Rhett and Scarlett, the sequel

-A A +A
By Jay Cason

As soon as I learned Donald McCaig's sequel to "Gone With the Wind" was due out in November, it was quickly added to my Christmas wish list.

I must have been a pretty good boy, as the 498-page "Rhett Butler's People" was under our tree Christmas Day. I devoured it in two days.

Set in the Old South in the years immediately before the Civil War and continuing through the war and into early Reconstruction, both books tell of Southern plantation life and how the war changed that way of life forever.

The two books have the same basic story line and include many of the same major characters, including the two primaries, Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler. But while the book focuses on Scarlett, Rhett is the obvious centerpiece in the sequel.

The book's author, Margaret Mitchell, told her story by following the life of the rebellious Georgia peach Scarlett O'Hara. Scarlett is a pampered beauty who evolves from self-absorbed teenage twit to a strong-willed woman and the rock-solid foundation of her family when other more logical candidates succumb to the horrors of the war.

During her transition, Scarlett tramples on everybody who gets in her way, including a sister, whose beau she steals and marries, and another husband she marries for retribution. The one person she wasn't able to completely subdue became her third husband, the notorious Rhett Butler.

It is the only book Mitchell published during her lifetime. Released in 1936, it won the Pulitzer Prize and became an all-time bestseller and an American classic. Perhaps she decided to quit while she was ahead.

isn't the only book that McCaig has written though, just his latest. His list of writings is extensive and includes poetry, nonfiction, and fiction. One of his novels, "Jacob's Ladder," was designated "the best Civil War novel ever written," by The Virginia Quarterly.

"Rhett Butler's People" isn't the first book written as a sequel to "Gone With the Wind." "Scarlett," by Alexandria Ripley, gained notoriety when it hit bookstores in 1991 and stayed on bestseller lists for 28 weeks. But it received uniformly dismal reviews by the critics. I read it when it came out, but recall absolutely nothing about the book other than it continued the story line begun in "Gone With the Wind."

On the other hand, McCaig's sequel has received excellent reviews, ones with which I concur. Technically "Rhett Butler's People" is not a sequel, but rather a re-telling of the original "Gone With the Wind." story from a perspective that's largely Rhett Butler's.

Written with the full cooperation of Margaret Mitchell's estate, the story begins with a brief description of Rhett's childhood. We learn that Rhett is the oldest child of a stern bigoted South Carolina rice planter who bullies everyone around him.

After being expelled from West Point, probably to spite his father, Rhett travels the world and earns great wealth. He also develops a reputation as a hard-drinking rogue.

However, Rhett Butler also has a softer siede. McCaig's Butler is a man who rescues notorious Belle Watling and saves her from a life in the streets, even though saving her costs him his reputation. He also is a man devoted to his sister and to his best friend, a black man.

But Butler's relationship with Scarlett O'Hara is really what both books are all about. Butler is at his most vulnerable when dealing with Scarlett. He knows that she uses him to satisfy her own needs and ambition, just as she uses other people. He tries to refrain from succumbing to Scarlett's charms, but repeatedly Butler cannot completely sever his ties to her.

In reviewing "Rhett Butler's People" for Amazon.com, Anne Bartholomew wrote, "To pluck a character from a beloved book and recalibrate the story's point-of-view isn't an easy thing to do. Ultimately, the new must ring true with the old, and this is where "Rhett Butler's People" succeeds beyond measure."

I could not agree more.