In a previous post, I discussed the difficulty of defining fanfiction, especially when it comes to distinguishing fanfic from profic. In this post, I take a look at Margret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind and two derivative works of profic based off of it: Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley and The Wind Done Gone by Alice Randall. I want to analyze the relationship between the original work and the novels it informed, and how it relates to the types of fanfiction that I discussed in my four-part series.
Despite its outdated and offensive racial and gender politics, Gone with the Wind is an enduring classic, whose legacy was undoubtedly helped by its 1939 film adaptation starring Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh. Reading the novel in 2018 is cringe-inducing. The romaticization of slavery, the brutal and blatant racism, the misogyny. The slaves all love being divested of their humanity and agency; they adore the people who treat them like property and objects. This is perhaps understandable, because in
the novel slavery is presented as benevolent. No slaves are raped or beaten; in fact, the novel suggests that black slaves “own” the whites “body and soul” (42, 152). Once freed, the “good” former slaves stay beside their former masters and continue to serve them; the bad embrace their freedom and attack white women. The n-word is used frequently. The Ku Klux Klan is not only justified, but glorified (613). The romantic hero consistently belittles and negs the heroine, threatens her (832), and, eventually, rapes her (871). Women are wed and bred at fifteen and sixteen years old; Rhet tells Scarlett that he wanted her from the first time he saw her, when she was a girl of sixteen and he was a man of thirty-three (328). Gross.
Then there is the protagonist, Scarlett O’Hara. Throughout the novel, Scarlett needs to be the center of attention. She is manipulative, ruthless, and a narcissist. She marries three men for monetary gain. While that choice is understandable, given the financially precarious position of women in this society, the Machiavellian tactics that she uses, especially to ensnare Mr. Kennedy, who had promised to wed her sister when he had saved up enough money, are not (560). She has no empathy for those around her, but always positions herself as the victim. No one has suffered the way that she has, and no one is as deserving as her (557). And while it is true that she goes through tremendous trauma in the novel, she exhibits her selfishness and viciousness well before Atlanta burns or Tara starves. The war and reconstruction only give her an excuse to behave the way she does. She does break with social conventions that are oppressive to women, like setting up in business and doing math, but these things are never done out of a feminist impulse to defy society, but to satisfy her own self-interest. She never does anything to help the other women around her, white or of color. It is perhaps not surprising that a number of critics has suggested that she suffers from a histrionic personality disorder. The symptoms certainly seem to line up.
Excuses for the novel have been made: “It was written in a different time and about a different time.” And this is true, though I don’t believe that it excuses the content of the novel nor that it makes its representation okay. The conditions of its production certain don’t make the text any less racist nor do they make its racism acceptable. However, we might turn to some more contemporary derivative works to consider how these issues are handled and how they comment on the original novel.
Alexandra Ripley’s Scarlett was published in 1991 and offers a relatively uncritical continuation of the original plot. It has a “more of” relationship to the original text (Pugh), expanding, as Jenkins might explain, the story’s timeline. It begins where Gone with the Wind left off and follows Scarlett from Melanie’s graveside to Charleston to Savannah to Ireland, and eventually, into Rhett’s arms.
Scarlett avoids charges of racism by largely removing black characters from the story. Mammie, who was flattened in Mitchell’s novel to a stereotype, dies in the first part of the novel (25). The offensive dialect given to black characters, and notably not white in Gone with the Wind, is removed from Ripley’s version. Once Scarlett leaves for Ireland, she doesn’t encounter another person of color. Erasing characters of color from Scarlett’s story so that the uncomfortable issue of slavery doesn’t have to be dealt with doesn’t make the novel less racist. It just conceals the racism of the original text
Once Scarlett crosses the Atlantic many of her interactions are with the Irish peasant class. The novel does address colonial oppression of the Irish by the English, illustrating the brutality of the British landlords and their overseers (553, 611, 720-722), but it doesn’t present the Irish in a great light either. They are uneducated, superstitious (560, 572, 716, 730), and ungrateful for everything that Scarlett, as The O’Hara, has done for them (734, 767, 814, 816-17) (yes, Scarlett actually spends her money to help other people; an act of altruism that would baffle the version of her in Mitchell’s original text).
The novel is also paradoxical in how it treats the gender norms of the time. Scarlett dispenses with her restrictive corsets, which coincides with her heel-face-turn to becoming a better person (I guess being able to breath makes her nicer). She becomes the head of the O’Hara clan, a great landowner, and rejects the conventions of being a lady (548). She runs her own estate and handles the expenses. But while in Ireland, she also embraces conventional female roles that she had traditionally rejected, including motherhood. Part of the softening of her character is that all of the sudden she loves being a mom (583- 84), and she puts her children’s needs and happiness above her own (previously she just wanted to get rid of them) (626-628).
The romantic plotline of the novel is also troubling. Scarlett spends the entirety of the novel pining for Rhett. Most, although not all her actions, are motivated by her desire to win him back. She travels to Charleston and insinuates herself in his mother’s house to beguile him (120). When she flirts with men during the season, it is to make him jealous (219). She angles to get him alone so that she can seduce him. She hangs around Savanah, hoping that he will come for her (421).
Even when she is not actively attempting to reconcile with Rhett, he is still the primary motivation for her actions. She decides to stay in Ireland to hide his daughter from him (659). Even her decision to marry Lord Fenton is a reaction to hearing that Rhett’s new wife is pregnant (793). While she does make her own decisions in the novel, they are often in reaction to Rhett.
So it is not a surprise when the novel ends with them reuniting, no matter how improbable the circumstances that eventually bring them together. The entire novel is making the argument that Scarlett and Rhett’s relationship is not toxic, but destined, meant to be, a love story for the ages. In order to achieve this, both of their characters are softened considerably to make them more likable and their relationship less disturbing. Rhett belittles and mocks her not because he is a jerk, but because he is vulnerable and afraid. Once Scarlett breaks free of the repressive staves of her society, she becomes a person capable of love. Theirs is a great romance, the novel argues. In short, Ripley ships it.
While Ripley’s novel comes off as fangirling, Alice Randall is clearly not a fan. The Wind Done Gone, published in 2001, tells the story of Cynarae, Scarlett’s half-sister, the product of Gerald O’Hara raping Mammie. Randall’s novel is critical of the ideology, racism, and politics that informs Gone with the Wind, and by shifting the perspective of the novel is able to level these critiques through the story it tells. It explores the parts of slavery that Mitchell attempts to erase: the rape, the whipping, the beatings, the separation of families. It gives voice to the people of color who are dismissed, ignored, or stereotyped in the original novel, telling their stories and speaking their names. (Randall plays with the convention of slave owners forcibly renaming people of color, divesting them of names and identities; Cynarae renames all of the characters in the novel so that Gerald is “Planter,” Scarlett is “Other, and Rhett is R.)
The novel also explores the way in which race was socially constructed in the South. Cynarae is light skinned and can live as white, but she views herself as black, no matter what her pigmentation is (158). On the other hand, it is revealed that Ellen O’Hara, who had lived most of her life as white had a black ancestor (124). The one drop rule of the South, then, decrees that she too is of color, though she is allowed live to white as long as no one finds out. The entire racial hierarchy is deconstructed and shown to be a lie.
The (supposed) romance of Gone with the Wind is also undercut by Randall’s novel. Rhett, we learn, was never in love with Scarlett, but with her half-sister. However, though he claims to love Cynarae, his attraction to her is surface level. He makes no attempt to understand her (27) or even learn her true name (193). At the end of the novel, she leaves him for a congressman of color, deciding that she would rather be the mistress to a man who can understand her than the wife of a man who won’t (197).
So, we have two derivative works, based off of the same novel, telling very different stories that present very different interpretations of the original. It is worth noting the different way that Mitchell’s estate responded to the two novels. The covers of the novels reveal the disparate treatment of the texts.
Under the title Scarlett, Ripley’s novel is embossed with
“The Sequel to Margret Mitchell’s
Gone with the Wind
Now Celebrating its 75th Anniversary”
The Mitchell estate not only allowed but endorsed the novel, tying it directly back to its source material.
Not so for The Wind Done Gone. Copies of the book are stamped with the emblem “The Unauthorized Parody.” Parodies are protected under
Fair Use and this label is likely an attempt to get around copyright law. Mitchell’s estate reportedly sued Randall, though the case was eventually settled. Still, the book is disavowed as unauthorized, disowned by the estate in much the same way that Planted disowned his black daughter.
These two very different responses demonstrate some of the legal landmines that accompany derivative works. If an author likes your interpretation of their novel you might get an endorsement; if they don’t, you might get sued. In the case of Gone with the Wind, this also has an unfortunate, and perhaps unintentional, racial component. Alexandra Ripley is white; Alice Randall is black. According to the estate, one of those women has the right to speak, the other does not. Not great optics for a novel that has aged as poorly as Mitchell’s racist, apologist depiction of the South.
Jenkins, Henry. Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture. Routledge, 1992.
Mitchell, Margaret. Gone with the Wind. 1936 New York, Scribner, 1996.
Pugh, Sheenagh. The Democratic Genre: Fan fiction in a literary context. Bridgend, seren, 2005
Randall, Alice. The Wind Done Gone. New York, Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001.
Ripley, Alexandra. Scarlett. New York, Grand Central Publishing, 1991.