10 Fascinating Facts About Gone With the Wind

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

On this day in 1936, Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind was published. In honor of its birthday, here are 10 things you might not have known about the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.

1. MARGARET MITCHELL 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.

Where Did the Phrase 'Red Herring' Come From?

iStock.com/Mathias Darmell
iStock.com/Mathias Darmell

You may have seen a red herring in a recent book or movie, but you probably only realized it after the fact. These misleading clues are designed to trick you into drawing an incorrect conclusion, and they're a popular ploy among storytellers of all stripes.

If you've seen or read the Harry Potter series—and really, who hasn’t?—then you may recall some of the many instances where J.K. Rowling employed this literary device. That endearing plot twist about the nature of Snape's character, for example, is likely one of the longest-running red herrings ever written.

Sometimes they aren't even subtle. Agatha Christie's murder mystery And Then There Were None directly mentions red herring in reference to a character's death, and a statue of a red herring appears in Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events. Perhaps most blatantly, a character in the cartoon A Pup Named Scooby-Doo who was constantly being blamed for myriad crimes was named—you guessed it—Red Herring.

But where does this literary device come from, and why is it named after a fish? For a bit of background: herring are naturally a silvery hue, but they turn reddish-brown when they're smoked. Long before refrigerators were invented, this was done to preserve the fish for months at a time. They can also be pretty smelly. As Gizmodo's io9 blog points out, it was believed that red herring were dragged against the ground to help train hounds to sniff out prey in the 17th century. Another theory was that escaped prisoners used the fish to cover their tracks and confuse the dogs that tailed them.

However, io9 notes that red herring were actually used to train horses rather than dogs, and only if the preferred choice—a dead cat—wasn't available. The idea was that the horses would get used to following the scent trail, which in turn would make them less likely to get spooked while "following the hounds amid the noise and bustle of a fox hunt," notes British etymologist and writer Michael Quinion, who researched the origin of the phrase red herring.

The actual origin of the figurative sense of the phrase can be traced back to the early 1800s. Around this time, English journalist William Cobbett wrote a presumably fictional story about how he had used red herring as a boy to throw hounds off the scent of a hare. He elaborated on this anecdote and used it to criticize some of his fellow journalists. "He used the story as a metaphor to decry the press, which had allowed itself to be misled by false information about a supposed defeat of Napoleon," Quinion writes in a blog. "This caused them to take their attention off important domestic matters."

According to Quinion, an extended version of this story was printed in 1833, and the idiom spread from there. Although many people are more familiar with red herrings in pop culture, they also crop up in political spheres and debates of all kinds. Robert J. Gula, the author of Nonsense: Red Herrings, Straw Men and Sacred Cows: How We Abuse Logic in Our Everyday Language, defines a red herring as "a detail or remark inserted into a discussion, either intentionally or unintentionally, that sidetracks the discussion."

The goal is to distract the listener or opponent from the original topic, and it's considered a type of flawed reasoning—or, more fancifully, a logical fallacy. This application of red herring seems to be more in line with its original usage, but as Quinion notes: "This does nothing to change the sense of red herring, of course: it's been for too long a fixed part of our vocabulary for it to change. But at least we now know its origin. Another obscure etymology has been nailed down."

8 Facts About Shel Silverstein

Shel Silverstein was a multi-talented children’s author, comic artist, poet, playwright, and songwriter, and above all else, a rule-breaker. From The Giving Tree to Where the Sidewalk Ends, his titles are beloved by children and adults alike. At the time they were written, though, they defied common notions about what a "children’s" story could and should be. This isn’t all that surprising, considering that the Chicago-born author, who passed away in 1999, led a pretty unconventional life. Here are eight things you might not know about him.

1. One of Shel Silverstein's first jobs was selling hot dogs in Chicago.

Shel Silverstein didn’t always want to be a writer, or even a cartoonist or songwriter. His first love was baseball. "When I was a kid—12, 14, around there—I would much rather have been a good baseball player or a hit with the girls," he once said in an interview. "But I couldn’t play ball, I couldn’t dance. Luckily, the girls didn’t want me; not much I could do about that. So I started to draw and to write.” The closest he came to his MLB dream was when he landed a stint at Chicago’s Comiskey Park, selling hot dogs to White Sox fans.

2. Silverstein never finished college.

Silverstein was expelled from one school (the University of Illinois) and dropped out of another (the School of the Art Institute of Chicago). Finally, he managed to get through three years of the English program at Chicago's Roosevelt University, but his studies came to an abrupt end when he was drafted in 1953.

3. Silverstein was a Korean War veteran.

In the 1950s, Silverstein was drafted into the U.S. armed service. While he was stationed in Korea and Japan, he also worked as a cartoonist for the military publication Stars and Stripes. It was his first big cartooning gig. "For a guy of my age and with my limited experience to suddenly have to turn out cartoons on a day-to-day deadline deadline, the job was enormous,'' Silverstein told Stars and Stripes in a 1969 interview.

4. Silverstein worked for Playboy magazine and was Part of Hugh Hefner's inner circle.

That’s right: the lovable children’s author was on Playboy’s payroll for many years. He started drawing comics for the men’s magazine in the 1950s and ended up becoming close friends with Hugh Hefner. In fact, he often spent weeks or even months at the Playboy Mansion, where he wrote some of his books. His cartoons for the magazine proved so popular that Playboy sent him around the world to find the humor in places like London, Paris, North Africa, and Moscow during the Cold War. Perhaps his most off-color assignment, though, was visiting a nudist camp in New Jersey. These drawings were compiled in the 2007 book Playboy's Silverstein Around the World, which includes a foreword from Hefner.

5. Silverstein wrote Johnny Cash's hit song "A Boy Named Sue."

Few people know that Silverstein was a songwriter, too. One of his biggest hits was the comical tale of a boy who learned how to defend himself after being relentlessly bullied for his feminine-sounding name, Sue. The song was popularized by Johnny Cash and ended up being his top-selling single, while Silverstein was awarded a Grammy for Best Country Song. You can watch Silverstein strumming the guitar and shouting the lyrics alongside Cash on The Johnny Cash Show in the video above. Silverstein also wrote a follow-up song from the dad’s point of view, The Father of a Boy Named Sue, but it didn't take off the way the original did.

6. Silverstein is in the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Three years after his death, Silverstein was inducted posthumously into this exclusive society of songwriters. He wrote more than 800 songs throughout his career, some of which were quite raunchy. But his best-known songs were performed by country legends like Loretta Lynn and Waylon Jennings. “His compositions were instantly identifiable, filled with elevated wordplay and captivating, humor-filled narratives,” the Nashville Songwriters Foundation said of Silverstein's music.

7. Silverstein wrote the first children’s book to appear on The New York Times best sellerS list.

A Light in the Attic (1981) was the first children’s book to ever make it onto the prestigious New York Times Best Sellers list. It remained there for a whopping 182 weeks, breaking all of the previous records for hardcover books at that time.

8. Silverstein wasn't a fan of happy endings.

If you couldn’t already tell by The Giving Tree’s sad conclusion, Silverstein didn’t believe in giving his stories happy endings. He felt that doing so would alienate his young readers. "The child asks why I don't have this happiness thing you're telling me about, and comes to think when his joy stops that he has failed, that it won't come back,” the author said in a 1978 interview. This turned out to be a risky move, and The Giving Tree was rejected several times for being too sad or too unconventional. Fortunately, after four years of searching for a publisher, it found a home at HarperCollins (then Harper & Row) and has gone on to become one of the best-selling—and most beloved—children's books of all time.

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