Rhett Butler’s People

While preparing for this post, I discovered that a new book was being released in the Gone With the Wind family. I knew I had to read it, knew I had to find out more about my favorite characters, and what might happen with Rhett and Scarlett. Last week, we walked to the library, where a fresh copy was being held for me. Pant pant. (That’s my eagerness to get home and dive on in…)

I have a couple of different thoughts on this book. First off, I really liked it. I found it to be well written, much better than Scarlett, and I liked how the author took characters that were incidental in GWTW and expanded them, giving a bit of background to them. I liked a peek into the more masculine side of the story, since the other three books are told mainly from the point of view of the women. There are chapters in the book that are told from the point of view of Rhett, but also chapters told by Ashley (maybe only one), Rosemary (Rhett’s sister), some of his boyhood friends, and so on. My favorite chapters were those told by Rhett.

The book starts out with a duel when Rhett is a young man of about 21. Rhett is protecting his reputation, and of course he survives, because otherwise, there could be no GWTW. The story meanders back and forth, from Rhett’s unhappy childhood, to his modern life as a blockade runner for the confederacy, and of course, his relationship with Scarlett. It is satisfying to find yourself once again spending time with these characters, though I don’t think the book would stand up well on its own…if you haven’t read GWTW, you probably would miss a lot here. If you’ve only seen the film, you would be fine, though there are aspects of the book that are not in the film, such as Scarlett’s first two children, Wade and Ella, who do not appear in the film at all.

My biggest problem with GWTW is, of course, the very things that Mitchell stressed so strongly…the racism in her view of slavery, that blacks were simple minded folks who needed to be cared for and watched over, who were mainly happy under slavery, as long as they had kind masters, etc. This aspect was toned down for the film version, though it was still present. That Rhett rapes Scarlett in the famous bedroom scene, and that that is when she first realizes that she loves him…that’s a very difficult scene to mesh with our modern views. So, in Rhett Butler’s People, Donald McCaig tries to go back and repair Rhett’s reputation, to make him a character that modern audiences can find more palatable. But Rhett is a creature of his time, and I’m not sure that he needs to be palatable to make a good story.

In GWTW, there is the insinuation that Rhett has fathered a child with the town Madame, Belle Watling, and that the child is in New Orleans, being raised away from the corrupting influences of his mother’s shady occupation. In Rhett Butler’s People (RBP), we discover that the child was not indeed fathered by Rhett, and though Rhett knows who the father is, he and Belle both conspire to keep the man’s identity a secret, as it would damage his reputation too much. So people do believe that Rhett is the boy’s father, and Rhett indeed is his guardian.

In GWTW, Rhett is arrested for shooting a black man, because he was ‘uppity to a white woman’, and what else could a southern gentleman do? In RBP, we learn the horrid truth. That the black man was a boyhood friend of Rhett’s, that he was falsely accused of propositioning a white woman, and that he is about to be tortured by the townsfolk before being murdered…that he knows his fate, and begs Rhett to shoot him, to save him from such torture.

The rape scene still occurs, and Scarlett still thrives under such treatment (does that mean it’s rape? Or just really rough consensual sex?). In GWTW, Rhett cannot look at her for days, because of his shame at treating her that way. In RBP, he finds himself horrified that he has become so much like his hated father.

I didn’t have any problems with the retelling of these parts of the story. I wanted to like Rhett, though certainly Mitchell’s Rhett wouldn’t give a damn if I liked him or not, and I suspect McCaig’s Rhett just might. So though I didn’t have a problem with them, I was certainly aware of them, and of what McCaig was attempting.

Though both RBP and Scarlett were authorized by the Mitchell estate, McCaig ignores the storyline set up in Scarlett.  RBP begins before GWTW‘s storyline, and ends several years after GWTW ends, so we are able to have a resolution to Rhett and Scarlett’s story, and we learn of the fates of several other characters as well.

I don’t think I’m saying well here what I mean to say…and that is that by pulling Rhett from the 1930s world in which he was imagined (GWTW was published in the 30s) by an apologist for slavery and the confederate south, and trying to bring him into our modern world, with more modern views and politics, we are really seeing a totally different character. I don’t think the Rhett of GWTW would recognize the Rhett of RBP. Certainly no one, black or white, rich or poor, aristocracy or whore, from Gone With the Wind would recognize the big modern PC love-fest bbq that occurs at the end of Rhett Butler’s People.

Friday Friday Friday! Yay! Not sure what all is in the works today, though I’m thinking I might not be posting quite so much in the near future, as today is the last day of NaBloPoMo. Congrats to everyone who stuck it through!

This entry was posted in Books.

11 thoughts on “Rhett Butler’s People

  1. “The softer side of Rhett…” that’s what it seems like McCraig is trying to do in the novel. I gotta say that it takes some courage to undertake a retelling of a classic novel, but it seems McCraig did a pretty good job with the material. You were certainly hooked!:-)

  2. I wonder if I’d like this book. I do so love Gone w/ the Wind and with only having the movie under my belt and my modern views..I think I would like it!

    I’m proud of you for getting through this month! WHew. now put your feet up (or shall I say fingers) and relax.


  3. I’m thinking I would have to read the original first! I just read a write-up of this book and author in Time or Newsweek, one of the two.

    I should put that on my to-do list!

  4. I love the idea of new writers getting to fill in the blanks of older stories. Great exercises for the imagination, and a thrill for the devoted readers.

    Congrats on surviving NaBloPoMo! It was actually easier than I thought it would be. 🙂

  5. wow, making it through nablopomo is hard, so big props to you! thank you for contributing to the discussion on my blog. keep up the great blogging!

  6. ****Spoiler Alert****I finished it the other day and I was hoping (from your comment) that you would start a discussion on it. I thought RBP was much better written and made more sense than Scarlett. I was happy to read Scarlett because the characters of GWTW were beloved by me and I would read it over and over. Scarlett just seemed way off the beaten path of what could/would really happen with Scarlett/Rhett. I was not real pleased with the Ballyhara story line. I always wanted Rhett to care and I always thought the rape of Scarlett by Rhett was more of a passions gone wild type of story and really showed how much they did love each other. I liked the fleshing out of Rhett’s family (ie mother) in Scarlett. She was made out to be a much stronger woman than in RBP. I also liked the Rosemary character of Scarlett better. Perhaps it is just me, and my state of mind, but I thought the killing off of Will Benteen was uneccesary in the story and it bothered me.

  7. I loved “Gone with the wind” so much that I haven’t read Scarlett ..didn’t want to jinx the love.
    But after reading your review…I think it’s time to change my mind.

  8. LauraH, I really liked Scarlett, though I thought it was dumb in many parts, I still got totally sucked in. I agree that this book was better written.

    Will being killed off? I’m not sure what the motivation was for that. Maybe to make Suellen suffer even more than having Frank stolen and killed?

    What did you think about the bbq? A little too PC for the time and place? I think if much of that type of thing had REALLY happened, there wouldn’t be the hate crimes that still occur (and not just in the South).

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