One of the most famous scenes in movie history was filmed on June 27, 1939.  The handsome Rhett Butler, played by Clark Gable, told Vivian Leigh’s Scarlett O’Hara that he didn’t give a damn as he went off in seach of a more genial South.  

I admit I have never understood the appeal of either the book or the movie.  Yes, the antebellum South was beautiful and the dresses were lovely and the julips were plenty, but none of the characters seem all that honorable to me.  Even Rhett, when he leaves Scarlett pining behind him, is off to find a remnant of the old South (read: slave-holding South).  I don’t get it. 

Gone With the Wind has mostly supplanted another book  in the minds of Americans.  That book, published in 1852, was Harriett Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  Leo Tolstoy called it one of the best novels ever written, but it has since fallen out of favor.  There are good reasons for this.  While Stowe’s black characters were cutting edge for their time because they were human, with feelings and intellects and virtues (and faults), the characters themselves eventually birthed the worst sorts of post-Civil War stereotypes, not least of all Uncle Tom himself.  Still, I think the book deserves a greater place in the pantheon than it currently enjoys, especially since its antecedent, Margaret Mitchell’s swirling little piece of fluff, largely ignores the issue of slavery altogether.

In yesterday’s New York Times Book Review, Andrew DelBanco reviews  Mightier Than the Sword:Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and the Battle for America  by David S. Reynolds.   I’ve downloaded it for my Nook to read after I finish what I’m reading currently, Isabel Allende’s Island Beneath the Sea (coincidentally, also about slavery).  I have noticed that this is the way of books, somehow.  One thread seems to lead to another and then another and I think I’ve moved off pre-Great War Europe to pre-Civil War America.  For whatever that’s worth. 

So today’s quote represents for me what’s missing from Gone With the Wind, the perspective ignored in favor of chiffon and tulle and spoiled little girls (even those vowing never to go hungry again):

Music is a wind that blows away the years, memories, and fear, that crouching animal I carry inside me.  With the drums the everyday Zarite disappears, and I am again the little girl who danced when she barely knew how to walk.  I strike the ground with the soles of my feet and life rises up my legs, spreads up my skeleton, takes possession of me, drives away distress and sweetens my memory.  The world trembles.  Rhythm is born on the island beneath the sea; it shakes the earth, it cuts through me like a lightning bolt and rises toward the sky, . . . .

Isabel Allende, Island Beneath the Sea (trans. by Margaret Sayers Peden) (Harper Collins 2010)