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Just pretend that "Scarlett" was never written...
on August 17, 1999
As a huge fan of GONE WITH THE WIND, I couldn't help but be excited when the sequel was first announced. The day it was released, I bought it eagerly - 24 hours later I finished the last page, closed the book and tried to distill all I was feeling - the anger and disappointment at seeing so fine a work as GWTW and its sparkling characters, distorted into something "mass market" and extremely unacceptable. When Margaret Mitchell was asked what became of Scarlett and Rhett, she replied that, like Rhett, she "didn't give a damn". She was tired of the whole book, which had consumed almost 10 years of her life. In her will, she had strict instructions that, upon her death, any remaining papers, notes, etc, relating to her writing of GWTW should be burned - which her husband faithfully carried out. Thus, we will never know if Mrs. Mitchell DID have ideas of what happened to the characters, of if the rumors WERE true... what were the rumors? That GWTW hadn't ended in the pre-publication version, with Rhett leaving Scarlett. Rumor says that it went on a bit longer, sort of just tapering off (the novel was not finished when the publisher bought it), but they had to choose some point to end the story, and Rhett leaving was the point decided upon. How true these rumors are, or if they are just wishful thinking by fans, will never be known. One thing that is certain is that there was a sequel commissioned by MGM around 1972 titled "TARA" (the author's name is not known). Unfortunately, MGM didn't really hold the rights to the story, only the film, and "Tara" never made it out of the galleys. It's said that "Tara" was superbly written, and not only stayed true to the original story and characters, but also to Mrs. Mitchell's incredible writing style. How sad that it was never published. We jump forward many years to the publication of Scarlett- The Sequel To Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone With The Wind'. The writer is Alexandra Ripley, a southern writer with quite a few historical romance novels under her belt. Like Margaret Mitchell, Ms. Ripley grew up in the South, and had a solid background from which to compose a sequel to GWTW. Sadly however, she is simply not the caliber of writer that Mitchell was, nor does Ripley seem to have even the barest of grasp of the subject matter or even to understand it. In GWTW, there isn't a single word written that doesn't, in some way, have meaning with some other part of the book; there is no action that doesn't further the story or deepen the characterizations. Even the most minor, throw away, lines have some meaning in the context of the story, such as Scarlett relating to the Tarleton Twins that Mammy Jincy had once told her fortune and declared that she would marry a gentleman with dark hair and a moustache, to which Scarlett replied that she didn't like "dark haired gentlemen." It's a seemingly innocent line near the beginning of the book, but in the overall context, is a foreshadowing of what's to come. Alexandra Ripley doesn't seem to have noticed this, and not only is most of the action in the book pointless, but it doesn't even relate to anything else, nor does it deepen our understanding of characters or their motivations. Page after stupefying page of tea parties, visits to the market, and knee slapping parities with Scarlett's white-trash Irish relatives are the bulk of the action. None of it leads anywhere, nor does any of it have any point. The scenes could be removed and wouldn't affect the story in the least. Dialogue is similarly inept. Characters make small talk, and none of it does anything but fill space. It's as if Ms. Ripley was told that she had to fill a certain number of pages, content be damned! Perhaps what's even worse, is the actions that DO propel the story forward are so out of step with the characters detailed in the original novel that it all becomes absurd. Scarlett selling Tara? No way. There was nothing in the world that could come between Scarlett and Tara, yet Ripley has Scarlett sell it off without even so much as a second thought. Essential characters from the original are similarly dispatched without delay. Mammy? Killed off. Ashley and Aunt Pitty? Gone ASAP. Then there are the situations that strongly suggest that Scarlett has suffered some form of brain damage from the hardships she's endured. At the ridiculous "masked ball" that Atlanta holds, Ripley's Scarlett is so stupid that she doesn't even recognize her own husband, Rhett! The suspicion of brain damage is confirmed when Scarlett is in Ireland and doesn't realize that a Civil War, similar to the one she lived through, is brewing. Plus, Scarlett, who in the original novel, only recognized "common sense" and didn't go in for the "twaddle" of religion and mysticism, is strangely taken by witchcraft when she's given a middle-of-the-night caesarian (with the kitchen butcher knife!) by an old witch... then she names the kid "Cat". I simply cannot image Scarlett naming a child of hers anything so awful as "Cat". Naming the child after her mother, whom Scarlett worshiped as something like a Madonna, would have been much more believable and in character. Possibly the biggest mistake was Ripley forgetting or ignoring the part of Gone With The Wind that read (paraphrasing): "When a Southerner took the time to pack a trunk and travel 20 miles, the visit was seldom for a duration of less than a month" It goes on to talk about how relatives would arrive for Sunday dinner and stay until they were buried some years later - newlyweds would visit and often remained in some pleasant place until their second child was born. Because houses were large, food plentiful, and staff's huge, visitors posed no problem. Sadly, Ripley has Scarlett traveling great distances at the drop of a hat, staying a few days, then going somewhere else. She travels as if it were modern times, and airlines existed, going from place to place in record time - even an across-the-ocean voyage to Ireland is quick of minimal importance to Scarlett! I could go on about all the defects, but what's the point? One thing that is clear is that as bad as the sequel is, it was, at one time, even worse. After Alexandra Ripley turned in her finished manuscript, it was felt to be so bad that a ghost-writer was brought in to re-work it considerably. This is not rumor or unsubstantiated fact. Before the book was published, it was common knowledge that it was being ghost-rewritten, so we can only imagine what a mess the story must have been originally. I've tried, on several occasions, to re-read the novel; to give it a second chance, and hopefully, see it on its own merits. I've not been able to accomplish that considerable feat. The book is just so poorly written, with such a lackluster story, situations and characters, that it cannot even stand on its own. This is quite sad. Hopefully, some day, we might get to read the sequel, "Tara", that was written in the early 70's. Until that time, just pretend that "Scarlett" was never written and imagine your own ending to Gone With The Wind... even in your worst nightmares, you are sure to come up with a better sequel than by Ms. Ripley and Ghost-Writer.