Friday, December 9, 2011

The Other Scarlet

By coincidence, I've had two Scarlet-related posts within a month, totally unconnected. My most recent book I finished, this one a book club choice, was Alice Randall's The Wind Done Gone. On the cover, the book is describe as a parody of Margaret Mitchell's iconic Gone with the Wind. I wonder, though, if that appeared before or after the court case in which Mitchell's estate accused Randall of plagiarism. (More research will follow. See you later, Google.)

While a charge of plagiarism is a bit over the top, the parody label misses the book's tone altogether. The story is told through the journals of a woman named Cynara, daughter of Scarlet O'Hara's Mammy (she of the swishing red petticoats), ***SPOILER ALERT***half sister to Scarlet (who is simply called Other throughout the book) and mistress to R---- (obviously Rhett Butler).

Rather than focusing on the pre-Civil War South or slavery in particular, this novel takes readers into the world of race and racism just at the end of the war. Amid all the changes the winds are blowing in, Randall has readers thinking more seriously about racial labels, particularly the "one-drop rule" and about ownership of oneself. She prompts readers to think the idea of responsbility to a person--even with good intentions--who pays for one's freedom.

I've long been fascinated with significance of names, of owning our names, of respecting or disrespecting others by knowing, acknowledging or remembering their names. The last sure sign that Cynara is her own woman comes through her ownership (and careful protection of) her real name.

I enjoyed her secondary characters--those borrowed and those she invented, "Miss Mealy Mouth, for instance, her thinly disguised Melanie Wilkes. Her glimpse of "Ashley Darling" also takes an interesting but not unexpected twist.

More than the authorized sequel Rhett's People by Donald McCaig, this novel made me want to revisit the original novel (not the much revisited movie) to recollect the whole story as I first knew it. How could the Mitchell estate object?


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