Rhett Butler’s People
Donald McCaig’s prequel/sequel to Margaret Mitchell’s novel, Gone With the Wind covers the years from 1843 until 1874. Even though he was requested by the trustees of Mitchell’s estate to write it, it is a brave man indeed who aspires to enlarge upon what has been described as the greatest love story ever told.
The reader first meets Rhett Butler on his way to a duel with Shad Watling. The scene is brilliantly set as is the introduction to Rhett’s background: his father’s rice plantation and Rhett’s sympathy towards the Negro slaves. From the outset, Rhett is a rebel, and there is no love lost between him and his father, who constantly tries to force the young Rhett to conform to his ideals.
The story is peopled by the many characters who play a part in Rhett’s life, and all are convincing and interesting in their own right except for Scarlett. For me McCaig fails to capture Mitchell’s fiery heroine. What he does supremely well is to capture the atmosphere of the Civil War and the social mores of the time, gritty and honest; he is never afraid to use the ‘n’ word.
In penetrating the mystery that was Mitchell’s enigmatic hero, McCaig has dispelled much of the magic that held us in thrall to Rhett Butler. Like Max DeWinter and Mr Darcy we require our romantic heroes to be mysterious, unlike anyone we have ever met or are ever likely to meet. The story concludes rather gently, all passion spent as Scarlett whimsically opines, ‘Mercy, Mr. Butler. Isn’t life surprising?’
This novel is a captivating read in its own right, but I wonder if it will satisfy the many fans of the original, Gone With the Wind.