Book Reviews

Book Review: Rhett Butler’s People by Donald McCaig

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Rhett Butler's PeopleGone With the Wind is one of my favourite novels. I recently became a fan of this epic story after I finally had the chance to read the superb novel by Margaret Mitchell. I also enjoyed the film adaptation starring Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable. I was therefore naturally excited to learn that there are two authorised novels based on Gone With the Wind. The first is Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley and the second is Rhett Butler’s People by Donald McCaig. My local library only holds Rhett Butler’s People and I was eager to read this book.

The Plot

Rhett Butler’s People is set before, during and after the events of GWTW. This book is GWTW told from Rhett Butler’s perspective. We, as the reader, get a glimpse into Rhett’s formative years. When Rhett the renegade is expelled from West Point and disowned by his father, he travels to San Francisco and New Orleans to seek his fortune and invests in freebooting expeditions before heading to Cuba. Once Rhett returns to Charleston, he is invited to a barbecue at a Georgia plantation where he first meets Scarlett O’ Hara. Rhett soon gains a reputation in his escapades as a blockade runner during the Civil War.

As the title of the novel suggests, this book is about Rhett Butler’s “People”. McCaig introduces several new characters who are Rhett’s friends and family members, including John Haynes, Andrew Ravanel, Tunis Bonneau and Rhett’s sister, Rosemary. These characters, especially Rosemary, are central to the novel, and as such, we read about their viewpoints as well as Rhett’s. Crucially, these new characters shed some light on the motives behind Rhett’s actions in GWTW. Of course, the familiar cast of characters from GWTW are also included. There is an insight into Rhett’s relationship with Belle Watling and Rhett’s ward is a character in this book. Perhaps most importantly for the fans, we learn about what becomes of Rhett and Scarlett after the famous ending of GWTW.

The next part of this review contains spoilers!

This book seeks to address some unanswered questions raised in GWTW. For instance, when I read GWTW, I thought that Margaret Mitchell had left some clues regarding Rhett’s ward, that is, Belle’s child. Maybe, Rhett and Belle had a secret lovechild. Apparently not, according to McCaig, who dispels this notion in his book. Oh well…

Here are my thoughts on McCaig’s portrayal of the main characters from GWTW:

Rhett: Rhett Butler’s allure stems from his mysterious nature. I felt that the more we learnt about Rhett in this book, the more he lost his dashing charm. Whilst it was fun to read about Rhett’s adventures with his friends, I gained the impression that Rhett was being moulded into a misunderstood, nice guy. An example of this is when we learn exactly why he shot a black man. Conversely, I would have preferred it if there was more about Rhett and his thoughts and feelings, rather than the new characters, like Andrew Ravanel. There is no mention of Scarlett’s miscarriage. Also, Rhett is silent about Bonnie’s death which is only mentioned in a letter from Melanie to Rosemary. These were crucial events from GWTW which contributed to Rhett’s decision to leave Scarlett.

Scarlett: I was disappointed in the portrayal of Scarlett. In GWTW, Scarlett is a shrewd, determined businesswoman who vows never to be hungry again. It is therefore hard to believe that Scarlett would somehow manage to lose all her hard-earned money in stupid investments. As a result of this, Scarlett has to rely on Rhett, which I found odd, considering her independent character. Scarlett also learns to tolerate Belle Watling – the woman she hates!

Melanie: Melanie Wilkes reminds me of Jane Bennet from Pride and Prejudice. They are both gentle, kind-hearted souls who see the best in everyone. In this book, Melanie has changed beyond recognition. She knows Scarlett loves Ashley and she unburdens her insecurities in her letters to Rosemary, who becomes her pen pal. Melanie is portrayed as being bitchy and two-faced because she secretly hates Scarlett. This is the same Melanie who refused to hear a bad word spoken about Scarlett in GWTW.

Final thoughts

I really wanted to like this book. However, I found it jarring that this book is not true to the characters Margaret Mitchell created. The characterisation of some of the females from GWTW, especially Scarlett and Melanie, is disappointing. I thought the ending was sacrilegious and all I can say about this is, “Dude, what you were thinking?” On the plus side, McCaig goes to great lengths to describe Rhett’s blockade-running adventures. There are some poignant moments in this book, but overall I was left feeling a little disappointed. Some fans of GWTW will love this, whilst others, like me, will not. I guess it’s a matter of personal taste.

My rating: ★★☆☆☆

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4 thoughts on “Book Review: Rhett Butler’s People by Donald McCaig

  1. Indeed. I’m going to force myself through this again one of these days.* This is the only book I’ve ever physically thrown into a garbage can and escorted to the dumpster.

    * I want to remember the specifics about why I disliked it, for my journal. I read it forever ago before I was blogging. 🙂

    1. Oh wow! I’m glad that I’m not the only person who had strong feelings of dislike about this book! Although, mine was a library copy so I had to take it back. 🙂

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