rusq: Vol. 53 Issue 2: p. 200
Sources: The Margaret Mitchell Encyclopedia
Terry Ann Mood

Professor Emeritus, University of Colorado at Denver

Anita Price Davis has produced a meticulously researched volume about Margaret Mitchell. While some of the entries are awkwardly written, no one can dispute the thoroughness of the material.

Major biographers of Margaret Mitchell have entries—Finis Farr (Margaret Mitchell of Atlanta: the Author of Gone With the Wind [Morrow, 1965]); Anne Edwards (Road to Tara: the Life of Margaret Mitchell [Ticknor & Fields, 1983]); Darden Asbury Pyron (Southern Daughter: the Life of Margaret Mitchell [Oxford University Press, 1991]); as do authors of books about the work—Ellen Firsching Brown (Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind: a Bestseller’s Odyssey from Atlanta to Hollywood [Taylor Trade, 2011]); and Richard Barksdale Harwell (Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind Letters, 1936–1949) [Macmillan, 1976]). Those who played the characters on film (Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Olivia de Havilland, Hattie McDaniel) and those who made the film possible (David Selznik, the director; his brother Myron who introduced Vivien Leigh to Selznik as the perfect Scarlett; Susan Myrick, an advisor on the film; Russell Birdwell, a publicist for the film with whom Mitchell exchanged some angry telegrams and letters) are included, as are family members and personal friends. Even the man who ran Mitchell over in 1949 while driving drunk, causing her death some days later, has an entry.

Oddly, you won’t find entries for major Civil War personages, even those who figure in Gone With the Wind. General Sherman, whose march through Georgia is a major event in the book, is not here, nor is Jefferson Davis, General Lee, or even Wade Hampton, the commanding officer of Scarlett O’Hara’s first husband. Apparently Davis decided to confine the encyclopedia to fictional characters and to real people important to Mitchell herself.

Some of the entries might be seen as trivia. Davis includes stunts that Mitchell did during her work as a reporterfor the Atlanta Journal, such as the time she was lifted up by an elephant during her reporting on circus conditions; and episodes during her brief time as a debutante, like her performance in an “Apache Dance,” a somewhat torrid dance which shocked the older members of society. Who knew that Jonesboro, Georgia, a location prominently featured in the novel, organized a reenactment of Scarlett O’Hara’s perilous flight from Atlanta to take place during the premier of the film? Or that Ozzie Nelson (a well-known television actor in the 1950s but a band leader before that) had conducted his band at a reception that coincided with that premier? You’ll find these bits of information, and much more, in this encyclopedia.

The bibliography is extensive, including major works about both Mitchell and her famous book, and newspaper articles contemporaneous with both the book’s publication and the movie’s premier, articles about individuals associated with either book or movie, even government documents and tourist brochures about the area. In short, the bibliography is long and inclusive.

The question is how central is this encyclopedia to the study of American literature, southern literature, and specifically Margaret Mitchell. Without some knowledge of Ms. Mitchell, both her life and her work, it is difficult to see how one would approach this work. How would one know to look up an entry such as “The Dump” unless one already knew that Mitchell referred to her apartment by that name? Or the entry “Gumption” unless one had read enough biographical material on Mitchell to know she saw that term as a major characteristic of the southern people? To properly use this encyclopedia, one might want to read a biography first, or at least an entry in a major literary biography source such as Twentieth Century Literary Criticism (Gale Research, 1983) or its electronic version, Literature Criticism Online, to become acquainted with the author and know what biographical details one wants to pursue.

Margaret Mitchell has faded somewhat from the worldwide phenomenon that GWTW made her. Her one book remains popular and has inspired sequels, dramatic productions, and even a musical. Her literary reputation is somewhat dimmer, however, than it was when she won the Pulitzer Prize for a novel in 1937. Its romanticized view of the pre–Civil War South has rightly been criticized and reinterpreted in light of present day attitudes. She and her book are however, still useful as an early example of a popular culture phenomenon, a precursor to fads and fancies of today.

Despite these reservations, this encyclopedia, in its completeness and attention to detail, would appeal to Mitchell and Gone with the Wind devotees, and to a lesser degree, to people with an interest in southern literature. Libraries which aspire to a complete reference collection in southern studies might consider this title, and certainly the still goodly number of fans of either the book or the film will want to take a look.



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