I had no idea Margaret Mitchell was such a fascinating character. A glimpse into her sanctuary in downtown Atlanta made me realize what a progressive, relatable and frankly, bad-ass woman she was.
A tour of the Margaret Mitchell House provides an intimate glance into Mitchell’s life and inspiration. It’s hard to believe that she wrote Gone with the Wind in such a “dump.” Actually, it’s not so shabby today, but that’s what she and her husband affectionately dubbed the small first-floor apartment that they rented. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine such a grand novel originating in such a stifled environment. However, Mitchell managed to find the inspiration needed to write one of the great American novels within these walls.
For the most part, she was isolated behind lace curtains with few distractions – her imagination put to the test. At the age of 26 and newly married, she had been forced to give up a budding journalism career due to an ankle injury. As a result, she was bound to this apartment for several years and read incessantly for entertainment. Tired of carrying home stacks of books for his wife, Mitchell’s husband finally bought her a typewriter. The rest was history.
Much of Mitchell’s inspiration came from a childhood growing up in Atlanta with relatives sharing stories of The Civil War. She was a storyteller from an early age and took her family’s experience to the page in her later works. A journalist in the 1920s, Mitchell interviewed celebrities like Rudolph Valentino while also covering the political unrest of the time. She was a feminist pioneer in journalism, diving fearlessly into a male-dominated landscape.
Perhaps we should be grateful for the injury that forced her to give up her ambitious journalism career. American literature is the better for it. But, you can’t help but wonder what trails she could have blazed had she not been forced into such isolation. I was fascinated by the exhibit of photos and stories featuring a progressive young woman, making a name for herself during a time of such change, growth and hostility. I knew little about Mitchell before visiting her home, but left feeling a deep sense of connection.
Mitchell went on to live a fulfilling life with her husband. She was a volunteer aid worker during WWII, often writing letters of encouragement to soldiers, and she watched as Gone With The Wind was converted into a blockbuster film in 1939. Sadly, she died at the age of 48 after being hit by a car while walking with her husband.
I visited her grave in Atlanta’s Oakland Cemetery. A note quoting Scarlett O’Hara’s iconic nod to procrastination was taped to her gravestone:
I’ll think about it tomorrow.
It’s a fitting tribute to Mitchell’s ability to create characters that continue to capture the hearts of readers decades later.