This is a winter rerun about one of literature's most colorful chracters.
Where had I heard that name before? Was it from a tour in the past? Maybe I met her at a conference. Then it hit me. She’s the heroine from Incognito, one of my favorite novels. It took some time to create the passionate redhead who hid behind business frump attire.
My first thought was how could I forget her? My second thought was I thought she was a real person. Technically, she is. Book characters can sometimes be more real to readers than co-workers can.
I was working on interviews for an upcoming tour when I stalled at the favorite book question. That is the equivalent of asking a mother, which child is her favorite. If you have more than one child, there is no way you can answer this. There is something special and remarkable about each child. The same goes for books.
The book that changed me the most was Gone with the Wind. As an eighth grader, I felt a bit intimidated by the oversized novel I checked out of the school library. I opened the book one Friday evening. Scarlet O’Hara captured me as she allowed men to battle for the honor of waiting on her. It didn’t take long to discover that this protagonist was petty, mean, vain, and ambitious. Her marriage decisions tended to be on the impulsive side too.
Here was a heroine who didn’t exemplify all that was good. In fact, she could have been a template for a mean girl of her time. I’m betting she may have been top mean girl. Her flaws kept me turning pages. Her obsession with Ashley, an archetype of the noble Southern gentleman, made her somewhat sympathetic. Even at the young age of thirteen, I’d already had a few Ashleys in my life. Usually, they were celebrities who didn’t know I existed. All the same, they were not for me just as Ashley wasn’t a good fit for the fiery Scarlett.
Gone with the Wind was the first book I’d read with realistic characters. Middle grade authors wrote books with perfect kids who had great manners as they solved mysteries. Parents didn’t want books about out of control children. These stories always felt false because I didn’t know any kids like them. There may have been different types of books, but my mother made sure they never reached my hands.
The villains weren’t simply bad or a wrong choice. They were evil from the start to make sure the reader never mistook them for an ordinary person. That was the difference with Gone with the Wind. There were no bad people. There were bad decisions and the consequences of those decisions.
It was an adult view I’d never had the privilege of seeing until Margaret Mitchell pulled the curtain back. Suddenly, I saw a world where decent people made wrong decisions that resulted in hurry up marriages, abandonment, death, and even war.
On some level, I knew I should despise the gutsy Scarlett who grabbed for whatever she wanted, but on the other hand, I admired her courage. At times, I wanted to slap her upside the head because she didn’t understand that Rhett was twice the man Ashley was.
In the end, Margaret Mitchell made Scarlett pay for her headstrong ways. Most viewed the ending as unhappy and demanded a new one. Margaret Mitchell never complied. Years later, a new book named Scarlett appeared.
It was a response to the lingering question about what happened to Scarlett. In the original book, she returned to Tara to start again when her daughter dies and Rhett leaves her. The ending actually showed some growth for Scarlett as a character. Alone back at Tara, she grabs a handful of clay soil and echoes her father’s words about the land mattering. She’s very aware of her mistakes, but is willing to work with what she has.
People brought up with the belief system that everything should be tied up with a nice bow could not accept this ending. Scarlett didn’t self-destruct. All she did was reap the consequences of her actions. The majority of marriages do break up or at least crack over the death of a child, especially when one parent blames the other as Scarlett did.
The follow up novel felt wrong. It was rather like hearing your parents indulge in salacious gossip, but when they realized you overheard, a hasty tale is born to cover the original, more interesting one.
Considering Scarlett’s impact, it isn’t that strange that I thought Teresa Gallagher was someone I met once.