On this day in 1900, Gone with the Wind author Margaret Mitchell was born in Atlanta. In honor of what would be the celebrated author's 115th birthday, here are 10 things you might not have known about her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.
1. SHE WROTE THE BOOK OUT OF BOREDOM.
It was boredom that caused 25-year-old Margaret Mitchell to write 63 of the most beloved chapters in literary history. Mitchell was a journalist for the Atlanta Journal Sunday Magazine when she took a leave to recover from “a series of injuries,” according to the Margaret Mitchell House, including a recurring ankle injury. When the ankle proved slow to heal this time, she decided to occupy herself by writing.
2. ALMOST NO ONE KNEW SHE WAS WRITING A BOOK.
Though Mitchell spent the next decade working on characters and plot development, almost no one knew she was writing a book. She went to extreme lengths to hide her work from friends and family, including hurriedly throwing a rug over pages scattered on her living room floor once when company showed up unexpectedly.
3. MITCHELL HAD NO INTENTION OF PUBLISHING THE BOOK.
Despite spending 10 years of her life working on the tome, Mitchell didn’t really have much intention of publishing it. When a “friend” heard that she was considering writing a book (though in fact, it had been written), she said something to the effect of, “Imagine, you writing a book!” Annoyed, Mitchell took her massive manuscript to a Macmillan editor the next day. She later regretted the act and sent the editor a telegram saying, “Have changed my mind. Send manuscript back.”
4. SCARLETT WAS ORIGINALLY PANSY.
You know her as Scarlett now, but for years, the heroine of Gone with the Wind was named Pansy. It probably would have stayed that way had the publisher not requested a name change. “We could call her ‘Garbage O’Hara’ for all I care,” Mitchell wrote to her friend and the book’s associate editor, “I just want to finish this damn thing.”
5. TARA WASN'T TARA.
Speaking of name changes, early drafts of Gone With the Wind referred to Tara as “Fountenoy Hall.”
6. DOC HOLLIDAY WAS MITCHELL'S COUSIN.
There was another Southern legend in Margaret Mitchell's family: Old West gunslinger (and dentist) Doc Holliday was Mitchell's cousin by marriage. Many people believe that Mitchell used her famous kin as the inspiration for Ashley Wilkes.
7. MITCHELL DOESN'T KNOW WHAT HAPPENED WITH SCARLETT AND RHETT.
Add Mitchell to the list of people who don’t know what ultimately happened with Scarlett and Rhett. She left the ending ambiguous with no “real” ending even in her own head. “For all I know, Rhett may have found someone else who was less—difficult,” she told Yank magazine in 1945.
8. Even if you haven’t read the book, you might have heard the last line: “Tomorrow is another day.”
That was also the tentative title. Mitchell also considered calling it Bugles Sang True or Not in Our Stars. The title she finally decided upon comes from a poem called Non Sum Qualis Eram Bonae sub Regno Cynarae by Ernest Dowson:
“I have forgot much, Cynara! gone with the wind,
Flung roses, roses riotously with the throng,
Dancing, to put thy pale, lost lilies out of mind"
9. THE NOVEL HAD ITS FAIR SHARE OF DETRACTORS.
Though Gone with the Wind is a classic now, not everyone was a fan of the epic novel when it was released—and that includes critics. Ralph Thompson, a book reviewer for The New York Times, was quite unimpressed. Among his criticisms:
“The historical background is the chief virtue of the book, and it is the story of the times rather than the unconvincing and somewhat absurd plot that gives Miss Mitchell's work whatever importance may be attached to it.”
“Miss Mitchell writes from no particular point of view.”
“I happen to feel that the book would have been infinitely better had it been edited down to, say, 500 pages—but there speaks the harassed daily reviewer as well as the would-be judicious critic. Very nearly every reader will agree, no doubt, that a more disciplined and less prodigal piece of work would have more nearly done justice to the subject-matter.”
At the end, Thompson rather begrudgingly admits that, “Any kind of first novel of over 1000 pages is an achievement and for the research that was involved, and for the writing Itself, the author of Gone With the Wind deserves due recognition.”
10. IT SET A RECORD WITH ITS MOVIE RIGHTS.
When movie mogul David O. Selznick purchased the movie rights for $50,000 in 1936, it was the most ever paid for rights to a book. Mitchell declined to be involved with the production of the movie, though she was said to have loved it—save for a few details (she found Tara to be too opulent, for example).
Though she spent a decade writing her masterpiece, Mitchell only enjoyed the ensuing fame for a little more than that (truth be told, she didn’t really “enjoy” the fame). Mitchell was hit by a speeding car as she was crossing Atlanta's Peachtree Street with her husband on their way to see a movie on the evening of August 11, 1949. She died from her injuries a few days later.
This post originally appeared in 2012.