The three-story red brick building in mid-town Atlanta where Margret Mitchell wrote the epic novel Gone With the Wind (1936) is called the Margaret Mitchell House. And though she did write the novel there, the unexpected thing is that Mitchell and her husband actually lived in a tiny apartment on the first floor of the house from 1925-1932, which consists of a living room, bedroom (also used as a dining room with a drop leaf table and two chairs pushed against one wall), and a tiny back kitchen.
When Margaret quit her job as a feature writer for the Atlanta Journal, she hadn’t set out to write the novel, but when she became housebound after an injury to an already weak ankle, the book came to life. It had been in her mind for many, many years. At this point in her life, Margaret Mitchell had suffered loss (her first love and her mother), had dropped out of college, had married badly and divorced. She was happily married to John Marsh, but haunted by her own recent past and a past that she had been told stories about all of her life—Atlanta’s past.
Every morning after her husband went to work and the housekeeper had cleaned up breakfast, Peggy sat at a small desk made from an old sewing machine table of her mother’s and worked all day. The desk sits catty corner in the living room between one long window and a window seat below another high window.
The novel began to take shape quickly, and yet, it would be years until it was complete. During those years there were bouts of writer’s block and when asked if she were working on a book, she would usually answer no. If visitors came to the “Dump” as the Marshes called the apartment (see previous post for a description), a towel was thrown over the Remington typewriter and the piles of paper and manila envelopes containing the various parts of the novel.
We were at the Margaret Mitchell House on a quiet Saturday morning recently, before other visitors had arrived, and it was not hard to imagine Peggy Marsh before she became a celebrity, sitting at the desk with her notecards and pages of research, with her housekeeper clanking dishes in the background and sounds from the street coming thru the open window, her mind absorbed in her story that all started in that tiny apartment when she typed the sentence: “She had never understood either of the men she loved and so she lost them both.”
In addition to the apartment, the Margaret Mitchell House has exhibits in other parts of the house about the making of the movie and its premier in Atlanta in 1939. All of it is fascinating, but I was glad (moved even) to have a chance to walk thru the small, cramped rooms and feel the spirit of the young, struggling writer who managed to tell a mythical tale that would change her life for better and for worse (and that of many others) forever.