, after all, that a wind swept through Georgia and smashed it.
Gone With The Wind is such a great book that I still turn to it from time to time. I still urge others to read it. But I always recommend it with a caveat, now, and some of its passages cause my mouth to twist in a grimace of derision. This is sad, right? But necessary.
Racism, even when–perhaps especially when–expressed with affectionate, sentimental condescension must be noticed before it can be called out. Happily swimming in the dream Margaret Mitchell weaves, there comes a moment of “wait a minute.” It jolts you out of the story. First with lifted eyebrows. Then a frown. And finally a realization that a book you loved will never be the same to you again.
A wind is sweeping through Romance Writers of America (RWA).
I have written so lovingly of RWA in this blog that I feel compelled to address this subject. I adore RWA, especially its annual conferences. Without RWA, would I ever have been published? There’s no way to know, because there was RWA, and through it I grew and learned and made vital contacts that got me through the doors. I feel that I owe RWA my career. Do I? Maybe. As Aslan explained to Lucy, there is no way to know what would have happened. (“You mean,” said Lucy rather faintly, “that it would have turned out all right – somehow? But how? Please, Aslan! Am I not to know?” “To know what would have happened, child?” said Aslan. “No. Nobody is ever told that.” — Prince Caspian by C. S. Lewis) At any rate, I did get published, and it was RWA that pointed me down the path I took. There may have been other paths. But it’s fruitless to wonder, and I suspect the other paths were fainter and more difficult to find.
In my last conference blog entry, I rejoiced that RWA was finally growing more diverse. But at the moment it is struggling to come to terms with that. I don’t know if it is suffering growing pains or death throes, but it’s certainly intense. Maybe these are labor pains, and RWA is about to give birth to something entirely new. At any rate, the story is unfolding so rapidly–and chaotically–that I can hardly follow it. When the dust settles, I shall return to the subject and attempt to say something wise and pithy. Right now, I can’t even imagine what that will be.