Classics Club: Favorite Literary Period

The monthly meme question at The Classics Club for March happens to be the question I submitted so I thought I would take a stab at answering it:

What is your favorite “classic” literary period and why?

It’s not difficult for me to pick my favorite literary period.  In coming up with a list of my favorite books, by and large, they fall into the category of “Early Twentieth Century”.  Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Jack London always come to mind when determining favorites, as do J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesteron, Evelyn Waugh and John Steinbeck.  Recently, I’ve discovered Willa Cather and Edith Wharton – while Cather could be included in favorites, the jury is still out with Wharton.   And I can’t forget Margaret Mitchell and her one great novel.

I don’t know who decides which years “Early Twentieth Century” encompasses but I would ask to be allowed to include J. D. Salinger, Kurt Vonnegut and Flannery O’Connor in this period, as well as James Baldwin, whom I just read for the first time last week.  These authors all published something in the 1940’s and/or 1950’s which I will still include as “Early” even though several of them continued publishing into the “Later Twentieth Century” and in some cases into the “Twenty First Century”.

Why is this time period my favorite?  That’s the more difficult part of the question to answer.  In some respect, it’s simply that these were the authors I read when I first discovered literature during the summer before 10th grade.  They were the first authors I read when I discovered that there was something more to reading than just an exciting plot – that there was something about the words chosen and the way they were put together.  But one could learn this with any literary time period.

I think another reason would be that from my historical perspective, the “Early Twentieth Century” is on the edge of the old and the new.  It’s far enough in the past to be intriguing but yet close enough to the present to see direct connections and influences to the world in which I live.

Just curious, do you have a favorite literary period?

“…tomorrow is another day.”

When Will Benteen gives Gerald O’Hara’s eulogy, he suggests that Gerald would never have been “licked” (or defeated) from the outside; however, he was defeated from the inside.  This scene confirmed for me what others have already said about Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind.  The novel is quintessentially American.  I have to consider the manner in which she presents the world in her novel “as is” to be nothing short of brave and American.  The story Mitchell weaves includes the good, the bad, the beautiful and the ugly.  She doesn’t mince words or whitewash anything.

I’ve read several thoughts about Mitchell’s use of her two heroines, Scarlett O’Hara and Melanie Wilkes.  On the surface, they seem to be polar opposites and some have attempted to determine that Mitchell wanted one of them to be the true heroine.  I am not an expert on Margaret Mitchell; however, I’m not convinced I need to pick one of these women as the true heroine of the story.  It’s a given that Scarlett is on almost every page and the majority of the narrative comes from her perspective.  While Scarlett is the strong one, the survivor, she comes to this conclusion about Melanie, the seemingly weaker of the two:

Suddenly she (Scarlett) was standing at Tara again with the world about her ears, desolate with the knowledge that she could not face life without the terrible strength of the weak, the gentle, the tender hearted.

I think Mitchell paints a picture of personalities and relationships much more complex than a simple either/or.

I simply flat-out loved this story.  While as much as the characters of Scarlett and Melanie intrigued me, I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention the men – especially Rhett Butler.  I found myself respecting the self-proclaimed scoundrel more than I realized.  The way he was able to see through the politics as usual and could play both sides to his advantage never ceased to amaze me and make me laugh out loud.  He seemed to always be a step ahead of everyone in knowing who would be in power.  This is my favorite of his lines and quips (of which there are many) and of course he says it to Scarlett:

“My pet, I’ve been to the devil and he’s a very dull fellow.  I won’t go there again, even for you.”

If Mitchell shows weakness in a poor light, it would probably be through the character of Ashley Wilkes.  His inability to adjust to changing times stood in stark contrast to Rhett.  I don’t think it takes much to figure out who Mitchell considered to have “gumption” among the men.  I don’t think it was Ashley.

It seemed tragic for so many of the characters to not realize who they loved or didn’t love until it was too late – but perhaps it wasn’t too late- perhaps tomorrow really is another day.

Here are the other posts I have about Gone With The Wind:

A Classic Surprise

“gumption” in Gone With The Wind

“gumption” in Gone With The Wind

In case anyone hasn’t noticed, I’ve been making frequent posts about short stories.  That’s because I’m still reading Gone With The Wind.  I’m on page 852 to be exact – about 600 more to go.  As I’ve mentioned before, I haven’t seen the movie, either, so I don’t know how everything will end, yet.

The “about the author” section of my book reveals that Margaret Mitchell’s motivation in writing this novel was to portray people who survive as opposed to people who don’t.  Her word for this ability to keep going was “gumption”.  Unless the novel takes a strange turn in the last 600 pages, Scarlett O’Hara will rank up there as one of my favorite literary heroines – and there’s no doubt that she is a survivor:  one with gumption.  I’m still uncertain about Melanie Wilkes, Scarlett’s sister-in-law.  Her almost altruistic character raises some questions in my mind about what Mitchell thought it takes to survive.  What makes up gumption?  Is selfishness or selflessness a part of it or does it take a little of both?  It was a pleasant surprise when Melanie grabbed the feet of the Yankee that Scarlett killed and dragged his body out of Tara with his head clunking on the porch steps.  Scarlett was impressed, too.   She recognized a “steel” in Melanie that until then had been unrecognizable.  Right now, I’m rooting for both of them.

A Classic Surprise

I have a confession to make:  I’ve never known exactly what Rhett Butler didn’t give a damn about.  While I still don’t know because I’m only 400 pages into Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind, my guess is that I will find out.  In spite of the movie (which I haven’t seen) leaving an indelible impression on pop culture for the better part of the last century, the novel itself only popped up on my radar in the last few years.

The February Meme from The Classics Club asks:

“What classic has most surprised you so far, and why?”

I have been surprised how quickly Mitchell pulls me into her novel’s world.  With unabashed pride, she paints a picture of 1860’s Georgia that I won’t be forgetting any time soon – and I still have over 1,000 pages to go.  I’ve been surprised at how well her novel incorporates the political complexities facing the United States during that time.  I’m surprised at how enthralled I am with the vivid characterizations of Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara but am equally intrigued by Melanie and Ashley Wilkes.  I’ve been surprised to learn that at the onset of the Civil War, Atlanta was only about twenty-five years old while her sister coastal cities of Charleston and Savannah were moving into their third century.

The cover of my edition (see below) looks like a book one might find next to the magazine rack at the grocery store.  While romance is a big part of this novel, I’ve been surprised to find that Gone With The Wind is much more.

Look for another post when I finish reading it!