In a 2014 Harris poll, women in the United States voted it their second most favourite book, and their most loved novel.
(Number #1 spot is still held by the Bible.)
The novel was: ‘Gone with the Wind’.
It is the one they give a damn about the most.
But who was the woman who wrote it – and what was her inspiration?
She had broken her ankle and it was taking a long time to heal. All she could do was read.
Her husband was fed up with bringing home stacks of book from the library every day.
Why don’t you write your own book? he said and bought her a Remington Portable No. 3 typewriter.
So she did.
The book she wrote – Gone with the Wind – did reasonably well for a first novel.
It sold a million copies in its first 6 months, won the Pulitzer Prize and when movie rights were sold, it went on to become the best picture of 1939.
When she went to Atlanta’s Washington Seminary School she joined the Literary Club and had two stories published in the yearbook: Little Sister and Sergeant Terry.
And at 15 she wrote a romance novella set in the South Pacific called Lost Laysen.
She gave the two notebooks containing the work to a boyfriend, who went by the unlikely name of Henry Love Angel.
What she was good at – like Scarlett – was flirting.
In 1922 an Atlanta gossip columnist wrote that she had ‘more honest-to-goodness suitors than almost any other girl in Atlanta.’
She was engaged to five men at various times, and once dated two men at the same time – seeing them both daily.
They were Red Upshaw, and his roommate and friend, John R. Marsh.
Upshaw earned money bootlegging alcohol out of the Georgia mountains while Marsh was a copy editor for AP.
In effect they were … Ashley and Rhett.
Red married Margaret – or Red married Scarlett – on September 2, 1922. March, read Ashley, was best man.
Three months later the marriage was gone with the wind, because of Upshaw’s alcoholism and violent temper.
Unexpected plot twist: three years later Mitchell married Marsh.
While separated fro her first husband, Mitchell had been supporting herself as a columnist for The Atlanta Journal.
So he bought her the typewriter and she set to work on a Civil War era novel called Tote the Weary Load featuring a heroine called Pansy O’Hara.
She wrote her story by chapters, storing them in manila envelopes, then stacking them in various places around their house.
She even used parts of it to prop up a wobbly couch.
And that might have been that.
But ten years later Harold Latham, an editor for MacMillan, visited Atlanta on a literary scouting trip. Mitchell was asked to show him around and introduce him to new writers.
She did not tell him about her own MS – she didn’t think it was good enough.
But she was incensed when she heard that another woman had said to Latham – that Margaret Mitchell could never write a novel! – and fiddle-dee-dee, she rushed to his hotel just before he left and threw the whole mess at him. Well great balls of fire and don’t call me sugar.
Most of the pages were mildewed and the chapters were out of order.
It was so massive Latham had to buy a cheap cardboard suitcase just to carry the thing.
The next day she called him and asked for it back. He refused.
He published it instead – with a new title: Gone With the Wind. The book experienced huge success even before the first copy hit the stores.
The movie rights were sold to David O. Selznick for $50,000 – a record at the time.
When the film achieved its monumental success he decided he had underpaid her, and sent her an additional $50,000.
The book on its own sold a million copies in the first six months.
Mitchell was not prepared for such success; the phone rang off the hook, fan letters poured in – and she answered them all personally.
It was a runaway success – and yet it was the only novel she ever published in her lifetime. Mitchell was the classic one hit wonder. What happened? Did fame frighten her or did she think she could never repeat her first success?
Whatever the reason, she vowed never to write a sequel – and she kept her word.
So what became of Rhett and Scarlett? “For all I know, Rhett may have found someone else who was less difficult,’ was Mitchell’s response.
She certainly didn’t need to write again; she had become a legend in her own time. Gone with the Wind has now sold over 40 million copies and according to a recent Harris Poll it is the second favorite book by American readers – just behind the Bible. It has been translated into 70 different languages
But its creator is long gone; she was killed by a drunk driver on her way to see a movie with her husband in 1949 .
Henry Love Angel died in 1994.
His son found the novella Mitchell wrote as a fifteen year old hidden away with some letters she had written to him.
It was published in 1996, eighty years after it was written.
It, too, became a New York Times best seller.
So I guess she wasn’t a one hit wonder after all.