Reading Fic as a Non-Fan: Gone With the Wind Fanfiction

After reading the profic derived from Gone with the Wind, I decided to check out some of the fanfiction written about the novel and its film adaptation. Gone With the Wind is one of the smaller fandoms I’ve looked at (with the exception of a few very popular books series, like Harry Potter, Twilight, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Lord of the Rings, and The Hunger Games books tend to attract less fanfiction than television (and film less than both, probably because many film series are adapted from books, and one standalone film simply gives fans les to work with); also FanFiction.net does archive over four thousand stories about the Bible!!!! which I was very temped to explore). Fanfiction.net has close to a thousand stories based on Margaret Mitchell’s novel, and Archive of Our Own has just under 200 (ff.net is ten years older than AO3, which might account for some of the disparity in the number of stories).

I want to be upfront about my reading experiences: I did not enjoy a lot of it. The fault, though, is not in the fic writers, I think, as much as it is in the source material. Just as fans’ love for the source material informs their reading of fanfic, my dislike of it informed mine. I just have too many problems with Mitchell’s novel to enjoy the fanfiction about it. So I’m afraid I’m going to be ubercritical in this post, and I want to post a disclaimer that this fanfiction is not worse than or more problematic than others (I ship Spuffy; I know what it is to love an unhealthy and problematic relationship), but it is simply not for me.

Okay, so to begin with one thing I did like (before I start my bitching): the slash and femslash. The couple of slash stories I read, “Five Things That Never Happened to Ashley Wilkes” by bonibaru and “Rescue” by GoodJanet, focused on a romantic relationship between Ashley Wilkes and Rhett Butler. The stories imply that Rhett’s feelings of animosity toward Ashley are not because of Scarlett’s affection for him nor are they due to Ashley’s general uselessness, but because of Rhett’s desire for him. More interesting than Rhett and Ashley though are stories about female same-sex relationships. These stories, many of which focus on Melanie Wilkes and Scarlett O’Hara, explore the dynamics of the women’s domestic and sexual relationship. They also offer an interesting take on Eve Sedgwick’s interpretation of love triangles: in this case, it is the body of Ashley Wilkes that is serving as the conduit of Scarlett and Melanie’s homosocial/homoerotic desire. (This idea appeals to me, I think, because Ashley is so boring, and I don’t understand why everyone is in love with him—one of the two things I agree with Rhett about.)

Image sourced from deviantart.com

The most common pairing, though, is Scarlett/Rhett. Most of these stories seem to be written by shippers, who want to rewrite the ending of the Mitchell’s saga to find a way for Rhett and Scarlett to end up together (readers of my last post know my feelings about Gone with the Wind’s “great love story,” so I am not the intended audience for these fics). Many of them offer a reconciliation between the characters. For example, the summary of “A Thousand Tomorrows” by Phantom710 promises readers that the story “picks up initially a month after ‘Frankly My Dear…’ and then moves forward to almost a year later, when Rhett and Scarlett encounter each other in Atlanta for the first time. This isn’t a quick finish. If there is ever going to be a happy ending between them, a lot must happen.” This summary lets reader know that they can expect a slow burn, but that reconciliation is likely.

Other stories insert a reconciliation into Mitchell’s plot, presenting an AU departure from the events in the canon. In WordOnFire76’s “A Chance Encounter,” Rhett comes home to find Scarlett in the bath. Smut ensues and then the characters declare their feelings: “He had no idea how he had gotten here, how his marriage had been turned upside down and then one chance encounter had suddenly turned it right again.” Likewise, in “Awaiting the Voice of Scarlett” by YourAverageRomanticSidekick, Rhett and Scarlett are reconciled when she calls out for him while recovering from her miscarriage. The story follows some of the conventions of the hurt/comfort genre; Scarlett’s physical injuries and semi-conscious state make her vulnerable and open in a way that she usually is not. TheCrimsonLetter’s “Without Pretense” imagines the mutual pining of the characters as Rhett travels during a time of marital estrangement, both characters realizing how much they care for each other during their absence, which leads to confessions of affection and reconciliation once Rhett returns.

Some Rhett/Scarlett fanfics explore and expand on the night of Ashley’s birthday party. In the novel, Mitchell’s description suggests that Rhett rapes Scarlett; she resists his sexual advances, but he forces himself on her without her consent. The morning after, Scarlett, problematically, reflects that she enjoyed the previous evening. This message is, of course, dangerous because it suggests that even if a woman loudly and clearly says “no,” she secretly wants it anyway or that a man can fuck a woman in wanting to have sex with him. Both of these messages perpetuates and justifies rape culture.

Image sourced from fanpop.com

Unfortunately, the two stories that deal with this section of the novel end up reinforcing Mitchell’s problematic sexual politics. Both eroticize the rape and both are in Rhett’s POV. We could argue that we have an unreliable narrator, that he sees Scarlett’s desire because that’s what he wants to see, but if that is the case, more could be done to challenge his reliability. In “The Midnight on Your Lips” by lostrocket, Rhett proceeds with every intent to rape Scarlett, but then he realizes that she is aroused:

“He slid two fingers between Scarlett’s thighs and his heart stopped when they came away slick with her arousal. The urgent need to dominate her, own her, possess her the only way he could was transformed by the wet proof of her desire for him. When his heart started beating again it made his chest feel full to bursting. Awareness of her crept slowly, edgewise around his senses, through the black angry haze and blind desire. He saw her slim fingers twisted in the sheets. Her legs were scissoring restlessly, the bare skin whispering against his pant legs. Her hips lifted, following his hand as he pulled it back. He heard her whimper, softly, a timid sound that pierced him through.”

The story suggests that her arousal means that she loves and desires him; however, women can become physically aroused during a rape, while not consenting to sex. Rhett reads Scarlett’s body as desiring and consenting to intimacy, but it could also be a physical reflex to protect against injury to the vagina or genital region. This message is dangerous because it confuses a physical response with actual consent.

The rest of the story continues with confessions of feelings and rough, but loving sex. Though at the end of the story, Rhett asks Scarlett if he has hurt her. She responds with “I’m fine,” heavily implying that, yes, he did. Rhett expresses guilt, but then again, a lot of abusers feel and behave that way.

“Control” by WhoIsYourHeroDoloresHaze does a better job. It is labeled as dubcon (dubious consent) and has a “rape/non-con” warning. And is tagged as “unhealthy relationship” and “morally questionable but sexy as hell lets be real.”  WhoIsYourHeroDoloresHaze explicitly recognizes that this is trash smut; it is problematic, but still “sexy.” Like “The Midnight on Your Lips,” Scarlett’s physical arousal is read as desire for sexual intercourse, even though the story acknowledges that her body is acting of its “own volition.” And like “The Midnight on Your Lips,” “Control” abruptly switches from rape to consensual sex as Rhett goes from “I will appreciate my wife’s body if I damn well please, Scarlett” to “I’m not going to make love to a wife who does not want to do the same” over the space of four paragraphs.

Both of these stories shift from violence and rape to a focus on Scarlett’s sexual pleasure, but the implication remains the same as in the source material—if a woman says “no,” you can force her into wanting to have sex with you. Both were uncomfortable for me to read, especially because were from a male POV.

Also uncomfortable for me to read were stories that presented the characters in BDSM relationships. My intention here is not to kink shame. In most cases, I enjoy reading BDSM stories and believe that people should do whatever makes them sexually happy.

But the context of this story makes it uncomfortable because of the source material’s treatment of slavery. As I explained in my previous blog post, Mitchell’s novel does it’s best to make the case for why slavery wasn’t so bad. Slaves, she argues, like being slaves, want to be slaves, and would have no idea what to do with themselves if they were not slaves. And the slave owners, Mitchell’s story goes, were such nice people and they treated their slaves so well.

Given this context, in which the brutality and dehumanization of slavery is erased, it is uncomfortable to read some of those same images and discourses being appropriated as erotic. For example, the story “Scarlett and Mistress Melly” implies a master/slave dynamic, but one that is mutually pleasurable (unlike, you know, real slavery). And “If You Want It, You Can Have It,” which takes its cues from Rhett’s line “I’ve always though a good lashing with a buggy whip would benefit you immensely,” Rhett whips Scarlett and they both get off on it. Here, too, the iconography of slavery is appropriated and becomes eroticized, ignoring the historical legacy of whipping slaves, which both characters previously own. Even if they never personally whipped slaves, Scarlett and Rhett participated in and benefited from the institution that sanctioned it. In the novels, neither character challenges or even questions the institution of slavery (in fact, Rhett eventually fights to defend it). So to see the characters whip each other for erotic pleasure is problematic.

As I said, in most cases, I am fine with BDSM. But when the reality of slavery is erased from the source text and this discourse and these images are applied to the bodies of white characters and presented as erotic … it just doesn’t work for me. And I guess that demonstrates one of the perils of the intertextuality of fanfiction. In many cases, it presents opportunities. But it is not without its baggage. And different readers are going to carry the baggage in different ways.

 

Works Cited

Bonibaru. “Five Things That Never Happened to Ashley Wilkes.” 13 September 2017.

GoodJanet. “Rescue.” Archive of Our Own. 21 July 2016.

Lostrocket. “The Midnight on Your Lips.” Archive of Our Own. 23 April 2015.

Phantom710. “A Thousand Tomorrows.” Archive of Our Own. 31 May 2018.

Ronsparkyspeirs. “If You Want It, You Can Have It.” 29 July 2017.

The_hidden_agenda. “Scarlett and Mistress Melly.” 4 August 2018.

TheCrimsonLetter. “Without Pretense.” 7 June 2016.

WhoIsYourHeroDoloresHaze. “Control.” Archive of Our Own 23 February 2018.

WorldOnFire76. “A Chance Encounter.” Archive of Our Own. 23 February 2017.

YourAverageRomanticSidekick. “Awaiting the Voice of Scarlett.” Archive of Our Own. 17 February 2014.

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