Literary windfall

Talk about a windfall — and a coincidence. Recently, Joseph Mitchell, nephew and heir of “Gone With The Wind” author Margaret Mitchell, died and left to the Archdiocese of Atlanta 50 percent of the trademark and all literary rights pertaining to the famous book. He also left his home to the archdiocese, along with millions of dollars to the Church. He was a member of Atlanta’s Cathedral of Christ the King parish. 

God bless Joseph Mitchell. He cared for his Church and its works for the Lord. His bequests also recall Margaret Mitchell’s Catholic roots and the Catholic themes and references in her legendary novel about life in the South during the Civil War and Reconstruction. 

“Gone With The Wind” is in print in dozens of languages. The motion picture still is sold and is aired on television periodically. 

David O’Connell, a professor at Georgia State University in Atlanta, showed the links between Catholicism, the American Irish experience and the famous novel in “The Irish Roots of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind” (Claves & Petry, Ltd., 1996). 

Margaret Mitchell was baptized, confirmed and received her first holy Communion in Atlanta’s beautiful old Sacred Heart church. Her family was Irish-Catholic. Relatives who had a considerable impact upon her in her youth were devoutly Catholic. As a young woman, however, she let her religious practice slip. When she divorced her first husband and remarried outside the Church, her drift from the Church was irreversible. 

Mitchell books
Various editions of "Gone With the Wind" -- including ones from Spain, Germany, Iran, Finland and Vietnam -- are part of a multimillion-dollar bequest made to the Archdiocese of Atlanta by Joseph Mitchell, Margaret Mitchell's nephew. CNS photo

Some reviewers of the book have seen Mitchell reflected in Scarlett O’Hara, the book’s central figure. For example, Scarlett O’Hara’s family was Catholic. Her father emigrated from Ireland and made it good planting cotton — with the toil of 100 slaves. Her mother’s French family had fled to Savannah after slaves in Haiti revolted and drove them and the other French planters away. 

In an early scene in both the book and the film, the O’Hara family is gathered, with the house slaves, in the parlor as Scarlett’s mother leads them in the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Scarlett’s sister, who eventually enters a convent, is annoyed because Scarlett does not send for a priest to come from Atlanta for their father’s funeral. The great “Poet-Priest of The Confederacy,” Father Abram J. Ryan, appears in the book.

Scarlett never leaves the Church, but according to the book, she stops attending Mass and lets her religious practice slide. In moments of great stress, however, she prays. Interpreting right and wrong by Catholic values is part of the story. So are Catholic views of reward or punishment. 

By any standard, the noblest character in “Gone With The Wind” is that of Melanie Hamilton, the wife of Ashley Wilkes. Margaret Mitchell gave this character its name in honor of Sister Melanie, a relative and a Sister of Mercy whom the author admired. 

One evening Mitchell and her husband went to a movie. A car struck her as they were crossing the street. 

She was rushed to the hospital, where she went in and out of consciousness, mostly out. Through the years, she had kept a friendship with the Sisters of Mercy. Some of them went to pray at her bedside. One nun said that she held Mitchell’s hand, said prayers in her ear, and asked if she could heard her. She said Mitchell’s hand moved in response. 

Since Mitchell never reconciled with the Church, she had no Catholic funeral. She was buried after a short ceremony led by the dean of Atlanta’s Episcopal St. Philip’s Cathedral, diagonally across the street from the Catholic Cathedral of Christ the King. 

Msgr. Owen F. Campion is OSV’s associate publisher.