Rhett Butler’s People
Great characters live on long after the final pages of our favorite books, subject to our wild imaginations. In the final pages of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind, our minds are already working on what could happen next when Scarlett vows, “I’ll think of some way to get him back. After all…tomorrow is another day.”
For decades, we wondered if Rhett and Scarlett would get back together. To answer our curiosity, Alexandra Ripley wrote Scarlett in 1992. Then Donald McCaig wrote Rhett Butler’s People in 2007 and Ruth’s Journey in 2014.
Gone With the Wind has inspired other books as well, including The Wind Is Never Gone: Sequels, Parodies and Rewritings of Gone With the Wind by M. Carmen Gómez-Galisteo; Scarlett’s Women: Gone With the Wind and Its Female Fans by Helen Taylor; Frankly, My Dear: “Gone With the Wind Revisited” by Molly Haskell; and the parody by Alice Randall, The Wind Done Gone.
Rhett Butler’s People is a saga of the Butler family in Charleston, South Carolina before, during and after the Civil War, and is a companion piece to GWTW. It begins with a fateful duel of honor and jumps back to Rhett’s boyhood days on the family’s rice plantation. It’s no surprise that Rhett is a rebel and McCaig takes the reader through Rhett’s many clashes with his controlling father, Langston Butler. The back story ties into what the reader already knows about Rhett from GWTW and the author fills in the plot with new characters to interact with some of GWTW’s main characters, including Melanie Hamilton, Ashley Wilkes and Belle Watling. Some new characters are Rhett’s little sister, Rosemary, school companions Andrew Ravanel and Edgar Puryear and Belle Watling’s bastard son, Tazewell.
Although Rhett and Scarlett meet under the same circumstances at Twelve Oaks, McCaig tells the story from the Butler angle and follows Rhett through his blockade running days during the war and as he meets up with Scarlett in Atlanta. McCaig, who also wrote Canaan and Jacob’s Ladder, is a Civil War expert and, in his story, he describes the major conflicts between the north and south, slavery and the war’s impact on the southern way of life.
While no story can compare to a classic like Gone With the Wind, McCaig fills in a lot of nice details about the Butler family. The story is at its strongest between McCaig’s original characters and the complicated dynamic within the Watling family, and less so, however, when he retells scenes from GWTW. It’s always risky to pick up characters from another book and the author’s portrayals of Melanie and Belle, in particular, will seem a little off to GWTW fans. In addition, Rhett’s character seems too soft and too understanding to be the swaggering, dangerous and irresistible Rhett we swoon over in GWTW.
Rhett Butler’s People is a well-told story, however, with lots of interesting side characters and plots, painting a vivid picture of the south during the war. In addition, readers are rewarded with a wild and satisfying finish. A fun read inspired by a great classic!
If you love historical fiction about the Civil War, check out my review of Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell.
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