By CHARLES McGRATH
Published: March 29, 2011
SOUTHPORT, Conn. — Long thought to have been burned the way the North set fire to the cotton at Tara, the final typescript of the last four chapters of Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone With the Wind” has turned up in the Pequot Library in this Yankee seaport town. If not quite a spoil of war, the manuscript is a relic of some publishing skirmishes, and it will go on exhibit starting on Saturday, before traveling to Atlanta, Mitchell’s hometown, in time for the 75th anniversary of the novel’s publication in June.
The chapters, which contain some of the novel’s most memorable lines — like, “My dear, I don’t give a damn” and “After all, tomorrow is another day” — were given to the Pequot in the early 1950s by George Brett Jr., the president of Macmillan, Mitchell’s publisher, and a longtime benefactor of the library. Some pages from the manuscript were actually displayed at the Pequot twice before — in a 1979 exhibition of Macmillan first editions, also donated by Mr. Brett, and in 1991 for a show honoring “Scarlett,” Alexandra Ripley’s authorized, if not very good, sequel to “Gone With the Wind.”
But Dan Snydacker, executive director of the library, said nobody back then paid the manuscript much attention or recognized its importance.
The pages went back into storage and resurfaced only in response to a query from Ellen F. Brown, who was working with her co-author, John Wiley Jr., on “Margaret Mitchell’s ‘Gone With the Wind’: A Bestseller’s Odyssey From Atlanta to Hollywood,” published in February by Taylor Trade Publishing. Ms. Brown was interested in the Brett collection at the Pequot and curious to know if any of the library’s many foreign editions of “Gone With the Wind,” yet another bequest, had inscriptions from the author to her publisher.
They do, but most, it turns out, are pretty tepid. For at least part of the time, the relationship between Mitchell and Brett was somewhat frosty, and why Brett had the manuscript in the first place remains a mystery.
The manuscript itself is remarkably clean, typed on a Royal portable with just a few handwritten corrections fixing a typo, adding a word or changing a “that” to a “which,” often incorrectly. That it’s in this condition suggests something about Mitchell’s perfectionist nature and something about the unusual way “Gone With the Wind” was written and published.
Mitchell worked on the novel, which was originally to be called either “Tomorrow Is Another Day” or “Tote the Weary Load,” in fits and starts from 1925 to 1935. She wrote on blank newsprint and composed the book out of order, beginning with the last chapter and picking up other sections as her mood suited her. The finished chapters she put in individual manila envelopes, sometimes with grocery lists scrawled on them, and stored in a closet. Very few people saw them or even knew what she was doing.
In April 1935, however, while on a scouting trip to Atlanta, Harold Latham, the editor in chief of Macmillan, somehow pried the pile of envelopes loose from Mitchell and sent them to New York for evaluation. Ms. Brown said the draft at that point was a mess, with some chapters missing and duplicate versions of others, and yet Macmillan reacted enthusiastically and decided, with unusual haste, to bring the novel out the following spring.
From August 1935 to January 1936, Mitchell, with the help of John Marsh, her second husband (and best man at her marriage to the first), and some hired typists and stenographers, essentially rewrote and retyped the entire book, cutting, refining, straightening out inconsistencies and fixing historical inaccuracies. Until fairly late in the process the heroine was called Pansy, and when Mitchell changed the name to Scarlett, thank goodness, she paid 50 cents an hour to have every page mentioning Pansy retyped.
As each chapter was finished, it was sent off to New York, and that typescript, with very few alterations, became the final text of the novel. The manuscript you would really like to see is that jumble of newsprint pages stuffed into envelopes — what Macmillan called “MS of the Old South” — but most of that was destroyed by Mitchell’s husband, following her instructions, after her death in 1949. Mitchell always insisted that books should be judged by their final versions, not their drafts, and had grown weary of people and institutions pestering her for manuscript pages to be kept as souvenirs or put on display.
Marsh also burned, or so it was thought, most of the final typescript. He kept back two chapters, 44 and 47, which, along with some of the earlier material, are now stored in a vault in Atlanta, to be opened only if a question ever arises about the authorship of “Gone With the Wind.”
So what was George Brett doing with the last four chapters? At one point he didn’t even know he had them. That was in 1936, when he wrote to Mitchell asking if he could have a couple of manuscript pages to display at The New York Times Book Fair that year. Mitchell wrote back, irritated, to say that the manuscript had never been returned to her. Abashed, Macmillan found it in a vault and, insuring it for $1,000, sent it all back, or so everyone believed until just recently.
Mr. Snydacker said there were only a few explanations. Either Brett held onto part of the manuscript deliberately, or some of the chapters became separated (one of the pages, dusty and with a rusty paperclip mark, looks as if it had been stored on a windowsill somewhere), or Mitchell asked him to hold onto the chapters for safekeeping.
“It’s easy to give him the benefit of the doubt,” Joan Youngken, the guest curator of the Pequot exhibit, said. “If he kept it improperly, he wouldn’t be passing it along to a public library.”
Ms. Brown said: “I think those chapters must have been a gift. The story has always been that Mitchell and Brett didn’t get along because she felt he didn’t make a good enough deal for the movie rights. And it’s true that he didn’t. There are some angry letters, and there was a period when they weren’t speaking. But I’ve found plenty of evidence that by the end they had a very warm relationship.”
Carefully turning over the pages of the manuscript last week, Mr. Snydacker said: “I think it’s amazing that we have this. I love the book even though it’s inexcusably racist. It wasn’t written in the 1860s but the 1930s, for God’s sake. In some ways it’s pretty sympathetic to the K.K.K. But it’s a great work in spite of that. It’s a very powerful antiwar book, among other things. As a Vietnam vet, that part has always rung true to me, and I think that’s why it was so popular in Europe.”
He added: “No question, ‘Gone With the Wind’ is a part of the fabric of American life, and not just the movie, either. The book still sells something like 250,000 copies a year.”