Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Margaret Munnerlyn Mitchell (November 8 1900 - August 16 1949) was the author of the immensely successful novel Gone With the Wind, which was published June 30th 1936. (The book was dramatized by David O. Selznick and released three years later. The official premiere of the film occurred in Atlanta in December, 1939.)
Mitchell was born in Atlanta, Georgia. Her childhood, it seems, was spent in the laps of Civil War veterans, and her maternal relatives, who lived through the war and the years to follow. They told her everything about the war except that the Confederates had lost it. She was ten years old before making this discovery.
She attended Smith College, but withdrew following her final exams in 1918. She returned to Atlanta to take over the household after her mother's death earlier that year from the great influenza pandemic of 1918 (and Mitchell used this pivotal scene from her own life to dramatize Scarlett's discovery of her mother's death from typhoid when Scarlett returns to Tara). Shortly afterward, she joined the staff of The Atlanta Journal where she wrote a weekly column for the newspaper's Sunday edition.
She is reported to have begun writing Gone With the Wind while bedridden and nursing a broken ankle. Her husband, John Marsh, brought home to her historical books from the public library, to amuse her while she convalesced. Finally, he told her, "Peggy, if you want another book, why don't you write her own?" She drew upon her encyclopedic knowledge about the Civil War, and used dramatic moments from her own life to write her epic novel, typing it out on an old Remington. She originally called her heroine "Pansy O'Hara" and Tara was "Fontenoy Hall." She wrote for her own amusement, with solid support from her husband, but she kept her literary efforts a secret from all her friends. She would hide the voluminous pages under towels, disguising them as a divan, or hide pages in her closets or under her bed. She wrote in a haphazard fashion, writing the last chapter first, and skipping around from chapter to chapter. Her husband regularly proofread her mounting manuscript to help in continuity. By 1929, most of the book was written, her ankle had healed, and she had lost interest in pursuing it.
She lived her life as a modest Atlanta housewife until a fateful visit from a MacMillan publisher, Howard Latham, to Atlanta in 1935 as he scoured the South looking for promising new Southern writers. Mitchell had agreed to escort him around Atlanta at the request of her friend who now worked for Latham. Latham was enchanted with her and asked her if she had ever written a book. Mitchell demurred...she was too professional to even dream of showing her old, haphazard manuscript to a publisher. "Well, IF you ever do write a book, please show it to me first!" Latham implored. Later that day, a friend of Mitchell's, having heard this conversation laughed. "Imagine, anyone as silly as Peggy writing a book!" she said. Mitchell stewed over this comment, went home, and found most of the old, crumbling envelopes she had stowed away, containing her disjointed manuscript. She arrived at The Georgian Terrace Hotel, just as Latham was preparing to depart Atlanta, and said, "Here, take this before I change my mind!" Latham bought an extra suitcase to accommodate the giant manuscript, that had piled taller than the diminutive author. When Mitchell arrived home, she was horrified over her impetuous act. She sent a telegram to Latham: "Have changed my mind. Send manuscript back." It was too late. Latham had read enough pages of the disjointed, disintegrating manuscript to realize he had a blockbuster. Instead of returning the manuscript, he wrote to her of his thoughts on the potential success of the manuscript's eventual publication. Macmillan soon sent her an advance check to encourage her to complete the novel - - oddly enough, Mitchell had never composed a first chapter for the manuscript. Mitchell completed her work in March of 1936, and the book's publication soon followed.
The house where she lived while writing her manuscript is known today as The Margaret Mitchell House. Located in Midtown Atlanta, it is a major tourist destination. Another major tourist destination, a museum dedicated to GWTW the book and film, lies a few miles north of Atlanta, in Marietta, Georgia. It is called Scarlett On the Square , as it is located on the historic Marietta Square. It houses costumes from the film, scripts, and many artifacts from GWTW, including Margaret Mitchell's collection of foreign editions of her book. Margaret Mitchell won the Pulitzer Prize for her magnificent novel, that has sold more copies than any other hard-cover book, second only to The Bible. It continues to sell over 200,000 copies a year, and it has never been out of print.
Additionally, Clayton County (the area just south of Atlanta and the setting for the fictional O'Hara plantation, Tara) maintains "The Road to Tara" Museum in the old railroad depot in downtown Jonesboro.
Mitchell was struck by a speeding off-duty taxi driver as she crossed Peachtree Street at 13th Street with husband John Marsh in August 1949. She died five days later from her injuries. She is buried in Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta.
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