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After blazing through more than half of Gone with the Wind last month (and writing recaps of Part 1 and Part 2), I put the book down for a while, because I didn’t want to get too far ahead of the read-along at Erin’s blog. However, it’s time to head back to Atlanta – and Tara – as we discuss Part 3.

In some ways, the Scarlett I see in this section is the Scarlett I like best – the one who steps up and does what is needed, whether that’s delivering Melanie’s baby, getting herself and several others safely back to Tara, and taking over the running of Tara after finding her mother dead and her father unbalanced. (This broke my heart – I love fiery, blustery Gerald and I’d forgotten how lost he was without his wife.) Scarlett is still a teenager (though she’s a widow and a mother), but she has to do a lot of growing up very quickly, as her father, her sisters, the slaves and Melanie look to her for guidance and strength.

I’d forgotten about the scenes with Scarlett’s neighbors, the genteel families of the County who are struggling to escape starvation, and missing their men who are still gone. It broke my heart to ride along with Scarlett as she visited them, though I appreciated the wise words from sharp-eyed Grandma Fontaine about how terrible it can be to face the worst, because then you can’t ever really fear anything again. I do love the neighborly spirit that persists in the County, everyone sharing what they have, though they’ve soon got nothing left.

Melanie, though weak from childbirth, continues to display that “thin line of unbreakable steel” at her core – helping Scarlett beat out the flames after the Yankees set fire to Tara. And Dilcey, the O’Haras’ half-Indian slave, is impressively hardworking and patient. This section of the book is often nightmarish – trauma piled on top of trauma. But some of these characters show their better sides in the face of such tragedy.

Another character we meet here, whom I admire, is Will Benteen, a one-legged Confederate soldier who comes to Tara for food and comfort, and stays because he grows to love it. He and Scarlett oth harbor a fierce love for Tara, and they gradually come to run the plantation as partners. Scarlett, of course, never has the sense to appreciate people for their full value, but she is grateful for Will, whose shrewd business sense, gentle spirit and untiring work ethic help keep Tara and its inhabitants from starvation.

Finally, there are some great dramatic moments in this section – Scarlett and Melanie fleeing Atlanta with the leaping flames in the background; Scarlett raising her fist to the sky and declaring, “I’ll never be hungry again!”; Scarlett shooting a Yankee deserter in the front hall at Tara; and – as the section ends – Ashley returning to Tara. (I love Will for restraining Scarlett here, letting Ashley and Melanie have their reunion.)

The story, of course, is far from over – Parts 4 and 5 yet to come. If you’re reading along, or are a GWTW fan, what do you think of this section of the book?

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In case you haven’t checked it out lately, the Gone with the Wind discussion on Erin’s blog is hopping – particularly since the story really starts to take off in Part 2. Scarlett, widowed and bored (at 17!), escapes isolated Tara for new, exciting Atlanta (though she doesn’t relish living with silly Aunt Pittypat and goody-two-shoes Melanie). And, of course, she proceeds to scandalize the town by dancing at a bazaar – while in mourning – with that scalawag Rhett Butler, no less!

I love this section because the pace picks up, but also because Scarlett – and all the Atlanta characters – begin to come into their own. Melanie is no longer just Ashley’s wife; she may be shy, demure and a little clueless, but she’s also loyal, hardworking and stronger than anyone suspects. And Ashley is more honest than I remember about his misgivings regarding the war (though Scarlett, as usual, is bored by all talk that doesn’t center on her).

The bazaar scene, in which Rhett pays a scandalous amount of money to dance with Scarlett, who as a widow isn’t really supposed to be dancing at all – is one of my favorite scenes in the novel. He’s daring her to defy society’s expectations and do what she really wants – and she does. She also surprises herself by realizing she doesn’t really believe in the Glorious Cause – and this is the first real hint of her future determination to do what she wants, society and reputation be damned.

Atlanta is such a vibrant setting that, as Erin says, it’s really a character in the book – young, hustling, busy, often rude, but always on the go. Just like Scarlett. The shift in setting mirrors the shift in Scarlett’s own life, and the shift in the pace of the war. Suddenly it’s a real event, requiring action and sacrifice, not just a faraway idea. (This truth is thrown sharply into relief when the casualty lists from Gettysburg come in. Those poor Tarleton boys!) As always, it’s fascinating to read about the war from the South’s perspective, where “Mr. Lincoln” is one of the bad guys and no one even mentions his famous address.

I’m constantly surprised by how much fun everyone is having – though the war is ever-present in the background, life is exciting and thrilling, especially after Scarlett comes out of mourning. The cast of characters swells with all the families in Atlanta’s Old Guard, as well as a couple of charming outsiders like Rene Picard, and a few more slaves like Uncle Peter. In this part of the novel, it seems music is always playing. It’s wartime, but we’re a long way from the privations to come.

Are you reading along – or have you read Gone with the Wind before? Any favorite scenes or chapters from Part 2?

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It’s been nearly 15 years since I read Gone with the Wind. But thanks to Erin’s readalong over at the Heroine’s Bookshelf, I’ve cracked open my red, clothbound hardback copy for the first time since junior high. And I’m tearing through it at a breakneck pace – because it’s juicy, compelling, gorgeously written and so deliciously dramatic.

Scarlett isn’t my usual kind of heroine – I grew up trying to be a good girl and reading about literary good girls whose characters and choices were (mostly) good models for me. Anne Shirley, Christy Huddleston, Laura Ingalls Wilder, even Jo March – all had their flaws, but they were kind and loyal and hardworking, and they never lied, cheated, stole or hurt anyone’s feelings if they could help it.

My mom warned me about Scarlett before I picked up the book, and I wondered if I’d like reading about a girl who was catty, self-centered, oblivious to the needs of others and just plain mean. (Besides, I’d already seen the movie and knew Scarlett spent years chasing the wrong man, and making everyone miserable because she couldn’t have what she thought she wanted.)

You can guess what happened when I started reading. I loved the book for its lush descriptions of the antebellum South, the brave tale of the Confederacy fighting a doomed war, and the struggle of the O’Haras, Wilkes, Hamiltons and others to survive the chaos and come out on the other side. Scarlett made me furious, but I had to admire her survival skills. And I found other characters to love and admire – stately Ellen, rough-edged Gerald, the rowdy Tarleton boys and their mother, sharp-eyed Grandma Fontaine, gentle Will Benteen, Melanie Hamilton, Rhett Butler, and most of all Mammy. (Indeed, I wrote a guest post for Erin about how much I love Mammy.)

Now, reading it again – as a married twentysomething with (I hope) a much better grasp of American history, the lives of slaves, the lives of women in the 1860s and the work required to write a book, I’m seeing all kinds of things in the book I never saw before. I’d forgotten about many of the minor characters, who are wonderfully drawn (Rene Picard! Will Benteen! Grandma Fontaine!) and really help round out the story. I’m paying much more attention to the treatment of women (particularly the prevailing idea that women can’t think for themselves) and the white planters’ opinion of slaves. (Even at 14 I knew the book espoused an outdated, damaging vision of race, but it strikes me much more forcefully now.)

And even as I’ve come to respect Scarlett more, I’ve also gained a greater respect for Melanie. I used to think Melanie was a wimp (even if she was the “good girl,” the one I thought I “should” admire), but now, like Scarlett, I’m forced to admire that “thin line of unbreakable steel” at Melanie’s core, and her sheer determination to survive and take care of her own.

I’m still reading (the readalong continues through mid-October, though I’m bound to finish long before then, at the rate I’m going). This is a true epic saga, so I can’t fit all my comments about it into one blog post. Look for more of my musings as the readalong continues – or hop over to Erin’s blog and join the conversation there.

Have you read Gone with the Wind? What do you think of it? And do you make new discoveries when you reread the classics – or other favorites?

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