We take a look at romance novels which have inspired and influenced writers . This month, Rachel Dove is looking at Gone With the Wind.
In my early twenties I had a mortgage, a full time job as a legal secretary, a budget and a pocketful of dreams. I wanted to be a writer, and had ever since I had read Ladybird books on the laps of my parents. One year on a Greek holiday when I was 8, I read a Mills & Boon (I know, I was a precocious reader!) and was hooked on the romance. I to this day can't find the title, but that book set me on the road to romantic writing!
Fast forward to my early adult life, and I was busy writing and reading whenever I could; after work, on weekends, commuting on the train. Whatever I wrote then never got accepted for publication, and the characters always seemed flat and lacking in life experience. Probably because I was too. Write what you know, they say, and I had no such thing to set my stall on. So I kept reading, and learning. I listened to people arguing on trains, couples chatting at my weekend bar job, paid attention to the lives unfolding in the files of the family law firm I worked for. Divorce, separation, the stuff of life.
I wrote in the local library on weekends, borrowing and feasting on anything and everything that took my fancy. For a whole week, I dragged a large hardback copy of Gone with the Wind on the train to Bradford. I used to get four trains a day to work and back, and Margaret Mitchell took me away from the sweaty armpits and dreary Yorkshire weather to the arms of Rhett Butler and the wonder that was Tara. Locations and houses in writing can often be formidable characters in their own right, from Bronte's Moors to Austen's Pemberley, and the location was a living breathing entity on its own in this novel too.
Set against the backdrop of war, slavery and social confines for women, I was rooting for Scarlett and Rhett. Devastated by the ending, it taught me a lot about character arcs, conflict resolution and staying true to the definitions of each person. Love doesn't always conquer all, and reading this weighty tome was a revelation. As a devout Mills & Booner, we do always expect the couple to get together in the end, but it doesn't always work like that in real life, so why in fiction? Readers do love the Happy Ever After, but this book taught me to appreciate the journey, the interactions between people that form stepping stones for the paths of their futures.
Gone with the Wind remains a timeless classic, only heightened by the film which I thoroughly enjoyed, despite Scarlett dropping some children to streamline the story! It taught me that a feisty female and pigheaded male can be found in any era, and readers can and will fall in love with them, no matter the ending of their story.
I read it again recently, and as different a person I am to the girl on the train reading all those years ago, the book also spoke to me on a different level. Whilst still rooting for Scarlett, I found myself thinking very differently about the ending. We are never told what would happen to the pair of lovers. My twenty year old self dreamed that Rhett would come back to her, swing her legs over his muscular arms and take her to bed, but present day me rather thought he was better off without her. Scarlett needs to lick her wounds, and maybe adjusted those pegs a step down or two.
Whatever the opinion of Gone with the Wind, one thing is clear to me. Readers are invested in characters. We cry when they cry, we mourn their deaths (I am still mortally wounded over Rob Stark) and we want to bang their heads together when they make a love faux pas. We are all the leading ladies and men in our own love stories, so it smarts when a character loses a loved one. It could be us, stoically saying 'tomorrow is another day.'
Margaret Mitchell's own story is somewhat sad, unfinished, and the fact that she left us such a legacy is astounding. Whatever we want to be remembered for, if we can write a character that makes a reader cry, laugh or even fall a little in love, our job is done. This girl on the train will always be grateful for the journey. Scarlett and Rhett, I salute you.
Rachel's latest release, The Flower Shop on Foxley Street, is out now. For more information about her and her writing, check out her website and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
Have you read Gone With the Wind or seen the movie? What did you think of Scarlett and Rhett's epic love affair? Should we have more stories where love doesn't conquer all or do you prefer a happy ending? Tell us in the comments or use #epiclove on Social Media to join the #PHS reader's discussion.