As suggested in the title, today I will be reviewing Gone with the Wind, The Footsteps of Anne Frank and The Constant Princess!
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance, Civil War, Classics
I vowed to reread Gone with the Wind in 2019 and ended up regretting it. I loved this book a few years back, but rereading it in my mid-twenties, it was difficult to reconcile my love for Scarlett O’Hara with the pervasive racism and whitewashing of slavery prevalent throughout this epic novel. It’s a racist book, to put it simply. We can cry that it was a product of its time, but this reasoning inherently denies dissenting opinions that paved the way for the abolition of slavery and establishment of civil rights.
If there’s one way to look at Gone with the Wind, it’s that it reminds the world of its shame and that everyone is a hero in their own story. The formation of the KKK was explained as a necessity to protect white people, especially women, from harm and violence as the ordinary process of justice in the courts were wrested from the South, that whippings were a rare occurrence with Frank O’Hara only resorting to violent measures when an animal was negligently harmed by a slave, and they sure did consider themselves white saviours viewing African slaves as pets who needed to be looked after. What was even more bizarre was that Margaret Mitchell, clearly suffering from cognitive dissonance, paints the South as wanting to return to its old glory of chivalry, gentility and ease with anguished claims stating that it was never about slavery… but it was slave labour that enabled the Southern life of tranquility which Mitchell failed to comprehend.
One aspect Gone with the Wind portrays well is that the North weren’t exactly great either – though Southern self-interest plays a huge part in this view. Yes, the North abolished slavery, but without a well-equipped education system, job market and adequate resources to support and pursue financial prosperity and stability, civil rights were always going to be a thing of the imagination and a responsibility to be abdicated to freed slaves.
On a more positive note, I was still rooting for Scarlett O’Hara. Strangely, I found pre-Civil War Scarlett barely as fascinating as post-Civil War Scarlett. While Scarlett was reduced to poverty, it is important to acknowledge that she remains far more privileged than some of her neighbours as Tara remained standing; she has energy, drive, a pretty face, charming personality, admirers, a supportive family… and free slaves. Eesh. *spoiler* Otherwise, at least Scarlett goes after what she wants, and the moment she realises that she loves Rhett Butler, she tells him straight away, but, sadly, Rhett’s gotten too tired of waiting for Scarlett to realise this. I mean, 10 years is a long time to wait for someone to finally realise that they’re in love with you, but I still feel sorry for Scarlett, some of us are slow learners, you know?
I did come away with a deeper appreciation of Scarlett and Melanie’s friendship and, in a way, it brings to mind Arya and Sansa Stark’s relationship as sisters. Scarlett represents masculine courage and Melanie has Sansa’s feminine courage which Scarlett slowly comes to rely on. It’s really quite sad that the two people Scarlett truly loves, her mother and father, are represented in Melanie Wilkes and Rhett Butler, so in a way their spirit remained, but she ends up losing all four of the people dearest to her heart.
So, to sum up: I love Scarlett and Melanie, but maintain that Scarlett was still privileged despite her struggles during and after the Civil War. But I hate everything Gone with the Wind stands for, it was basically the South’s propaganda novel.
The Footsteps of Anne Frank by Ernst Schnabel
Genre: Non-Fiction, World War II, History
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
An ordinary girl with an extraordinary talent. The Footsteps of Anne Frank is a great companion book to The Diary of a Young Girl (my review here). It takes a closer look at Anne’s life before, during and after the years spent in hiding in Amsterdam and contains interviews with people Anne had known. There’s also a brilliant and charming children’s story penned by Anne Frank herself about a little bear called Blurry who runs away to discover the world which perfectly showcases Anne’s clear writing promise. It was, by far, one of the best children’s stories I’ve ever read, and it runs parallel to themes of discovery and travel seen in Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I hope to see it published one day as a Children’s book, so, publishers, get to it!
Anne’s time in Auschwitz-Birkenau and later at the Bergen-Belsen camp is also covered. The conditions in Bergen-Belsen are so appalling, and though we see Anne’s optimism and charm shine through despite this, it also contains a deeply upsetting scene mirroring Anne’s inner emotional turmoil which will break your heart.
I would highly recommend The Footsteps of Anne Frank to anyone who is interested in Anne Frank’s story.
The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory
Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance, Royal Fiction
Series: The Plantagenet and Tudor Novels
The Other Boleyn Girl eclipses every other Philippa Gregory book there (that I’ve read, that is). Despite this, I really enjoyed The Constant Princess! Though, one look at reviews on Goodreads will tell you that I don’t share the opinion of many of the popular reviews, it still boasts a strong rating of 3.9. The Constant Princess is mostly fast-paced which helps a lot. I particularly devoured the romance, and, though, I’m not ordinarily a fan of the haters to lovers trope, I found that it worked really well here with Katherine of Aragon and Prince Arthur sharing a sweet, innocent and charming love story.
Katherine of Aragon is actually rewarded with a character arc which I didn’t expect. Katherine begins with a clear prejudice against the Moors, and her xenophobia will greatly antagonise Muslim readers (like myself). I found Katherine of Aragon to be hypocritical at first when she, early on in the novel, delights in the luxuries of Moorish creations like the Alhambra and hammam’s (Turkish baths) and, consequently, displays condescension towards Brits for their cold and infrequent bathing and stormy and unpleasant weather unlike Spain’s tropical sunshine. Despite this, we see Katherine gradually confront and overcome her prejudice through her time spent with the Moorish doctor… but, I must add, that Philippa Gregory takes liberties with her storytelling, so take it with a pinch of salt.
You can’t help but admire Katherine of Aragon for her cunning and strategic vision. Her deft and skillful handling of Henry VIII’s ego quells disorder in the Kingdom and she uses her sway to lead England to victory against the Scots – a feat she achieves without the help of Henry. Her time patiently and resiliently spent in waiting to be betrothed to King Henry after the death of Prince Arthur forces the development of excellent administration skills which eventually lead to her becoming an efficient and formidable Queen until her widely contested virginity and inability to produce a male heir, sadly, leads to the annulment of her marriage to Henry VIII.
The Spanish Princess was also adapted for a television limited series based on The Constant Princess and The King’s Curse (also by Philippa Gregory) in 2019. I’ve watched all the episodes and LOVED it. It was gripping, thrilling and dramatic, and I was excited to see more of Joana of Castile, Queen of Aragon, whose story was both powerful and tragic. If you know any novels on Joana of Castile, please recommend!
Have you read any of these books? What are your thoughts on Gone with the Wind? Do you believe that we should accept that some books are just a product of their times? Have you read any Philippa Gregory novels? What other books on Anne Frank would you recommend? Share your thoughts in the comments!
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