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It turns out that the original manuscript, at least not all of it, of Gone with the Wind, isn’t gone with the wind after all.
Ellen Brown, divides her time between New London and Richmond. After working for 10 years as a lawyer, she left that career to do freelance writing for magazines and pursue a rare books business. An assignment by Fine Books and Collections to do a profile on a Gone with the Wind collector named John Wiley, who lives in Lynchburg, led the two to write a book in collaboration, the first for either of them. This, in turn led to a serendipitous discovery.
Brown and Wiley’s book is called “Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind; a Bestseller’s Odyssey from Atlanta to Hollywood.”
It’s about Gone with the Wind. Brown notes that a number of books have already been written on this subject, but these predate the Internet. Brown figured that this new research tool could make it possible to find information previous writers may have missed.
Brown said that Margaret Mitchell had a huge volume of correspondence, thousands of files worth. These aren’t digitized, but the Internet helped her locate archives of these documents. She was also able to use the Internet, including Facebook, to locate relatives of the people involved with publishing Mitchell’s work.
According to information provided by Brown, Gone with the Wind has been translated into 40 languages and sold 30 million copies, including 10 million in foreign language editions, over the decades.
“It’s still making millions,” she said, adding that a writer, who pens a classic, has some very lucky heirs.
Mitchell, who was killed by a drunk driver in 1949, had no children, so her two nephews were her heirs. One, Joseph Mitchell, is still alive and Brown and Wiley met and interviewed him in the process of researching the book.
A group of attorneys in Atlanta manage the property for Mitchell and they had to approve Brown’s manuscript. Brown said that this was not a problem — they were actually very supportive. They just wanted to be sure her work was accurate.
According to Brown, the first foreign language editions of Gone with the Wind appeared in Mitchell’s lifetime, something that surprised her. She spoke no foreign language, so Mitchell had to trust that the translations were accurate. She also found correspondence that Mitchell received concerning foreign language editions were a problem, but she was able to solve by utilizing GIs returning from overseas after World War II. Some had picked up a working knowledge of another language during their military service and others came home with war brides, who would read these letters to Mitchell.
The biggest discovery Brown found during her research were four chapters of Mitchell’s original manuscript.
Brown said that Mitchell and her husband had destroyed the original manuscript and it’s been thought to be long gone, although there had been a suggestion that her husband had saved some chapters. But Brown wasn’t looking for these, as she didn’t think they existed. She had contacted the grandchildren of George Brett, who headed Macmillan when the company published the novel. They told her that he had some foreign language editions, which Mitchell had given him. He, in turn, donated these to the Pequot Library in Connecticut. Brown called the library and went there to check them out.
After Brown finished her book, she sent the library a copy. The library, meanwhile, was preparing an Margaret Mitchell exhibit and that’s when they found a file folder containing the four manuscript chapters, including the last chapter.
“They were stunned,” said Brown.
The library had Christies, an international fine art auctioneer, authenticate them. Then, the library went public.
The library had received the manuscript portion, along with the books back in the early 1950s. Brown said that nobody in the library, at the time, appreciated the significance of what they had as they didn’t know that most of the manuscript had been destroyed.
Brown and Wiley went to Connecticut to look at the pages.
“They let us take them out of the case and sit alone with them for a while,” she said.
“I held them in my hand,” commented Brown.
The pages that she looked at had Mitchell’s handwritten corrections on them.
“It was pretty powerful,” she said.
According to Brown, Mitchell had been urged by a friend to write a sequel, but refused to do it. She felt that it would ruin the story. Besides, she never had time to write again as her novel’s success consumed her life from then on.
The four chapters have a mystery of their own.
“The mystery is, how did Brett get hold of them?” she said.
Nobody living knows, but Brown said that the Pequot Library is certainly glad to have them.