Gone with the Wind branded ‘harmful’ by its own publisher
Gone with the Wind has been branded “harmful” in a trigger warning by its own publishers.
Margaret Mitchell’s Civil War epic, which was adapted into a classic Hollywood film, has been deemed “problematic” in a cautionary note at the front of a new edition.
The trigger warning tells would-be readers that Gone with the Wind contains “racist” elements that could be “hurtful or indeed harmful”.
The 1936 novel takes place before and during the American Civil War, in which the slave-owning South fought against Lincoln’s abolitionist North.
It follows the daughter of a plantation owner, Scarlett O’Hara, whose comfortable slave-owning way of life is threatened by the triumphant North’s invasion. It also charts her romance with Captain Rhett Butler.
The note in the latest Pan Macmillan version further warns that the novel has not been rewritten to remove offensive passages, unlike recently reissued Agatha Christie and Ian Fleming works, but makes clear that publishers retaining the original text does not “constitute an endorsement” of the book.
It adds that a white writer was specifically commissioned to write an essay for the new edition explaining Gone with the Wind’s “white supremacist” elements, to avoid inflicting “emotional labour” on someone from a minority background.
The warning in the opening page of the new 2022 edition states: “Gone with the Wind is a novel which includes problematic elements including the romanticisation of a shocking era in our history and the horrors of slavery.
“The novel includes the representation of unacceptable practices, racist and stereotypical depictions and troubling themes, characterisation, language and imagery.
“The text of this book remains true to the original in every way and is reflective of the language and period in which it was originally written.
“We want to alert readers that there may be hurtful or indeed harmful phrases and terminology that were prevalent at the time this novel was written and which are true to the context of the historical setting of this novel.
“Pan Macmillan believes changing the text to reflect today’s world would undermine the authenticity of the original, so has chosen to leave the text in its entirety.
“This does not, however, constitute an endorsement of the characterisation, content or language used.”
The note precedes an essay penned by The Other Boleyn Girl author Philippa Gregory, like Mitchell a historical novelist, which the publisher explained was written by her because “we believed it was important that no author from a minority background should be asked to undertake the emotional labour of being responsible for educating the majority”.
This essay argues that Mitchell intended her novel to support the romantic Lost Cause view of a Confederacy that was fighting for freedom, and that the work “effectively promoted the racist planter view of the history of the South”.
Gregory writes that the problem of the novel is that “it tells us, unequivocally, that African people are not of the same species a white people”, adding “This is the lie that spoils the novel”.
She further argues Gone with the Wind “defends racism” and “glamorises and preaches white supremacy”, while also writing that Mitchell herself undermines this aspect of the work.
The decision by Pan Macmillan to add an explanatory essay and warning to the new edition of the novel follows a previous decision by broadcaster HBO to use a trigger warning for the 1939 film adaptation, starring Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable.
It also follows recent edits made to the James Bond novels of Fleming and the Poirot and Miss Marple mysteries of Christie. These books had various passages and racial references removed.
Ian Fleming Publications, which owns the copyright to the Bond books, also devised a disclaimer for new editions which states: “This book was written at a time when terms and attitudes which might be considered offensive by modern readers were commonplace.
“A number of updates have been made in this edition, while keeping as close as possible to the original text and the period in which it is set.”
Pan Macmillan has been contacted for comment.