A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit her Atlanta home, where she penned her famous novel. Was I in for a big surprise! It turns out Peggy was closer to Scarlett, her famous creation, than the refined black & white portrait that circulates around the web.
|Margaret in her dancing days|
1. Peggy was a flapper. Growing up in the 1920’s, she often visited speakeasies until the late hours of the night. In fact, her second husband John Marsh (more about him later) first spotted her dancing on a table.
2. Peggy was a proficient dancer and horrified the Atlanta society—including her own grandmother—when she kissed a dance partner during a performance.
3. Her first love was a young army lieutenant who died during World War I, much like Charles Hamilton, Scarlett’s first husband. Whereas Margaret was devastated by her loss and allegedly never fully recovered from it, her heroine Scarlett couldn’t find a more convenient way to get close to her beloved Ashley than widowhood.
4. Peggy married the wrong man. Much like the famous Scarlett, Peggy knew she was making a mistake when she said “I do” to fiancé Berrien “Red” Upshaw and her true love (John) was standing by Red’s side—as his best man.
5. Against all traditions, she carried a bouquet of red roses to the altar (back when brides were expected to only carry white flowers) in honor of her husband-to-be (“Red”).
6. Like Rhett Butler in GWTW, Peggy’s first husband “Red” was a bootlegger.
7. Like Ashley Wilkes in GWTW, Peggy’s second husband John was an intellectual.
8. Peggy continued to horrify Atlanta society by divorcing Red after a year and a half of marriage and later on, getting a job as a reporter for The Atlanta Journal Sunday Magazine.
|An early photo of Margaret Mitchell during her reporter days surrounded by|
a group of Georgia Tech students. Who does this remind you of?
10. Accustomed to writing as a reporter, Peggy started her famous novel by penning the last chapter first and then building up the story in disorder.
11. It took her nine years to finish Gone with the Wind (originally titled Tomorrow is Another Day) and according to the tour guide at the Peachtree Street house, she wrote the first chapter 60 times!
12. In the original version, Scarlett’s name was Pansy O’Hara.
13. When Peggy met an editor from Macmillan, who went to Atlanta to scout Southern writers, she denied she’d written a novel. She eventually changed her mind and brought him the manuscript.
|When Margaret had visitors, she covered her manuscript with a towel.|
14. Living in a tiny one-bedroom apartment suited her fine since she didn’t like overnight guests.
15. She never wrote another novel as she said that being the author of Gone with the Wind was a full time job. However, in 1994 an early manuscript she’d written for a teenage boyfriend was discovered and published.
16. She was hit by a drunk driver a few blocks from her house and died at age 48. Here is her obituary.
In examining her life, I couldn’t help but draw comparisons between the writing life then and now. Imagine what it would be like to type a 400,000-word manuscript (and subsequent revisions) without the help of a computer and its handy friends Copy, Paste and Delete? Or to have the opportunity to go see an editor in person and hand him your manuscript? In some ways things might have been easier then (less competition to publish) but would you take that over the convenience of a word processor/internet? How much of yourself do you put in your characters?