Sunday, March 1, 2009

Molly Haskell's "Frankly, My Dear"

Molly Haskell is the author of From Reverence to Rape: the Treatment of Women in the Movies and the memoir Love and Other Infectious Diseases.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Frankly, My Dear: "Gone with the Wind" Revisited (part of the Yale University Press’s American Icon series), and reported the following:
I consider Scarlett O’Hara one of the most original and unusual characters ever to grace the page of an American novel, or, as played by Vivien Leigh, the American screen. So wicked (she steals her sister’s fiance, marries three men she doesn’t love, lies, cheats and runs roughshod over Christian and ladylike niceties); yet so courageous, resourceful, blunt and impatient with the pious mythologies of Southern paternalism. Hateful yet curiously forgiveable. And finally, though punished by rejection and loss, she doesn’t suffer the usual retribution dished out to wicked women: penance and transformation! Where did she come from?

One of the themes of my book, which deals with both the 1936 novel and the 1939 movie of Gone with the Wind, is an exploration of her roots in Margaret Mitchell’s life and divided psyche (divided, that is, between good-girl Melanie and renegade Scarlett). And I look at possible external sources, in film and literature. Page 99 is part of a discussion of the similarities and differences between Scarlett and Becky Sharp, Thackeray’s great Victorian adventuress whom contemporary reviewers saw as Mitchell’s inspiration. The Southern novelist denied any such kinship, saying she’d never read the novel. But she wasn’t always to be trusted in such matters, especially as she lived in terror of accusations of plagiarism. Whether or not she’d read Thackeray, she created a unique heroine, a bad-girl beauty, who has kept her edge for three-quarters of a century.
Read an excerpt from Frankly, My Dear, and learn more about the book at the Yale University Press website.

Visit Molly Haskell's website.

Read about Molly Haskell's list of the five best autobiographies by actresses.

--Marshal Zeringue