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December 17, 2009

Good Read

I meant to link to this the other day, but my Inbox filled up so fast it got buried alive.

For any young lady growing up in the South, GWTW was required reading. Stacy does a wonderful job of summing up Rhett's appeal. I can't speak for anyone else, but to me Rhett combines a number of traits women look for in a man.

He's strong, charming, self assured. But underneath the sharp, devil may care exterior he's also got a warm and kind heart. He treats Melanie Wilkes with unfailing gentleness and courtesy.

Sure, Rhett's a bit of a scoundrel.

But it's the way he treats Scarlett (and later, their daughter Bonnie) that won my heart. Lurking underneath the cynical, wisecracking exterior beats a heart of gold. I think that's every woman's fantasy: to win the man no one else can win and bring out the best in him. We can't help hoping that beneath all that manly gruffness and swagger there's something true, honest, real.

For men are truly at their best when they are protecting those they love. Just as men wish for a woman who is demure and proper in public but will turn on the fireworks just for him, we ladies can't resist a guy who is strong and independent in public but reserves his tender side for the woman he loves.

Great movie. Great essay.

Posted by Cassandra at December 17, 2009 09:31 PM

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You know, I finally got around to watching that movie in the last week or so. I've been putting it off all these years.

I can see why, in the Great Depression, a story about the destruction in the South following the Civil War would be popular. The sense of having to adjust to far lower standards, the misery that sometimes attends that adjustment, and the sense of understanding for a character (like Scarlett) who does what it takes to get by.

As a Southerner, I ought to like the movie. Furthermore, Captain Butler is meant to be a man very much like myself in most respects: a gentleman of the Southern fashion, patriotic to his cause, deeply loving to his daughter, romantic, a gambler, and so on. The character of Mammy is highly sympathetic and enjoyable.

That said, overall, I really didn't care for it. I wish I could adequately explain why. Something to do with the unnecessary trauma the writers included -- the murder of the daughter (murder, that is, by the writer, who might have left her alone -- her death serves no necessary purpose but to free Rhett to deliver his famous final line). Something to do with the idea of Scarlett as the heroine, though she was unfaithful to everyone who loved her. Some other things, too.

I'm glad you enjoyed it, don't get me wrong. It wasn't right for me, though, which is odd. I suspect I'm the man who most ought to have enjoyed it. I wish that I had.

Posted by: Grim at December 17, 2009 11:07 PM

Hi Cassandra--I'm a longtime reader, but first time poster, delurking to talk about one of my favorite books of all time. :)

I'm actually kind of unusual in that while I *love* GWTW, I never found Rhett attractive in the slightest (nor did I find Scarlett likable, but then again, she wasn't supposed to be). I found Rhett to be useful as a foil for Scarlett and various other characters, but he came across to me as a know-it-all jerk who (because the author was on his side) really *did* know it all and was always right about everything (a borderline Mary Sue, if that means anything to you :) ).

It's funny that you talk about the way Rhett treats Scarlett as winning your heart because I saw something different: sure, he protects her to a point, though he forces her to humiliate herself in the jail cell and he abandons her on the road to Tara after the burning of Atlanta--and no, I'm sorry, I don't accept his protestations that he knew she would be all right as an excuse--but he also constantly mocks her, demeans her, insults her and cuts her down over the entire course of the book. (I'm not even going to mention the notorious staircase scene: that's a whole nother kettle of worms.) Given the choice, I'd take a man who protects me *without* the emotional abuse. Scarlett, of course, gives him a lot of grief too, but I've already pointed out I don't find Scarlett likable. Especially after their marriage, the two of them do a really good job of hurting each other over the course of the book.

Honestly, it seemed clear to me that Rhett and Scarlett were a bad match from the start: even if Scarlett had managed to get over her Ashley obsession before the end of the book, IMO someone as immature and impulsive as she was would be very likely to do something else to cause the relationship to blow up in her face. Rhett also was never one to try and smooth things down with Scarlett either; to the contrary, he was more likely to pour gasoline on the fire, I felt. It's the very dysfunctionality of the relationship that I find utterly fascinating. (I also must be one of the only people in the world who don't think Clark Gable was a very good Rhett; he was way too urbane in my opinion--although IMO Vivian Leigh *nailed* Scarlett.)

Anyway, I just thought I'd take a few moments to chime in with my contrarian opinions. GWTW aside, I really enjoy your blog, especially your scrupulous fairness and evenhandedness, and the civility of your comments section--attributes that are very hard to find on the web these days, it seems.

Posted by: colagirl at December 17, 2009 11:58 PM

"He's strong, charming, self assured. But underneath the sharp, devil may care exterior he's also got a warm and kind heart."

Sounds like a description of myself. ;-)

Seriously though, I never read the book...and can't help wondering how faithful a portrayal the movie was, as movies are often quite different from the books that inspired them. What say you?

Posted by: camojack at December 18, 2009 12:30 AM

Feh. I don't give a damn.

Posted by: a former european at December 18, 2009 02:07 AM

I wasn't asking you...but that's OK; good answer. ;-)

Posted by: camojack at December 18, 2009 03:41 AM

I've read the book at least twice and can't begin to remember how many times I've seen the movie.

The thing that makes it great is that GWTW grows with you. As a teenager, the relationship between Scarlett and Rhett made no sense at all to me. Now, mumblety-mumble years later, it makes a helluva lot of sense. It's hard to understand fully the concept of that kind of tragedy at a young and idealistic age.

It also helps that I've actually learned many factual things about the Civil War, beginning with my interest in my ancestors' lives during that time.

At present, the only likable and respectable characters for me are Mammy and Melanie, but I can't help but have a bit of aversion to them for being a tad bit "too perfect".

While I understand the surface attraction of Rhett... he's a little too perfect of a scoundrel too.

Perhaps I need to read the book again, then see the movie again. Both are great entertainment.

Posted by: Donna B. at December 18, 2009 05:02 AM

"Posted by: a former european at December 18, 2009 02:07 AM"


Posted by: bthun at December 18, 2009 06:02 AM

Cass: Sure, Rhett's a bit of a scoundrel.

Han: You like me because I'm a scoundrel. There aren't enough scoundrels in your life.

Cass: I happen to like nice men.

Han: I'm a nice man.

Cass: No, you're not. You're...

Sorry, couldn't resist.

Posted by: MikeD at December 18, 2009 09:37 AM


I don't have time right now to address colagirl's great comment (or any of the others). Let's just say that in real life I would probably have nothing to do with a guy like Rhett. Yet I understand his appeal.

I probably expressed myself badly. What I was trying to get at is that most women have an (unrealistic) fantasy that they will find a sort of diamond in the rough kind of guy who has the potential to be the Hope diamond. And when he falls in love with her, all the dross in his character will be burned away, leaving only the good.

This really does happen many times, in the sense that men (when they have a wife and family to care for) do settle down and often work incredibly hard to defend the ones they love. People are a mix of traits. Scarlett and Rhett were both survivors. But the traits that make them incredibly resilient also have negative aspects (they can both be selfish and utterly ruthless).

To me, GWTW was about seeing both the potential and the pitfalls in being a Melanie or a Scarlett: a Rhett or an Ashley. If you love someone you have to be patient with the way they are, yet help them develop the potential they have inside.

Scarlett was spoiled and immature, and in this context her strength was not "used for good", as they say in another epic adventure movie :p She was also quite a bit younger than Rhett. Rhett could also be selfish and cynical, but when he finally fell in love with Scarlett his best side came to the fore.

At the end of the movie, Scarlett finally realizes his worth and falls for him and when that happens, she sees what a biyotch she has been. Love is the catalyst that makes them both better people.

Tragically, they don't fall in love at the same time. That's the pathos of the movie: the awareness of what could have been.

Posted by: Cassandra at December 18, 2009 10:01 AM

I'll be writing more about this later. I have some thoughts I'd like to work out.

Posted by: Cassandra at December 18, 2009 10:03 AM

In the meantime, have a care with the storm that is heading your way M'lady!

I suggest you observe the preparations listed in the chapter on winter storms in the Funk & Wagnalls Civil Defense manual for D.C., Va. and Western Md.

• Park the automobile
• Settle into the home
• Forget bread and milk, insure that you have a good stock of Bailey's Irish Cream on hand
• Move adequate supplies of firewood into the house
• dress Sausage in winter togs
• dig the sled out of storage
• find a good hill
• enjoy the moment


Posted by: bthun at December 18, 2009 10:54 AM

Scarlett represented the southern way of life that was doomed by it's stubborn refusal to adapt. Rhett was the cynical ROGUE who moved freely between the past and the future.

The famous staircase scene bore a strong resemblance to Sherman's march to the sea which was not only the death of a way of life/reality but the beginning of new life from the ashes of dreams.

I remember the smoke on the horizon when the back lot storing the abandoned GWTW set caught fire. It was a poignant reminder of hopes and dreams constructed on pride and prejudice that only Hollywood could produce. It marked the death of old style movie studios as surely as the burning of Atlanta destroyed the soul of the antebellum south.

I am descended from General Wade Hampton III of the South Carolina Hamptons. A cavalry man he fought bravely for a cause he believed in. The rest is history. There is a great difference between defending a culture and defending a way of life. Some never learn from history.

Posted by: vet66 at December 18, 2009 11:29 AM

I've never read GWTW (and considering the thousands of books already on my reading list, probably never will)but I've seen the movie enough times to know these things:

1) I am in love Vivian Leigh's eyes, and everything connected to them.

2) Ashley is a wimp, and so's Melanie. They both drive me crazy.

3) No good can come from naming a kid "India."

4) Letting your kid name a horse after you("Mr. Butler") is something that you'll probably regret bringing up with your psychiatrist.

5) Even today, GWTW's cinematography and art direction stands out as among the best ever.

6) Rhett Butler would have been cooler wearing an eye patch.

Posted by: spd rdr at December 18, 2009 12:10 PM

colagirl, interesting nic you picked... are you in Atlanta?

It's funny; I grew up seemingly surrounded by GWTW stuff. My mom loved that movie, and she tells a funny story about my grandmother walking out on it when Rhett said the word "damn". But I grew up in an area that has a very complex history regarding the Civil War and the subsequent 100 years, and it was always hard for me to relate to anything that "traditionally" Southern.

Although Scarlett is the protagonist of the story, I don't regard her as a heroine. To me, she's more like the principal in a Greek tragedy, who bars her own path to that which she wants most with her own character flaws. The irony, of course, being that it was those very character traits that enabled her to survive the deprivation of the war. That's one of the allusions that Mitchell made which is intended to represent the entire South: these characteristics and values that they built up in antebellum times served them well during the war, but once the war was over, the world in which those values were appropriate no longer existed. (I can make an argument with that, BTW, but it's for another thread.)

The other bit I wanted to touch on, and I do so with some trepidation, is the romantic aspect of Rhett that Cass talked about. Perhaps I'm guilty of projecting our current values onto the standards of another generation, but the fantasy that the female side of our culture attaches to Rhett is that of the guy who will be a total badass to everyone else, but sweet to his woman. (In contrast to Ashely, whom Scarlett clearly regards as an effeminate wimp.) It's a female porn fantasy, like the male fantasy of a woman who will be a porn star to him and a cold fish to every other man.

Now, fantasies are fine, as long as everyone understands that that's what they are -- fantasies. Trouble is, there are an awful lot of people who don't understand that. And then their mates find themselves having to live up to an impossible expectation. And when said mates fail to do so, there's an awful lot of whining and vengeful behavior on the part of the fantasy-carriers, and a lot of people wind up being hurt unnecessarily. And thus are relations between the sexes even further damaged than they already are. Womem, if a guy treats everyone else like crap, what makes you think you're so special that he's going to treat you like a princess? Men, if you hook up with a woman who's a whore for you, what makes you think you're so special that she isn't going to be a whore for everyone else? Both are out-of-control romantic fantasies that are doing a lot of harm to our society.

Posted by: Cousin Dave at December 18, 2009 02:25 PM

the fantasy that the female side of our culture attaches to Rhett is that of the guy who will be a total badass to everyone else, but sweet to his woman. (In contrast to Ashely, whom Scarlett clearly regards as an effeminate wimp.) It's a female porn fantasy, like the male fantasy of a woman who will be a porn star to him and a cold fish to every other man.

Now, fantasies are fine, as long as everyone understands that that's what they are -- fantasies. Trouble is, there are an awful lot of people who don't understand that. And then their mates find themselves having to live up to an impossible expectation. And when said mates fail to do so, there's an awful lot of whining and vengeful behavior on the part of the fantasy-carriers, and a lot of people wind up being hurt unnecessarily.

Dave, in one short comment you've managed to sum up what I was trying to convey far better than I had time to.

Posted by: Cassandra at December 18, 2009 02:45 PM


One of the most poignant stories I ever read was that of Robert E. Lee's refusal of the offer to command the Union army. His letter, if you read between the lines and past Lee's formal manner, is heart rending:


Posted by: Cassandra at December 18, 2009 02:51 PM

As an aside, one of the funniest plays on GWTW I've ever seen: The Carol Burnett Show with Carol as Scarlett and Harvey Korman as Rhett.

Still funny to this day. I still crack up at the scene where Scarlett has to wear the drapery rod and drapes as part of her ensomme.

Posted by: Allen at December 18, 2009 06:02 PM

Don't be dissing Rhett! I loved him! He was an apposite for the men Scarlett married. He won Mammy over, and she was the only one, besides Melanie, who could get Rhett to do about anything because of that respect.

That said, Dave, Mrs. Mitchell does point out that Mrs. Merriwether, Mrs. Meade and other ladies who survived the war, along with their families, did so because of those virtues. Ashley couldn't because he was winnowed out; the world after the war was not one for which he was fit. Scarlett adapted, as did her friends, but she was a scoundrel (according to the town worthies) and Melanie a saint. Both Scarlett and Melanie were charitable, but where Scarlett's had limitations, Melanie's was boundless. She had a veneer of culture and civility but Melanie's was to the bone.

Mitchell points that out in the beginning of the book with regard to Scarlett's ancestry, 'where the blood of an earthly Irish peasant clashed with the quieter blood of the overbred aristocrat.'

She expands on that theme in the conversation about breeding between Mrs. Tarleton and Mr. O'Hara.

Or words to that effect.

Anyway, Rhett knew what Scarlett was like, just as he knew Melanie was the real deal...he compared her to his mother, 'a very great lady.'

So, he treated them accordingly, but he lost his heart to Scarlett.

Posted by: Cricket at December 18, 2009 06:21 PM

Wimmin be luvin dat drama! Dey sho do.

Scarlett was a high-maintenance, drama-queen. I don't care how attractive she was, to me she was a walking nightmare.

The Civil War was the great tragedy of our nation's history. It was the epitome of "the end justifies the means" and "the road to hell is paved with good intentions".

Set against this grand tragedy, a smaller, interpersonal tragedy is made larger than life.

Posted by: a former european at December 21, 2009 01:23 PM

What I liked about GWTW was the way it demonstrated that people have qualities that confer an advantage in certain settings but are a drawback in others.

Scarlett (and Rhett to a certain degree) didn't fit into highly structured antebellum society, but in a survival situation they were the ones you'd want by your side. The same qualities that generated friction in society were an advantage in a crisis.

Melanie and Ashley, OTOH, were fairly worthless in a survival situation but were able to get people to work together in society in a way that helped everyone. Different skill set.

I always thought that Scarlett was mostly immature and spoiled. Her parents overindulged her and that was followed up by similar treatment by her husbands (who were blinded by her good looks). Once she was exposed to the same negative feedback we all encounter sooner or later, she began to wise up and became more empathetic and less self centered.

I didn't like Scarlett much but I could admire her pluck.

Posted by: Cassandra at December 21, 2009 01:58 PM

Cassandra, I agree with just about everything you just said.

Posted by: colagirl at December 22, 2009 12:18 AM