Even though she could have any man in the Charleston-Savannah-Atlanta metro area, Scarlett sets her sights on her nearest neighbor Ashley Wilkes*, and decides the barbecue at his Twelve Oaks plantation is the place to tell him so. The barbecue turns out to be filled with surprises; Ashley’s engagement to his milquetoast cousin, Melanie Hamilton, is announced (the Wilkes’ always marry their cousins…::cough::), all three of Scarlett’s future husbands are present and she doesn’t get her way.
Oh, and that silly ol’ War Between the States was declared. Fiddle-dee-dee!
All the boys are running around, talking about what to wear to the big war (I do declare, those boys and their wardrobes!). Scarlett, impervious to things like the nation being torn apart, decides the reason Ashley isn’t nibbling on her peaches is because she hasn’t made her intentions obvious enough. So while the young girls of one color fan all the napping forms of the young girls of another color, Scarlett dresses herself (who knew she could?) and sneaks downstairs to deliver her intentions to Ashley, presumably with a sledgehammer. Scarlett lures Ashley into the drawing room and tells him how much she loves him and that he should marry her instead of his cousin.
Well hush my mouth, but Ash sticks by his word to marry Melanie – not because he’s grown a spine, mind you, but because any man in his right mind can see that Scarlett is about as high maintenance as they come in her current state, and likely to remain that way.
Scarlett is spitting mad at the rejection and launches a few priceless antiques to show it, when who should pop up from a handy high-backed couch but the man who will be husband number 3, Rhett Butler (why certainly, sugar, you go on and cue the Clark Gable fantasies; little ol’ Ms Mitchell did).
Rhett is rugged and suave, with a nasty twinkle in his eye. Why, if it weren’t for him now possessing Scarlett’s most embarrassing secret, she might really take a shine to him. Alas, theirs is a relationship that will have to simmer through at least two more husbands and a war.
But for now, Scarlett just can’t think straight what with that mean ol’ Ashley sticking to his Melanie. So, naturally, Scarlett flirts mercilessly with Mellie’s painfully disposable brother Charles, who promptly forgets his current girl (in keeping with tradition, he is wooing Ashley’s sister, Honey) and asks Scarlett to marry him. She accepts, because that way she can keep staring at Ashley hungrily and Melanie murderously. Winning!
Bonus: Scarlett, clever girl, now you and Ashley are related, and we all know how those Wilkes’ take to their kin.
So Scarlett marries Charles Hamilton the day after Ashley and Mellie get hitched. Turns out little ol’ Charlie Hamilton is a bit mightier than we thought and put a bun in Scarlett’s oven his first go ‘round. Well, I declare! Then he promptly marches off to war and dies, not on the battlefield, but of the measles, leaving Scarlett as an 18-year-old widowed mother and madder than a wet hen, mostly because now she’s stuck in mourning, which is not her most flattering color.
The O’Hara’s plantation, Tara, is not as much fun now that all the boys are gone, so Scarlett packs up her son and heads up to Atlanta to spend some time with Melanie and the Hamilton’s Aunt Pittypat, who is constantly on the verge of fainting and hopelessly addicted to smelling salts and in dire need of repeated slaps to the face.
By the way, if you ever find yourself in a bit of a slump, just set yourself down with a Mint Julep, (hold the mint, sugar and water), and repeat the name “Pittypat” over and over. When you can no longer pronounce “Pittypat,” you should be feeling just fine.
Anyway, why would Scarlett want to go live with that silly ol’ Melanie Wilkes? Why, on the off chance that Mr. Ashley Wilkes could make an appearance, silly! Since she’s a guest in their home, Scarlett has picked up the admirable pastime of rifling through Melanie’s belongings and reading Ashley’s letters. They aren’t lovey-dovey at all…why, they’re full of words and thoughts and ideas – ha! What does Ashley even see in this ninny?
Scarlett decides Ashley’s brief leave from war would be the right time to sabotage his marriage. She throws herself at him again, they kiss, and Scarlett is on him like white on rice…what’s that you say? Melanie’s throwing up every morning… oh, fiddlesticks!
Atlanta is becoming a real drag, and now Scarlett can’t get out of volunteering at the army hospital, which is doing nothing to improve her mood. Thank goodness Rhett Butler shows up. He’s quite the man about town now, because he’s a blockade runner and Atlanta loves him for it; Mamma always said to have your priorities in order.
Rhett gets Scarlett out on the dance floor, out on the streets and into a proper bonnet (Rhett, sugar? You sure do spend a lot of time focusing on women’s clothing). Scarlett is chopping in high cotton until Rhett mouths off in public about the South not winning again and everyone turns their back on him. Well, what does Scarlett care about his silly ol’ reputation? She’ll still marry him to get a new dress or two; but Mr. Butler isn’t the marrying kind and wonders if Scarlett will settle for being his mistress. Well, I declare! If only this were 2012, Scarlett could get a reality show from saying yes. But seeing as how Scarlett is still looking to be Mrs. Ashley Wilkes, she sends Rhett back to Belle Watling, the town’s madam and a hooker with a heart of gold.
After the city’s entire male population is killed in battle, they pin all their hopes on Gettysburg.
Then things start to really heat up in Atlanta.
Melanie goes into labor, as noiselessly as possible so as not to bother anyone, and Scarlett calls on her baby-birthing expert, Prissy, to see to all the details. Except that Prissy prefers walking in circles and singing to herself when not padding her own resume. Turns out she don’t know nuthin’ ’bout birthin’ no babies. Honestly, Scarlett could just slap something!
Oh, wait, Prissy is useful.
With Hotlanta in full swing, Rhett shows up just in time for Pittypat to faint again as she abandons her house and family to their fate. I mean, is it her fault that Melanie chose this moment to have a baby, and Scarlett wants to go to Tara instead of Macon? Off she goes in one direction, and the whole house, Melanie, the baby, Scarlett, and Prissy are loaded up and fly out of the city in the other.
On the way to Tara, Rhett decides to join the Confederates even though they will lose, because he apparently stole a conscience during his last blockade run. He gives Scarlett a kiss that will stay with her awhile and she responds in kind with her newfound love of slapping things.
Scarlett makes it to Tara… oh Tara! Surely now everything will be the way it was. Why, with every other plantation being burned to the ground, maybe the O’Hara’s can put in that pool they’ve always wanted! Except that Scarlett’s saintly mother Ellen is dead of whatever disease she caught from the poor white trash family down the road, whom she nursed through their multiple illegitimate births. Gerald, Scarlett’s dad, suffers from dementia (but still remembers where the booze is kept). The cotton has been burned, Mammy is half herself and most of the slaves are gone. At least her sisters are still worthless – it’s nice to come home.
Melanie is too sick to nurse her brat. Scarlett has two choices, force Melanie to nurse the baby and maybe they will both die, or have a slave, who has also just given birth, nurse the kid for her. Hmm, stupid Ashley and his “promise me you will look after Melanie” business. Also, the fields need to be reseeded and tended but there’s no one left to do it and Scarlett wants her 19-inch waist back. Tending fields being the Pilates of the 1860s, she goes to work and forces everyone else she can to help her. She’s griping at Mellie about needing her to get better so she can work like an animal too, when a Yankee deserter wanders in.
Say, aren’t you a yummy little southern girl, what’s that in your hand?
Bang. It’s Miss Scarlett in the foyer with the pistol.
Then she hears a noise behind her. Clang. Miss Melanie on the stairs with her dead brother’s battle sword.
It’s a bonding moment, and Scarlett begins to see that Mellie isn’t all grits and gravy after all. Good thing Scarlett’s taken up a new hobby to help her deal with all these events – drinking.
But wait… ASHLEY’S HOME! Well butter my butt and call me a biscuit.
But Ashley is not much use. He’s moping because the Old South is gone, he’s moping because most of his family is dead, he’s moping because Twelve Oaks was reduced to rubble, he’s moping because he’s still missing any semblance of vertebrae and he’s moping because he has to stay married to Melanie even though he is actually in love with Scarlett…
That last part could prove useful.
But when Scarlett asks Ash to run away with her, he places a big old clump of Tara’s red clay soil in her hand. Why Mr. Wilkes, you sure do know the way to a girl’s heart! Should I be doing something with this dirt? Scarlett swears never to throw herself at Ashley again… or at least not until the next chapter.
Oh, lawd! What now? Unreasonable taxes on Tara? The plantation could be sold at auction to the very white trash that killed Scarlett’s mother?Hmm, I wonder if Rhett is still sweet for some Scarlett sugar? I declare, this plan best work or it’s curtains for Tara. Speaking of curtains…
Back in smoldering Atlanta, Scarlett and her self-appointed chaperone Mammy go off to find Rhett in jail. He is partial to her mistress plan, what with Scarlett draped in such finery, but the condition of her hands tips her cards and he’s onto her money-grubbing plans. Fortunately he’s fine with it, only he has no money, what with the Yankees holding his funds hostage. She stomps off in all her velvety goodness and swears off Rhett, too.
Honey, men are becoming harder to find than a needle in a haystack!
Oh, who is that, now? Fiddle-dee-dee, it’s that boring Frank Kennedy who keeps promising to marry Scarlett’s whiny sister Suellen, who is the living embodiment of whiny middle-child syndrome. And now he has the money to do it. Money you say, Mr. Kennedy? Why marry the calf when you can have the incredibly heartless cow? Presto! Husband number two is on board!
Scarlett O’Hara Hamilton Kennedy is now the talk of the town – and none of it is good. Now that things are going well financially for Scarlett, Rhett springs himself from jail to pay her a visit. She tells him to sit on a tack until he offers up a loan with a “No Cash for Ashley” clause. She takes the money and buys a sawmill. Scarlett is now a pregnant, ruthless businesswoman taking Yankee money and cozying up to KKK members.
Three cheers for America’s Sweetheart!
Back at Tara, Gerald takes one horse ride too many and is finally a part of Tara’s soil for good. Scarlett goes back for his funeral and learns Suellen, who is still in a snit about Scarlett marrying her fiancé, is going to marry Tara’s caretaker, Will. Careen decides on a convent. Why, Careen? Marriage always seems to work out so well for O’Hara women. Ashley tells Scarlett he is moving Melanie to New York and Scarlett offers him a job as manager of her mill, if you know what I mean. He declines, wanting to retain that minute piece of dignity he keeps in his shirt pocket. Scarlett does what any self-respecting Southern woman would do and fakes a good cry. Melanie rushes in, admonishes Ashley for being unbecoming of a gentleman and making poor Scarlett cry like that…she tells him he must accept Scarlett’s offer at once!
Melanie, a word please…
Scarlett births an ugly girl to go with her wimpy brother. Ashley proves to be worthless at being heartless – color me shocked. The newly hired co-manager of the mill is quite effective, though. Those convicts work twice as hard for him – and food costs have gone down, too. If only the prisoners would stop dying…
After a fight with her co-manager and an attack in a seedy part of town, Scarlett is quite jumpy and sent to Melanie’s for the night. Frank and Ashley pop out for a little political thing down the road. Scarlett wonders why everyone is giving her the evil eye? Who cares if the boys go to political meetings? A part of the KKK, you say? And Ashley too? Well, what trouble can they get into? Oh…
Ashley is wounded and Frank is dead. This should thrill Scarlett, but everyone is being so mean to her! She takes a nip or twelve to take the edge off and Rhett comes round to marry her. Goodness, can that guy kiss. Despite all the rules and customs, Scarlett says yes because Scarlett is Scarlett and Rhett is Clark Gable.
Scarlett and Rhett live in Atlanta where nobody likes them except Melanie. Scarlett doesn’t care because she’s rich and her husband doesn’t care what she does. She is flourishing in business and fiddle-dee-dee! She’s pregnant again. Bonnie arrives, Rhett adores his daughter and Ashley admits he is still tingling for Scarlett. Scarlett, who kind of has a blind spot for Ashley’s effect on Rhett, tells Rhett she wants separate bedrooms. Rhett shrugs and makes a standing appointment at Belle’s.
Rhett decides Bonnie needs to be accepted in society and starts endearing himself to the Atlanta elite. This happens quickly (see the Clark Gable note) but poor Scarlett is still scorned. Rhett even quits the Republican Party and becomes a Democrat…wait. Why didn’t his head explode?
Melanie, bless her heart, throws a surprise party for Ashley and sends Scarlett to delay him.
Honestly Melanie, a word, please.
Well I’ll be! Scarlett is starting to think maybe Ash isn’t all that, after all. She cries at the loss of her illusions and Ashley embraces her and that’s when he notices his sister India staring at them. India, like every female except Melanie, detests Scarlett and makes sure word of her being held in Ashley’s arms gets to Rhett as soon as possible. Rhett paints Scarlett up, shoves her in a red gown designed to illustrate that she has the morals of an alley cat and sends her off to Melanie’s alone, to let the whole town bury her in sneering disapproval – why do the work yourself?
Melanie, who apparently makes angels reassess their contributions to humanity, saves Scarlett once again. Fortunately, Melanie’s selflessness and unwavering devotion to Scarlett is coupled with a rather passionate scene of Rhett taking Scarlett in a way most women have fantasized about Clark Gable doing. Scarlett finally realizes that Rhett is more her speed than that silly ol’ Ashley, with all his thinking.
But instead of more of the same, Rhett packs Bonnie up and takes an extended trip to Europe and Scarlett decides to wait until his return to tell him how much she loves him. That and her delicate condition will surely bring Rhett right back into her arms. Unfortunately, gravity wins out during Rhett’s homecoming and sends Scarlett, the baby and their marriage, tumbling to the bottom of the stairs.
You know how children always seem to get spoiled when the marriage goes south? Rhett buys Bonnie a pony and the only good thing to come out of the Butler’s marriage is sent to her great reward in a way that would make her grandfather, Gerald, proud. The term “murderer” is assigned, innocent ponies are shot and Melanie is summoned to fix everything.
Scarlett meanders around Georgia in a daze until she learns Melanie is sick. Now that she’s dying, Scarlett realizes Melanie is the only person who has ever truly loved her. Comforting Ashley, she realizes he is kind of a wimp and that torch has been extinguished for some time. Scarlett, enlightened as a lightening bug in Summer, finds Rhett to tell him that it is really him she loves and even though she has been a miserable and vicious adversary to him, surely they can patch things up? Rhett, sober for a change, has lost that loving feeling and tips his hat to Scarlett and the idea of them living under the same roof. She cannot fathom a life without him – and nobody gives a damn.
But as sure as tomorrow is another day, Tara is where Scarlett needs to return. Tara will solve everything.
And the weird part is, you kind of think it might.
*Poor ol’ Ashley Wilkes does not come off well in GWTW so try to bear in mind that the dashing Leslie Howard, who played him in the movie, was a presumed spy in WWII – it helps you not want to shriek “for the love of God, man up!” at the screen while you’re watching Vivien Leigh give him every opportunity to do that very thing.
I give Gone With the Wind 500 plumes because of the opportunity for Clark Gable fantasies.
Take away: The Mint Julep (hold the mint, sugar and water) and Pittypat Relaxation method.