Feature

Frankly, My Dear: Gone With the Wind Revisited by Molly Haskell

Film critic Molly Haskell explains why both Margaret Mitchell’s Pulitzer Prize­–winning 1936 novel and the 1939 MGM film have been such enduring successes.

Frankly, My Dear: Gone With the Wind Revisited
by Molly Haskell
(Yale, 244 pages, $24)

Gone With the Wind has just about everything you could want in a bodice-ripping romance, says film critic Molly Haskell. Privilege and poverty, thieving Yankees and genteel Confederates, torridness and tumult, the damnably elusive Rhett Butler and the indomitable Scarlett O’Hara. But those factors don’t fully explain why both Margaret Mitchell’s Pulitzer Prize­–winning 1936 novel and the 1939 MGM film have proved enduring successes. Routinely bashed by critics for pre-feminist, historically revisionist, and racially backward attitudes, they continue to capture the popular imagination. Why do we—and why should we—still give a damn about Gone With the Wind?
 
No one is better poised to answer those questions than Haskell, said Mick LaSalle in the San Francisco Chronicle. A pioneering feminist critic with Southern roots, the author brings “the knowledge of a film historian and the background of a genuine film enthusiast” to this superlative examination of a story “most adults feel they already know.” Haskell’s “crisp and conversational” writing style approaches poetry when she expounds on the luck that produced a particular alchemy among Mitchell, film producer David O. Selznick, and Selznick’s Scarlett, Vivien Leigh, said Julia Keller in the Chicago Tribune. “Something fierce, something beyond normal ambition united these three,” she writes. Working together, they created a uniquely moving epic that changed our expectations about movies forever.
 
Haskell finds the film’s lasting appeal inextricably linked to Leigh’s Scarlett, said Armond White in The New York Times. Not only did the actress invest the character “with something beyond beauty,” she also turned her into “an exemplary, indefatigable American movie heroine.” Haskell, in turn, rescues Scarlett from her reputation as a vain, obstinate debutante, and recasts her as a powerful figure “who comes to embody personal and national contradictions.” The image of Scarlett, writes Haskell, “redounds upon our eternal struggles and deepest fantasies.” Though glamorous, she’s endured real struggle—making her a perfect heroine to latch onto during a Great Recession.

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