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Fine Books Review

Scarlett at 75

The following is an excerpt from Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind: A Bestseller’s Odyssey from Atlanta to Hollywood. Reprinted with permission.

The first printing of Gone With the Wind came off the presses in early April [1936]—10,245 copies, including overruns. Commensurate with [Macmillan]’s promise that the book would have a quality appearance, [the publisher] invested in a substantial weight paper and used a generously sized typeface. Bound in Confederate gray cloth with blue lettering, the 1,037-page book weighed nearly three pounds. Although Mitchell had thought her story would work best in two volumes, Macmillan decided on a single book because it was cheaper to produce and might appeal to a broader audience. Other economies were made as well. There was no attached ribbon bookmarker or decorated endpapers, two add-ons the company had considered but rejected because of the cost.

The dust jacket focused on the book’s title, presenting the words ‘‘Gone,’’ ‘‘With,’’ and ‘‘Wind’’ in tall, dark brown capital letters filling almost two-thirds of the cover. With the large words set against a yellow background, the book had the feel of a miniature billboard announcing its contents. The bold appearance led one commentator to remark that Macmillan must have wanted to make certain the words were readable from a great distance in stores and even in the arms of pedestrians walking down the street. The publisher included only one pictorial element on the front, a small scene by George Carlson of a Southern belle and two gentlemen under the title. The yet-to-be-famous author’s name appeared in a narrow green bar along the bottom. As a signal that Macmillan was offering readers a historical story with a modern edge, it presented all the words in a vintage-looking typeface set against a series of Art Deco–style graduated stripes.

Another significant feature was the dedication page. Mitchell paid tribute to her husband, John R. Marsh, in succinct terms: ‘‘To J.R.M.’’ The brevity of the sentiment might seem impersonal or inadequate given the amount of work he had done on the manuscript, but to those who knew the couple, it was in perfect keeping with their relationship. A family friend described the inscription years later: ‘‘If it had been as flowery as the inscription which precedes the Sonnets of Shakespeare it could no more clearly have conveyed the completeness of the bond between Margaret Munnerlyn Mitchell and John Robert Marsh.’’ Public professions of love and gratitude were not the Marsh way. As would become clear in the coming months, they were a private couple who preferred to keep personal matters between themselves. Ironically, this most personal of sentiments almost did not make it into the book. The previous fall, the dedication page had been inadvertently omitted from the book’s mock-up that had been sent to Mitchell for approval. She noticed its absence but almost let it go, assuming dedication pages were not included at that stage. Only as an afterthought did the Marshes mention the omission to Cole, who acknowledged the error. Cole directed the production department to correct what would have been an embarrassing oversight: ‘‘You will be sure it is not left out, won’t you? There would be trouble—that is the lady’s husband.’’

Ironically, one of the most significant components of the book in years to come would be a feature that many readers ignore—the copyright page. All books published in the United States contain a statement indicating the year the volume is published and registered for copyright protection with the Library of Congress. Macmillan went further in its books and, for the sake of historical reference, identified the month of publication in addition to the year so book dealers and collectors easily could identify first editions. For Gone With the Wind, the first printing bore the notation ‘‘Printed May, 1936,’’ a reference to the book’s scheduled release date. Including that one extra word would turn out to be a costly and potentially catastrophic mistake, though it would be several years before the full effects were realized.

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Rebecca Rego Barry is the editor of this magazine.
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