Sunday, January 15, 2006

Rhett Butler: Cad, Lecher, Pimp

Gone with the Wind
Everyone knows the love story of Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'Hara from Gone with the Wind, the Pulitzer Prize Winning novel by Margaret Mitchell. But who is that "other woman", Belle Watling?

Belle WatlingThe movie tends to water-down some of the less savory aspects of the story — and Gone with the Wind is certainly not *about* adultery — ; yet “rape, drunkenness, moral dissipation and adultery” (the usual description) are clearly emblematic of a disfuncational relationship and of society generally.

Some have actually asserted that a Rhett Butler would go to a whorehouse after an argument with his wife for the conversation alone. Here are a few such arguments from the original novel by Margaret Mitchell. This conversation indicates that Rhett doesn't consider Scarlett his wife (so it really isn't cheating).

Rhett and Belle together“And as for you being my wife-you haven’t been much of a wife since Bonnie came, have you? You’ve been a poor investment, Scarlett. Belle’s been a better one.”

“Investment? You mean you gave her-?”

“ ‘Set her up in business’ is the correct term, I believe. Belle’s a smart woman. I wanted to see her get ahead and all she needed was money to start a house of her own. You ought to know what miracles a woman can perform when she has a bit of cash. Look at yourself.”

“You compare me-”

“Well, you are both hard-headed business women and both successful. Belle’s got the edge on you, of course, because she’s a kind-hearted, good-natured soul-”

“Will you get out of this room?”

So we see that Rhett not only has a relationship with Belle, but actually funds her operations. No wonder she has such a nice whorehouse. As Mitchell narrates,

Belle Watling, Lady of the NightBelle Watling was the most notorious of the madams... This house was something that the matrons of Atlanta whispered about furtively and ministers preached against in guarded terms as a cesspool of iniquity, a hissing and a reproach. Everyone knew that a woman of Belle’s type couldn’t have made enough money by herself to set up such a luxurious establishment. She had to have a backer and a rich one at that. And Rhett Butler had never had the decency to conceal his relations with her, so it was obvious that he and no other must be that backer.

And the clincher,

Matrons whisperIf he went to Belle Watling’s house at all, he went by night and by stealth as did more respectable townsmen, instead of leaving his horse hitched in front of her door in the afternoons as an advertisement of his presence within.
The DanceThis is the Mitchell's view of Southern culture. The seedy side exists, but everyone pretends it doesn't.

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