Saturday, March 13, 2010

1. RHETT'S SIDE OF THE STORY

I’m still around, but I can’t live with the likes of GONE WITH THE WIND, the biography of Scarlett O’Hara.  It rewrites history, and portrays my papa, Rhett Butler, may he rest in peace, as a crook and playboy.  Even his own grandchildren believe it.
The book called me “Rhett’s ward," as if I had no place in the man’s heart - - worse than a stepchild.  Only Scarlett’s biographer, Mrs. Mitchell, knows why she wrote it that way, and only I know the harm it’s done to Papa and me, since it was published last year.
I'm his adopted son, and I was an eyewitness to most of GONE WITH THE WIND, back when it happened.  I’ll be damned if I won’t tell Papa’s side of the story, for the sake of the grandchildren, before the book catches on. 
Papa cared about no one but Scarlett, until Bonnie’s birth.  He was too steadfast for his own good, allowing everyone their turn to betray him, including me.  He seemed to consider my treachery against him a mere trifle, as compared to Scarlett’s treachery.  That’s why he was able to salvage some of his fondness for me in the end.  I’ll confess my own sins at the end of this memoir, lest anyone should take me to task. 
The worst cheater of all was GONE WITH THE WIND’s author, Margaret Mitchell.  She waited until now - 1936! - to slander Papa, when he can’t ridicule her in reply. 
       *            *            *
“Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful,” is the only true thing GONE WITH THE WIND says.  It has to be true, since it’s the first sentence of the book, but everything that followed it is hogwash, as Papa would say, concocted by Mrs. Mitchell to make Scarlett seem pretty and clever as a parakeet.  Scarlett, herself began rewriting history before Sherman’s fires had died, in her own letters.  She was still in her twenties!  Feebler folks’ memories of the actual facts had already begun to fail.  Rhett, however, remembered just fine, though near twenty years Scarlett’s senior.  Unlike her, he didn’t care how folks remembered him.  Scarlett’s letters traveled everywhere, to Suellen and Will Benteen at Tara, and to the Charleston kin.  Enclosed were bribes such as perfumes and pressed flowers (store-bought) for the ladies, and cash, which Mr. Benteen needed for goods like lamp oil that he couldn’t barter for.  Later, Mrs. Mitchell the biographer cobbled Scarlett’s letters together and called it GONE WITH THE WIND.
            Scarlett’s versions of events continually sparked hot repartee with Papa and the guests that frequented their new Swiss Chalet on Peachtree Street, as they sipped gin and reminisced at the cocktail hour.  Papa never cared to get the last word, but that is my aim now, because of GONE WITH THE WIND.  I was an eyewitness and I kept my own notes.  It was my habit, as a stenographer.  Even my profession I owe to Rhett Butler, which I’ll explain later.

SLAP AND SLAM  

         Papa and Scarlett always goaded each other, but Papa never insulted her in public, as GONE WITH THE WIND claims he did.  For instance, on the first day they met, she said he was “no gentleman.”  He replied that she was “no lady,” but the book censored the rest of their argument, leaving the false impression that Papa was mean to Scarlett and disrespectful of his hosts, the Wilkeses.  This argument appeared during the chapter devoted to Scarlett’s discovery that Ashley Wilkes had jilted her in favor of Melanie. 

          The actual story of Ashley’s announcement of his engagement to Melanie is well known, or it used to be.  Prior to the Yankee’s attack on Fort Sumter in 1862, the Wilkes’s had thrown a ball at their home and everyone, including the newcomer Rhett, was in attendance.  Scarlett claimed that her vow was spoken to Ashley early in the day, prior to his announcement.  Scarlett claimed that her solemn vow was conveniently witnessed by none other than Rhett, the only person disgraceful enough to hide himself and eavesdrop upon Scarlett and Ashley’s confessions and the slap Scarlett gave to Ashley.

          After Ashley left the room, Rhett came out of hiding forthrightly.  Scarlett was chagrinned to discover that he had witnessed her tantrum with Mr. Wilkes, unbeknownst to her.  In retaliation, she insulted his gentlemanliness.  Referring to her tantrum, he replied that she was “no lady.”

             Scarlett’s version of events ended there, the version that later appeared in GONE WITH THE WIND.  But she didn’t get the last word, no matter how loud it banged, since she chose the quietest moment of the day to slam the door, and it prompted Ashley Wilkes’s alarm. 

               “Who’s in there?” he said, having returned to the same stairway he had just descended.  Rhett heard his voice through the library door, so he came forth.  But Ashley Wilkes himself looked a sight, still red from Scarlett’s slap.  Needless to say, he hadn’t provoked it.

          Scarlett stopped midway down the staircase, and turned around.  Rhett was following her against her wishes.  “That's enough, sir.”

        “You haven’t denied what I said,” Rhett said.

        “Rhett!” Ashley Wilkes said.  “You heard us?”

        “Of course.  I told you I was going to the library.”

        “So you did.”

        “That’s no excuse for spying on us,” Scarlett said.

        “She knew I was there all along.  She staged the whole event by following me there and luring you along with her.”

        “Liar,” Scarlett said.  “It’s clever, but it’s a lie.  Don’t expect him to believe you.  Nobody puts any stock in your word.”

         Rhett shrugged, “Like a prospector for gold, you’re the first to stake your claim on Mr. Wilkes.  From now on, you’ll call any other woman a trespasser.”

        “How dare you!” From her perch on the steps she tried to go after Rhett,  but couldn’t manage her skirt in the process.  She almost lost her balance and began teetering on the edge.

        “Scarlett!” Ashley said, and he bounded up the steps to steady   her,  while Rhett came from above.   Rhett gathered her to his chest, despite her protests, and they all descended together. 

        “Prospector, yourself,” she sneered, and squirmed free of Rhett.  She clutched at Ashley as they went.

        Ashley said, “In the territory of the heart, there are no stakes to be claimed.” 

        Nevertheless, Scarlett’s antics didn’t hinder Ashley from announcing his engagement to Melanie, or from marrying her straight Away.  Indeed, in Scarlett’s mind she possessed a claim on Ashley’s heart forevermore, no matter what.  Henceforth, she obsessively flirted with Ashley, despite his sacred vow to Melanie. 

        Papa never passed judgment upon her for flirting, but the gossips in Atlanta certainly did.  Scarlett complained about them in letters to her aunts in Charleston.  “Jezebel!  That’s what they think of me, but I was the first to vow my love to Ashley, before Melanie ever made a peep to him.  To this day, my conscience is clear for confessing my sincere feelings for him, since they were pure and innocent from the first, unspoilt by jealousy.”

        Regardless whether Scarlett was first to stake her claim to Ashley, she lost him.  Nevertheless, she spent the rest of her life flirting with him and suffering the consequences to her own reputation.  Her letters were her own best efforts to rehabilitate herself.  Now, in 1936, Mrs. Mithchell has tried again to rehabilitate Scarlett's reputation, by writing GONE WITH THE WIND with a bias.

29 comments:

  1. Dear Peter,
    Thanks for visiting my little blog...not sure how you found me, but happy you did. I googled you and it seems we have a little something in common. My son Sean Metzger graduated from George Mason with a English major and a minor in Film and Media. He and his older brother (UVA) are excellent writers and voracious readers. Sean was Dave Eggers escort during Fall for the Book at Mason and is now a videographer for NBC in Charlottesville. I can't wait to tell him about your visit. I love when these little quirky occurrences happen...proves my belief that it is indeed a small world. I enjoyed your blog post and will be back .
    kindly,
    Janet

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  2. It is great that you have an entire blog dedicated to Rhett Butler.

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  3. That's really neat. How poetic. I wish I could watch that in black and white right now.

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  4. Your introduction essentially sets me up to believe that anything bad said about Rhett Butler and anything good said about Scarlet O'Hara is a lie.
    For anyone who has read the book, this makes your story completely predictable. I confess the story doesn't interest me much. I hacked my way through Mitchell's epic at the age of 16, so while it's not fresh in my memory, it is still there. Princess wordplay

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  5. Jacques DerrierreMarch 19, 2010 at 6:28 PM

    This is some sad sorry twaddle. You must have no life if you spent so much time writing this and can't be bothered to learn how to tell a story. Foolish futility wins again!

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  6. Thanks for visiting my blog. I have loved reading your story. Have you read the book Rhett Butler's People. You would like it. It goes well with your story.

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  7. Thanks for visiting my blog. Interesting take on Gone with the Wind...

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  8. It's about time someone spoke up for Rhett! LOL

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  9. Like many fictional heroes, Rhett lives on in the imaginations of countless people.
    I think it's not nice, in a way, to take someone else's creation, and tinker with her or her in a way that the author did not intend!

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  10. I don't LIKE this one, or the Austen 'continuations' but I'm compelled to read them. When one is an Austen fanatic, as I am, one just wants her characters to continue living on, and getting into more difficulties. One wants to watch Mr. Darcy suffer spending time with Elizabeth's silly mother and sisters, for instance. I know I'm supporting something odious by reading them.

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  11. Appropriating famous characters is a trend.It's been done for The Wicked Witch in the Oz series. Also, the married life of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet has been chronicled by a modern author. And Rhett survived his brief stint in the Civil War AND marriage to Scarlett to cause fluttering in more than one Southern belle heart, in a couple of new books.

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  12. I dislike fanfic in general and twilight fanfic is especially bad because it's essentially shoveling a heap of crap on top of an existing heap of crap. Fanfic of epic novels is less revolting, but certainly insulting.

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  14. Hilarious! Thanks for stopping by my blog. I'm a GWTW fanatic--hate the two so-called "sequels" and look forward to reading more of your side of the story!

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  15. Thanks for visiting my blog. Your take on Gone with the wind is very intriguing, I'll come back and the rest of the posts too!

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  17. This is fabulous Dahhh-ling! :)

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  18. Αθηνά AthinaApril 16, 2010 at 5:58 AM

    Wow I'm amazed by this side of story!! was it realy so? I mean I thought the author of the book margaret mitchell combined the story of several people from Atlanta that she heard and wrote a bookon it but not of particular real person. are you descendent of the Butlers?

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  19. Αθηνά Athina - - Republic of GeorgiaApril 16, 2010 at 11:47 AM

    I see, i got sort of very surprised. Actually I realy like the way Mrs.Mitchell characterized all the characters, very realistic description. Scarlett attitude is very close to my understanding , she has both negative and positive characteristics of personality just like everyone in real life. Rhett is a man whose personality I have really met in my life, and its a mixture of passion and at the same time hating his behaviour! Reading about Rhetts and Scarletts relationship taught me a lot!

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  20. Αθηνά Athina - - Republic of GeorgiaApril 18, 2010 at 2:43 PM

    In the Republic of Georgia we are very big Gone With the Wind fans!

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  21. My worst Christmas present EVER was a Madame Alexander doll of Scarlett. My parents were under the impression that I loved this story; since they did not, it remains a mystery. My scars have healed (on this one).

    Still trying to wrap my head around the fact that you have a blog (you need to post more often or have guests, I think).

    Well, well.

    Cheers

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  22. I read "The Death of Rhett Butler," and thought I'd send on a few thoughts. I will admit first that I have never read "Gone With the Wind". The amount of dialogue suggests it was written as a potential film treatment. Sometimes it also comes across as a first draft, to be fleshed out. As I haven't read GWTW, I didn't know Jacques' name, and found it down a few entries in your writing. Did you decide to change from a story about Jacques to that of Rhett and Scarlett as told by Jacques? Jacques comes off almost solely as a narrator; I get little sense of him. I must admit that a story about Rhett's son is more appealing to me than an alternate view of the relationship between Rhett and Scarlett, but I figure you're having to go through backstory to clarify your view of the character?

    My attention was held, and I see promise. Keep me updated, and best of luck with the writing. I'm impressed by your output.

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  23. This is very interesting! I have started reading a book about GWTW, it's called "The Making of a Masterpiece: The True Story of GWTW". Have any of you read it? It is talking about how most of the book was actually based on REAL people! It was written by Sally Tippett Rains. Anyone else read the book?

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  24. Sarah, I'll put "The Making of a Masterpiece: The True Story of GWTW" on my list. I hadn't seen it, so thanks.

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  25. No problem Peter! I found my copy on Amazon. And so far sooo good!

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  26. Elżbieta NadolskaJune 23, 2010 at 12:52 PM

    Hi Peter

    I read your story "THE DEATH OF RHETT BUTLER"
    - as told by Rhett's adopted son.- with a real interest. An interesting character of the story.
    I thought about the occasion and compared this and that with reference to the original "Gone with the Wind" by Margaret Mitchell.
    You ask me what I think about your story. I think the best about it, really :-))
    Although undoubtedly it is a GREAT HEEL of the original "Gone with the Wind" ;-)
    But the whole thing is very very interesting. There are moments of fun, also highly reflective but also sad.
    Oh...these human emotions...almost unchanged :)
    Thanks for visiting my profil and your interesting link, which I will let me...to circulate as interesting.

    Oh... I would forget about that sentence...also my favorite:
    "After all... tomorrow is another day!" - I think it is very real and optimistic,

    because nobody knows what good can bring a new day, right?

    Must think positively ;)

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  27. Alison Kostek CloseAugust 4, 2010 at 1:30 PM

    Well I sat and read the whole thing, so it must have been pretty good. I am just a sucker for anything that has to do with GWTW or the south. I have Scarlett and Rhett Butler's People. I haven't the book about him yet though. My husband got it for me for Christmas, but I have to be in the right mood and have undisturbed time to read it .

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  28. Alison, great to hear from you and i'm so glad you enjoyed this novel. cheers! Peter Brown

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