Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Margaret Mitchell's House

On Saturday, Brett and I did something I've wanted to do since we first moved to Atlanta - visited Margaret Mitchell's house!

As a little girl, I was obsessed with Gone with the Wind. I read it for the first time in fifth grade, again in seventh grade, and again in high school. I was so in love with Scarlett O'Hara. I loved her spunk, her passion, her grit, and her determination. She did whatever it took to survive, and I loved that about her. I still do. She was selfish and self-centered, and while lots of people (especially feminists!) hate her for it, I think it is a refreshing change for a female character to have her own ambitions and desires, and not just exist to support and love a man. Of course, this little ode to Scarlett isn't complete without an acknowledgement that the book is complicated and full of troubling depictions of racism and sexuality. But I'll save the feminist analysis of Gone with the Wind for another day and another post....

Back to the visit! My love for Gone with the Wind has always been coupled with a love for Margaret Mitchell. I've always been inspired (and continue to be inspired) by women writers, and completely idolized Margaret Mitchell growing up. I wanted to be just like her. And by just like her, I mean I wanted to write "the next Gone With the Wind." A look through my childhood papers will reveal many abandoned attempts to write such a novel, including some very in-depth costume descriptions (because everyone knows a good book starts not with an outline or a plot idea, but outfits).

I think Margaret is sometimes overshadowed by her famous protagonist, so I thought I'd share a little bit about her for those of you who aren't familiar with her:

Margaret came from an old and wealthy Atlanta family, and as a young girl frequently accompanied her mother to suffrage events (I'm slightly jealous ). After a year up at Smith College during WWI, Margaret's first fiance was mortally wounded in combat and her mother died of the flu. She returned home to run her family's house and believed that she had given up any hope of a career in journalism. But despite these hardships, Margaret did not resign herself to a demure life at home.After her society debut, she performed an Apache dance that included a kiss with her male partner and "shocked" Atlanta. She was a famous flirt, and in 1922, a local gossip column said of Mitchell, "...she has in her brief life, perhaps, had more men really, truly 'dead in love' with her, more honest-to-goodness suitors than almost any other girl in Atlanta."

At 22, Margaret married Berrien "Red" Upshaw, a young bootlegger who had been kicked out of the Naval Academy twice (I'm going to guess "Red" was the inspiration for Rhett). After suffering from ten months of physical and emotional abuse, they divorced and Margaret got a job as a reporter for the Atlanta Journal. She wrote articles about fashion and history, including profiles of several prominent southern women. The latter series generated significant controversy, and Margaret was criticized for portraying women who "did not fit the accepted standards of femininity." In 1925, Margaret married her second husband, John Marsh. Shortly afterwards, she broke her ankle and quit working at the Atlanta Journal. It was during this time, "a moment of weakness" as she described it, that she started on Gone with the Wind, although she wouldn't finish it until 1936. 

The apartment that we visited is the one she moved into after marrying John Marsh; the one she lived in while writing Gone with the Wind. Because I knew that Margaret came from a wealthy family, I had suspected that it would be quite a grand house. But it was a tiny, tiny apartment! Like, unbelievably tiny. There was a small living room, a bedroom, a kitchen, and a small bathroom. The dining table was in the bedroom, the desk was in the living room, and the kitchen was basically a closet with a sink, a stove, and a single cabinet. Reportedly, Margaret used copies of her Gone with the Wind manuscript to prop up their old and wobbly couch. Her husband was, by all accounts, incredibly supportive of her writing venture. When asked by a reporter if he was proud of his wife for publishing Gone with the Wind, he remarked, "I was proud of my wife before she wrote a book." Sounds like quite a catch! 

I loved finally getting to see Margaret Mitchell's house. I couldn't believe how tiny their little apartment was, and it was really inspirational in a strange way. I always envision writers having this perfect space, with a grand plan, and a swift book deal. To think of Margaret writing in their cramped apartment, just as a way to occupy herself while her ankle healed, and laboring over it for almost ten long years before seeing it published, was somehow encouraging and heartwarming. Sometimes you can't wait for things to be perfect, sometimes life throws you curve balls (or broken ankles), and sometimes you have to work at something for a long time to see it through. 

They didn't allow photos in the apartment, but here is an exterior shot. You should definitely visit if you're ever in Atlanta! 


1 comment:

  1. Loved reading about Margaret Mitchell. Such a great and inspiring story!