Scarlett’s Legacy

I’m rereading Scarlett at the moment, and it’s made me think of a discussion on several Stargate boards, abut what would it take for Carter to be redeemed. The general consensus is that she would have to have a long, hard look at herself and reflect on her selfish, self-absorbed interests and make a conscious effort to change her past behaviour.

This is the approach Alexandra Ripley took when she was commissioned by the Margaret Mitchell estate to write a sequel to Mitchell’s 1937 Gone With the Wind. I’m not sure how much of the novel is actually Mitchell’s work, as it’s a lot closer to GWtW then Ripley’s other novels. But I really enjoyed it because, among other things, it showed realistic consequences for Scarlett’s lifetime of selfish, self-absorbed behaviour.

Scarlett spent the first thirty years of her life screwing over other people. She competed ruthlessly for men, pursued a decadent lifestyle, ignoring the disapproval of the rest of society, alienated all her friends and took up with sycophants instead because they pampered to her vanity.

The end of GWtW sees her husband, Rhett, leaving her just as she’s come to realise how much she loves him – too bad, he’s sick of her selfish behaviour. Her only true friend is dead, and she’s come to realise how little those sycophants mean to her – which is a pity because, thanks to her self-absorbed, bitchy behaviour, they’re the only people who will have anything to do with her. In fact, it’s a minor miracle that she leaves Atlanta minus the tar and feathers.

After a near-death experience, she and Rhett share a passionate night together, and when she discovers she is pregnant from the encounter, she decides to have one last selfish adventure before returning to him. Only for Rhett, this is the straw that broke the camel’s back and he divorces Scarlett, leaving her to face the prospect of single motherhood.

And face it she does. She goes through a deep sense of loss, eventually reconciling herself to the fact that she has lost Rhett, and deserved to lose him. She learns to be gracious about his new wife, acknowledging she’s far greater a human being then Scarlett.

She faces down all her past misdeeds, all the people she screwed over, all the selfish things she did. She forgives her sisters for their past slights against her, realising they, like herself, had their reasons for doing what they did. And while she can’t take back the years of neglectful motherhood of her two oldest children – instead deciding the mature thing to do is leave them where they are happy with her sister and brother-in-law at a plantation they love with cousins they love, even if it means giving up the opportunity to ever be a real mother to them – she pours her heart and soul into the child she had with Rhett. She struggles against past mistakes, not only her own but her parent’s, and their parent’s, all the way through history. She finds family and a society that she truly fits into, and works tirelessly at being a decent (but always flawed) human being, always aware of the debt she owes Lady Karma.

And she never truly gets over Rhett, although she recognises that she must let him go. One of my favourite scenes is where they meet by chance, and Rhett realises how much she’s changed. His simply stating of that fact, with more admiration and respect they he ever gave her – or she ever deserved – in their marriage is the greatest gift he has given her, far greater then all the money and jewels she once craved. It’s a very symbolic scene, that a woman who was once obsessed with herself and material possessions can be made happy with a person’s respect.

But even though it’s the most emotionally intimate moment Scarlett and Rhett have ever shared, she doesn’t beg him to stay. She realises how miserable she made him, and the least she owes him is to let him go to be happy with someone more deserving. Scarlett is not the same woman who we left at the at of GWtW, begging Rhett to stay. She has realised her mistakes through a painful road of self-discovery, and she will not go back to the days of being a spoilt, selfish woman who couldn’t comprehend the needs of anyone but herself.

I would love to see Carter go through such a period of self-reflection and transformation. It can be done – Scarlett is proof of that – except there seem to be a distinct lack of talented writers available to pull it off. Until then, I’ll read the two books that did it over and over”¦

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