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.

Can You Tell an Author’s Identity By Looking at Punctuation Alone? A Study Just Found Out.

iStock.com/RyersonClark
iStock.com/RyersonClark

In 2016, neuroscientist Adam J Calhoun wondered what his favorite books would look like if he removed the words and left nothing but the punctuation. The result was a stunning—and surprisingly beautiful—visual stream of commas, question marks, semicolons, em-dashes, and periods.

Recently, Calhoun’s inquiry piqued the interest of researchers in the United Kingdom, who wondered if it was possible to identify an author from his or her punctuation alone.

For decades, linguists have been able to use the quirks of written texts to pinpoint the author. The process, called stylometric analysis or stylometry, has dozens of legal and academic applications, helping researchers authenticate anonymous works of literature and even nab criminals like the Unabomber. But it usually focuses on an author's word choices and grammar or the length of his or her sentences. Until now, punctuation has been largely ignored.

But according to a recent paper led by Alexandra N. M. Darmon of the Oxford Centre for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, an author’s use of punctuation can be extremely revealing. Darmon’s team assembled nearly 15,000 documents from 651 different authors and “de-worded” each text. “Is it possible to distinguish literary genres based on their punctuation sequences?” the researchers asked. “Do the punctuation styles of authors evolve over time?”

Apparently, yes. The researchers crafted mathematical formulas that could identify individual authors with 72 percent accuracy. Their ability to detect a specific genre—from horror to philosophy to detective fiction—was accurate more than half the time, clocking in at a 65 percent success rate.

The results, published on the preprint server SocArXiv, also revealed how punctuation style has evolved. The researchers found that “the use of quotation marks and periods has increased over time (at least in our [sample]) but that the use of commas has decreased over time. Less noticeably, the use of semicolons has also decreased over time.”

You probably don’t need to develop a powerful algorithm to figure that last bit out—you just have to crack open something by Dickens.

5 Facts About Edgar Allan Poe on His 210th Birthday

You’ve read Edgar Allan Poe’s terrifying stories. You can quote "The Raven." But how well do you know the writer’s quirky sense of humor and code-cracking abilities? Let’s take a look at a few  things you might not know about the acclaimed author, who was born 210 years ago today.

1. He was the original balloon boy.

You probably remember 2009’s infamous “Balloon Boy” hoax. Turns out the Heene family that perpetrated that fraud weren’t even being entirely original in their attempt at attention-grabbing. They were actually cribbing from Poe.

In 1844 Poe cooked up a similar aviation hoax in the pages of the New York Sun. The horror master cranked out a phony news item describing how a Mr. Monck Mason had flown a balloon flying machine called Victoria from England to Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina in just 75 hours. According to Poe’s story, the balloon had also hauled seven passengers across the ocean.

No balloonist had ever crossed the Atlantic before, so this story quickly became a huge deal. Complete transatlantic travel in just three days? How exciting! Readers actually queued up outside the Sun’s headquarters to get their mitts on a copy of the day’s historic paper.

Poe’s report on the balloon was chock full of technical details. He devoted a whole paragraph to explaining how the balloon was filled with coal gas rather than “the more expensive and inconvenient hydrogen.” He listed the balloon’s equipment, which included “cordage, barometers, telescopes, barrels containing provision for a fortnight, water-casks, cloaks, carpet-bags, and various other indispensable matters, including a coffee-warmer, contrived for warming coffee by means of slack-lime, so as to dispense altogether with fire, if it should be judged prudent to do so.” He also included hundreds of words of excerpts from the passengers’ journals.

The only catch to Poe’s story was that it was entirely fictitious. The Sun’s editors quickly wised up to Poe’s hoax, and two days later they posted an understated retraction that noted, “We are inclined to believe that the intelligence is erroneous.”

2. He dabbled in cryptography.

If you’ve read Poe’s story “The Gold-Bug,” you probably know that he had a working knowledge of cryptography. But you might not know that Poe was actually a pretty darn good cryptographer in his own right.

Poe’s first notable code-cracking began in 1839. He sent out a call for readers of his Philadelphia newspaper to send him encoded messages that he could decipher. Poe would then puzzle over the secret messages for hours. He published the results of his work in a wildly popular recurring feature. Poe also liked to toss his own codes out there to keep readers busy. Some of the codes were so difficult that Poe professed utter amazement when even a single reader would crack them.

Poe was so confident in his abilities as a cryptographer that he approached the Tyler administration in 1841 with an offer to work as a government code cracker. He modestly promised, “Nothing intelligible can be written which, with time, I cannot decipher.” Apparently there weren’t any openings for him, though.

3. The "Allan" came later.

It would sound odd to just say “Edgar Poe,” but the famous “Allan” wasn’t originally part of the writer’s name. Poe was born in Boston on January 19, 1809 to professional actors, but his early childhood was fairly rotten. When Poe was just two years old, his father abandoned the family—leaving the toddler's mother, Elizabeth, to raise Edgar and his two siblings. Not long after that, Elizabeth died of tuberculosis.

Poe actually had a little luck at that point. John and Frances Allan, a well-to-do Richmond family, took the boy in and provided for his education. Although the Allans never formally adopted Poe, he added their surname to his own name.

Like a lot of Poe’s fiction, his story with the Allans didn't have a particularly happy ending. Poe and John Allan grew increasingly distant during the boy’s teenage years, and after Poe left for the University of Virginia, he and Allan became estranged. (Apparently the root of these problems involved Poe’s tendency to gamble away whatever money Allan sent him to subsidize his studies.)

4. He had a nemesis.

Like a lot of writers, Poe had a rival. His was the poet, critic, and editor Rufus Griswold. Although Griswold had included Poe’s work in his 1842 anthology The Poets and Poetry of America, Poe held an extremely low opinion of Griswold’s intellect and literary integrity. Poe published an essay blasting Griswold’s selections for the anthology, and their rivalry began.

Things really heated up when Griswold succeeded Poe as the editor of Graham’s Magazine at a higher salary than Poe had been pulling in. Poe began publicly lambasting Griswold’s motivations; he even went so far as to claim that Griswold was something of a literary homer who puffed up New England poets.

Poe might have had a point about Griswold’s critical eye, but Griswold had the good fortune to outlive Poe. After Poe died, Griswold penned a mean-spirited obituary in which he stated that the writer’s death “will startle many, but few will be grieved by it” and generally portrayed Poe as an unhinged maniac.

Slamming a guy in his obituary is pretty low, but Griswold was just getting warmed up. He convinced Poe’s aunt, Maria Clemm, to make him Poe’s literary executor. Griswold then published a biography of Poe that made him out to be a drug-addled drunk, all while keeping the profits from a posthumous edition of Poe’s work.

5. His death was a mystery worth of his writing.

In 1849 Poe left New York for a visit to Richmond, but he never made it that far south. Instead, Poe turned up in front of a Baltimore bar deliriously raving and wearing clothes that didn’t fit. Passersby rushed Poe to the hospital, but he died a few days later without being able to explain what happened to him.

Poe’s rumored causes of death were “cerebral inflammation” and “congestion of the brain,” which were polite euphemisms for alcohol poisoning. Modern scholars don’t totally buy this explanation, though. The characterization of Poe as a raging drunk mostly comes from Griswold’s posthumous smear campaign, and his incoherent state of mind may have been the result of rabies or syphilis.

Some Poe fans subscribe to a more sinister theory about the writer’s death, though. They think he may have fallen victim to “cooping,” a sordid 19th century political practice. Gangs of political thugs would round up homeless or weak men and hold them captive in a safe place called a “coop” right before a major election. On election day—and there was an election in Baltimore on October 3, 1849, the day Poe was found—the gangs would then drug or beat the hostages before taking them around to vote at multiple polling places.

This story sounds like something straight out of Poe’s own writing, but it might actually be true. Poe’s crummy physical state and delirium would be consistent with a victim of cooping, and the ill-fitting clothes jibe with gangs’ practice of making their hostages change clothes so they could cast multiple votes. With no real evidence either way, though, Poe’s death remains one of literature’s most fascinating mysteries.

This post originally appeared in 2011.

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