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  • Gone With the Wind and the Brethren: Fugitive, Agrarian, and New Critical Responses to a Southern Phenomenon
  • Joseph Millichap (bio)

Neither version of Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell’s novel in 1936 nor David O. Selznick’s movie in 1939, needs any introduction for readers of this Southern Quarterly special issue in 2018. My consideration of Gone With the Wind as a Southern phenomenon does require some explanation, however, for I am using the term in several senses. First of all, Gone With the Wind both in print and on the screen became a single, integrated phenomenon within American culture. Also, Gone With the Wind is among the most Southern of novels in its literary and cultural aspects, and the screen adaptation is even more so in its phenomenal success and lasting significance as an image of the South for America at large. Although the book and the movie have been studied as popular culture, recently they have been more closely considered as literature and film (Pyron 565 ff.) In particular, Gone With the Wind has been located within the flowering of modern Southern letters between the two world wars once known as the Southern Renascence, for instance in comparison with William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! also published in 1936 (Porter 705–10). The importance of Gone With the Wind as a Southern phenomenon insured that it engaged most regional authors in varied ways, even those who professed to distance themselves from it. Most intriguing are the Fugitives, Agrarians, and New Critics, for these overlapping groups of thinkers and writers were wary of the New South in all its social, cultural, and literary manifestations—including Gone With the Wind in both versions. However, some members of these all-male gatherings, who called themselves Brethren in an ironic echo of Southern churchmen, did produce responses to Gone With the Wind in critical and creative texts intertextual [End Page 114] with or even influenced by it.

Allow me to briefly develop my own relations with Gone With the Wind and with these Brethren in order to introduce the particular subjects and approaches I essay here. I was introduced to Mitchell’s novel by its Wide-Screen revival in 1954, a phenomenally successful effort in its own right. Captivated by the visual power of Selznick’s movie masterpiece, my omnivorous reading habits turned me toward a then-recent paperback reissue of the novel that I still possess today. Impressed with the book’s historical sweep and epic scope, I also remember it as overly romantic, racially patronizing, and simply too long. Although I would watch the movie several times on television after its small screen premiere in 1976, I did not reread the book until I taught it in a course on the modern Southern novel at Western Kentucky University in 1994. Gone With the Wind was receiving serious literary reconsideration by then, and I wanted to test the validity of these rereadings. I can recall my surprise at how much I enjoyed this reintroduction to Mitchell’s only novel. The book still displayed all the faults I had noted forty years before, but now I was even more taken with the epic setting of the Civil War, the complex plot spun out over more than a decade, and the sexual psychology of triangular desire in the central character development (Girard 2–7). Moreover, Gone With the Wind taught very well, and my mostly female class really enjoyed what was for most of them their first encounter with it. I must confess, however, that in re-engaging with the novel for this essay I often found it rather flat, plot-driven, and offensive in terms of racial considerations. In fact, my review of the criticism for this essay has proved that my changing relations to the Gone With the Wind phenomenon parallel those of academe at large. For example, see the recent rejections of earlier reconsiderations gathered in New Approaches to Gone With the Wind, edited by James A. Crank (2015).

In a very different way, I can trace my connections with the Fugitive, Agrarian, and New Critical groups as reflected in changing critical attitudes toward them, or at least toward some...


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