He stole my breath the very first time I met him. Dashing, an adventurer with a slight air of mystery to him, I day-dreamed about him. Even at that age (I was 11 or 12), I knew I’d met a “man’s man”. And I railed against the woman he loved, “What an utter nincompoop! Could she not feel the passion he had for her? Why did she have to be so blind?!”
For a long time I thought Scarlett O’Hara the stupidest heroine to ever grace the pages of a book. Why did she not realize the truth of her feelings sooner? How could she choose Ashley Wilkes over a man like Rhett Butler? For me, Rhett Butler (along with Fitzwilliam Darcy) epitomized everything a hero should be. Both of them made a lasting impression on the young girl I was. And yes, I wanted to know more about both of them. I wanted to hear some more of their story, listen to their side of the tale & become privy to their thoughts & feelings.
“Rhett Butler’s People” by Donal McCaig made me do that to quite an extent. The story traces the journey of Rhett Butler from a young, unloved boy to a man society loves to disdain. McCaig explores the various relationships in Rhett’s early life – Langdon Butler, his father, a man who disowns his son even on his deathbed; Elanor, his mother who resorts to prayers as an escape from her life; Rosemary, his little sister who is the first person to claim his heart; and his friendship with the free negro, Tunis Bonneau. The reader finally begins to understand why Rhett Butler became Rhett Butler, the blockade running debonair who falls for Scarlett O’Hara.
We get to look at Twelve Oakes & Scarlett’s and Rhett’s first meeting through Rhett’s eyes. Scarlett’s unrequited love for Ashley Wilkes, Melanie & Ahsley’s marriage, Aunt Pittypat’s house, the Atlanta seige – the scenes are the same, the perspective changes. All this while the Civil War rages on and influences and determines the course of each character’s path as much as their relationships with each other.
My favourite parts though were not the encounters between Scarlett & Rhett but the stories of the different relationships in Rhett’s life. Also enjoyable was the deeper look into Rhett’s sister’s, Rosemary’s life (who gets a prominent place in the book). Right from the start, I found myself swept into the story. From “a sky so blue, it’s worth living a man’s life if just once, just one time, he gets to see a sky that blue” to “The Wednesday-Night Democrats”, Rhett Butler’s People is an engrossing re-look at Gone With the Wind, with its own additions & deletions to the original story.
One more aspect that I enjoyed was the more detailed information on Melanie Hamilton-Wilkes’ character. I have to admit I found her character smacking too much of miss-goody-two-shoes & Rhett Butler’s People made me see her in another light. Donald McCaig lets you look at the motives behind her actions which transforms Melanie Wilkes into a character who is not only more “relatable” but also more admirable.
The only thing I have a grouse with is the ending. It was hurried in tone, the author suddenly realizing that he just had a few more pages to go & still had to wrap up the story. The characters were not given enough space to transform into their final avtars in which they appear at the end. While I definitely like a happy ending as much as the next person, this one felt forced.
Despite its contrived ending Donald McCaig dishes up an enjoyable affair, one which can be read by both a Novice and a Familiar of Gone With the Wind.