Rhett Butler's People

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Fully authorized by the Margaret Mitchell estate, Rhett Butler's People is the astonishing and long-awaited novel that parallels the Great American Novel, Gone with the Wind. Twelve years in the making, the publication of Rhett Butler's People marks a major and historic cultural event.

Through the storytelling mastery of award-winning writer Donald McCaig, the life and times of the dashing Rhett Butler unfold. Through Rhett's eyes we meet the people who shaped his larger than ...

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Fully authorized by the Margaret Mitchell estate, Rhett Butler's People is the astonishing and long-awaited novel that parallels the Great American Novel, Gone with the Wind. Twelve years in the making, the publication of Rhett Butler's People marks a major and historic cultural event.

Through the storytelling mastery of award-winning writer Donald McCaig, the life and times of the dashing Rhett Butler unfold. Through Rhett's eyes we meet the people who shaped his larger than life personality as it sprang from Margaret Mitchell's unforgettable pages: Langston Butler, Rhett's unyielding father; Rosemary, his steadfast sister; Tunis Bonneau, Rhett's best friend and onetime slave; Belle Watling, the woman for whom Rhett cared for long before he met Scarlett O'Hara at Twelve Oaks Plantation, on the fateful eve of the Civil War.

Of course, there is Scarlett. Katie Scarlett O'Hara, the headstrong, passionate woman whose life is inextricably entwined with Rhett's: more like him than she cares to admit; more in love with him than she'll ever know…

Brought to vivid and authentic life by the hand of a master, Rhett Butler's People fulfills the dreams of those whose imaginations have been indelibly marked by Gone with the Wind.

Donald McCaig is the award-winning author of Jacob's Ladder, designated "the best civil war novel ever written" by The Virginia Quarterly. People magazine raved, "Think Gone with the Wind, think Cold Mountain." It won the Michael Shaara Award for Civil War Fiction and the Library of Virginia Award for Fiction.

"Rhett Butler's People covers the period from 1843 to 1874, nearly two decades more than are chronicled in Gone with the Wind. Readers will…get inside Rhett's head as he meets and courts Scarlett O'Hara in one of the most famous love affairs of all time." --The New York Times

"McCaig is a bred-in-the-bones storyteller." -Pulitzer Prize-Winning Author Geraldine Brooks

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
It was the rabid enthusiasm of Margaret Mitchell's fans that forever terminated the possibility of another Gone with the Wind book. The Atlanta author was so unnerved by the persistence of the novel's devotees that she reportedly vowed to never write another word. In any case, her death in 1949, 13 years after the book's publication, forever closed the question of a sequel. Or so it seemed until 1991, when the Margaret Mitchell Estate sanctioned a sequel, Alexandra Ripley's Scarlett. Now, after a protracted search, the estate has fully authorized this stylish retelling of the Gone with the Wind saga through the eyes of Scarlett's beloved Rhett Butler. Find yourself a cozy nook and a cup of hot cocoa, and get ready to curl up for a warm winter read.
Stephen L. Carter
McCaig's prose captures something of the charm and smoothness of the original. He understands that the power of Mitchell's narrative arose because she set the romance against momentous events. He sensibly places the postwar struggle over white supremacy at the heart of his story. But mostly his goal is to rehabilitate Rhett. The Klan question, the woman he dishonored, the rumors of a bastard in New Orleans, the money supposedly pilfered from the Confederate treasury—all of this McCaig explains away while keeping the story moving at a nice clip, faster even than the original.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Was it strictly necessary to our understanding of Gone With the Wind's dashing hero to flesh out his backstory, replay famous GWTWscenes from his perspective, and crank the plot past the original's astringent denouement? Perhaps not, but it's still a fun ride. In this authorized reimagining, Rhett, disowned son of a cruel South Carolina planter, is still a jaunty worldly-wise charmer, roguish but kind; Scarlett is still feisty, manipulative and neurotic; and the air of besieged decorum is slightly racier. (Rhett: "My dear, you have jam at the corner of your mouth." Scarlett: "Lick it off.") But it says much about the author's sure feel for Margaret Mitchell's magnetic protagonists that they still beguile us. McCaig (Jacob's Ladder) broadens the canvas, giving Rhett new dueling and blockade-running adventures, and adding intriguing characters like Confederate cavalier-turned-Klansman Andrew Ravanel, a rancid version of Ashley Wilkes who romances Rhett's sister, Rosemary. He paints a richer, darker panorama of a Civil War-era South, where poor whites seethe with resentment, and slavery and racism are brutal facts of life that an instinctive gentleman like Rhett can work around but not openly challenge. McCaig thus imparts a Faulknerian tone to the saga that sharpens Mitchell's critique of Southern nostalgia without losing the epic sweep and romantic pathos. The result is an engrossing update of GWTWthat fans of the original will definitely give a damn about. (Nov.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
From the Publisher
“A must-read for Gone with the Wind fans.”—People

“Get inside Rhett’s head as he meets and courts Scarlett in one of the most famous love affairs of all time…”—The New York Times

“McCaig creates a convincing back story and has a real feel for men and the tensions between fathers, sons, friends and soldiers, as well as the nuances of Southern honor…The novel focuses on Rhett’s point of view and explains exactly where he got his dash.”—USA Today

“In McCaig’s capable hands, Margaret Mitchell’s mystery man is still handsome and daring but fitted with a plausible backstory and human frailties…—Roanoke Times

“McCaig is a bred-in-the bones storyteller.”—Pulitzer Prize-winning author Geraldine Brooks

Rhett Butler’s People broadens the canvas, giving Rhett new dueling and blockade-running adventures, and adding intriguing characters like Confederate cavalier-turned-Klansman Andrew Ravanel, a rancid version of Ashley Wilkes who romances Rhett’s sister, Rosemary. McCaig paints a richer, darker panorama of a Civil War-era South, where poor whites seethe with resentment, and slavery and racism are brutal facts of life that an instinctive gentleman like Rhett can work around but not openly challenge. McCaig thus imparts a Faulknerian tone to the saga that sharpens Mitchell’s critique of Southern nostalgia without losing the epic sweep and romantic pathos. The result is an engrossing update of Gone With the Wind that fans of the original will definitely give a damn about.”—Publishers Weekly

“McCaig has taken on a monumental task in attempting to augment the mythology of such a well-loved story…While remaining largely faithful to Mitchell’s framework, he has made the story of Butler his own.” —The Post and Courier (Charleston, SC)

“In Gone With the Wind, Butler was mysterious, and that added to his allure. Here, we learn more about his background: about his harsh, unforgiving father; his long-suffering mother; his own wild ways.In some ways, this Rhett is a kinder, gentler sort than the one readers loved…”

Tampa Tribune

“This astonishing novel parallels Gone with the Wind, adding new dimensions to the timeless love story.”—Woodstock Sentinel-Review

The Barnes & Noble Review
On a crisp November night in New York City, Donald McCaig -- ad copywriter turned sheep farmer turned author -- stood reading in his ten-gallon hat from Rhett Butler's People, his sequel, prequel, and companion to Gone with the Wind. He'd reached the scene in which Rhett, having declared the slim chances of a Southern victory, retires to Twelve Oaks' library and accidentally overhears Scarlett's ill-fated declarations of love to Ashley Wilkes. Rhett's cynical assessment: "Irish immigrant's daughter and the aristocrat. She's good enough to toy with but not to marry." He then watches Scarlett give Ashley the resounding slap that stings his cheeks and sears his soul just about the time guns fire on Fort Sumter. The scene, here shown in reverse angle from Rhett's perspective, shows that Rhett has already been taken by Scarlett. " 'My God.' Rhett moistened dry lips. 'She's just like me!' "

The work McCaig read to an audience of Upper East Side book lovers is the product of 4 years of his own life and 12 years of work between the publisher St. Martin's and the Margaret Mitchell Estate on an authorized sequel to Mitchell's 1936 work of spitfire, nostalgia, and a South swept away by Sherman's army. It's the literary equivalent of a modern wing added to an old plantation: the commission from the estate demanded that McCaig enter and renovate something sensitive, time-bound, and ultimately political. His zoning board was made up of somewhat persnickety preservationists: the Mitchell Estate preemptively balked at interracial or same-sex relationships in the text, and at use of the n-word. A shocking update akin to Alice Randall's 2001 novel The Wind Done Gone, which parodies the novel from the point of view of slaves, was out of the question. This sequel had to emerge within conscripted notions of propriety, and play nice in its historic neighborhood.

The issue, then, is what McCaig proposes to add and what to remodel. And those aren't small questions when you consider the book's target audience: the official launch of the book took place not in Manhattan but at the Center for Southern Literature, located (where else?) in the Margaret Mitchell House in Atlanta. The event was a lavish one, including a tour of Mitchell's own version of Tara. The scale of this celebration points up the status of Gone with the Wind as something of a national heirloom that must be treated with appropriate reverence. And yet that additional wing has been seen by many as necessary. According to spokespeople for the Margaret Mitchell Estate: "The public itself wanted another sequel." McCaig himself brings a perhaps less burdened perspective to the task. He admits that he'd never read the novel before the publisher approached him, but was moved by the book once he did, and intrigued by the enigma of Rhett, a character he noted was "almost more an attitude than a man."

But what kind of attitude? And whose? What, we might ask, does the public want from Rhett? It might seem at first gander that we're simply hungry to revisit Rhett and Scarlett, the star-crossed lovers who embrace as Atlanta burns but never seem able to love each other at the same time. The book does resolve that cliffhanger, but it treats other anxieties as well -- and not as Alexandra Ripley's book Scarlett did, by transporting the action to Ireland. McCaig instead transposes the issues at play to a change within the character of Rhett himself. The man still has a swagger, it's just a question of what the swaggering means. The earlier alpha-male Rhett was a renegade mostly because he seemed dangerously willing to transgress sexual mores: we hear that he wasn't received in Charleston. He fled often to Belle Watling's house of ill repute. His past perhaps involves an illegitimate child. And he was a blockade runner, which showed that his primary allegiance in the divided world was to himself. In this way, he's perfect for Scarlett. Together they're a captivating -- if difficult -- analogue for the capitalist self-interest that, it seems, will get the fallen South back on its feet after the visionary "Cause" is defeated.

McCaig's updated Rhett goes on being self-interested, but he's not much of a sexual rogue. He visits brothels in his salad days (he is Rhett Butler!), but he's actually quite respectable. Damn it, he's loved Scarlett from the moment he set eyes on her -- and once assured of her love, he settles happily into a life that might be downright suburban. If he were living today, he might even buy them both an SUV. As for Scarlett, once she makes up her mind to love Rhett, she ends up beaming while she pours cream in his coffee. So what's a rebel to do? Herein lies the transposition: in this story, it's Rhett's position on race that securely positions him as a renegade. The real way that we know that this Rhett doesn't give a damn is that he is willing to be friends with black people, to work beside them and to be in business as equals with them. He's even -- as the book shows -- willing to kill his black friends in acts of friendship designed to keep other white people from lynching them. Some reviewers have called this moving. I have to admit it made me squirm.

So, while the book purports to be here resolving the unfinished question of whatever happened to Scarlett and Rhett, it can't avoid engaging with the stage on which their encounter takes place: the memory of the Civil War, and America's racial legacy. It sets out to scratch one itch and ends up having to apply balm to a wound, and to re-forge the mold its characters are poured in. But the result is a book that rewrites a great deal without actually discussing much; McCaig's renovation of Rhett's world is ultimately incomplete. It's convenient that Rhett is friends with the black man he eventually has to kill, but there are still quite a few Porks and Prissies in McCaig's telling, equally convenient -- dumb for comic mileage, or literally dying to save their white mistresses. While slavery was a horror for those who fled in the wind of Sherman's passage, the house slaves of Tara linger. Slavery was awful, goes the subtext, but our heroes were so likable that their people hung around just to make cornbread. There's no miscegenation onstage, but Scarlett and Rhett toss up their heels at an octoroon ball. Times being what they were, there are limits to Rhett's activism: he can promise a black preacher to help raise funds for black schools, and even invite him to a party -- providing the preacher doesn't stay too long.

We live in a literary moment plush with retellings -- recently including March, Geraldine Brooks's Pulitzer Prize?winning revisitation of the characters of Little Women, or Finn, Jon Clinch's dark and lyric look at the politics of love and race that swirl through the universe of Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn. Indeed, the question of how to make sense of our troubled 19th-century American inheritance is fertile ground for authors of the early 21st. It will be interesting to see how a book like Gone with the Wind (albeit an early-20th-century work that looks back with longing at the antebellum period) keeps being reimagined -- unless McCaig's book is really an answer to whatever longings provoke a book like this into being in the first place. I suspect that our longing to make sense of history -- especially difficult histories -- runs deeper than this, and that part of the reason that we need such books is that we are a country that is ambivalent about memory and constantly wishes to remake its own myths.

As for McCaig: he's offered an engaging read, albeit with wooden bits here and there. And, for all its flaws, the original still can dole out its great intoxications. Scarlett, with her combination of corsets and entrepreneurial moxie, is the steel magnolia who looms above them all -- broken, unbreakable, and transcendent. As for our hero: lest we rest too much on the laurels of our newly renegade Rhett, I'd like to think that the way he's been rewritten is only the best remaking McCaig could provide the Rhett he was given. I'd certainly hope it's not the best that can be imagined for our gallant -- or renegade -- heroes now. --Tess Taylor

Tess Taylor is the author of The Misremembered World, a collection of poems. Her nonfiction and poetry have appeared in the Times Literary Supplement, The New York Times, and The New Yorker.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780792751946
  • Publisher: AudioGO
  • Publication date: 1/1/2007
  • Format: CD
  • Edition description: Unabridged

Meet the Author

Donald McCaig is the award-winning author of Jacob’s Ladder designated “the best civil war novel ever written” by The Virginia Quarterly. People magazine raved “Think Gone With the Wind, think Cold Mountain.” It won the Michael Sharra Award for Civil War Fiction and the Library of Virginia Award for Fiction.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Affairs of Honor

One hour before sunrise, twelve years before the war, a closed carriage hurried through the Carolina Low Country. The Ashley River road was pitch-black except for the coach’s sidelights, and fog swirled through the open windows, moistening the passengers’ cheeks and the backs of their hands.

"Rhett Butler, damn your cross-grained soul." John Haynes sagged in his seat.

"As you like, John." Butler popped the overhead hatch to ask, "Are we near? I wouldn’t wish to keep the gentlemen waiting."

"We comin’ down the main trunk now, Master Rhett." Although Hercules was Rhett’s father’s racehorse trainer and Broughton’s highest-ranking servant, he’d insisted on driving the young men.

Rhett had warned, "When he learns you’ve helped, Langston will be angry."

Hercules had stiffened. "Master Rhett, I knowed you when you was just a child. Was me, Hercules, put you up on your first horse. You and Mr. Haynes tie your horses behind. I’ll be drivin’ the rig tonight."

John Haynes’s plump cheeks belied his uncommonly determined chin. His mouth was set in an unhappy line.

Rhett said, "I love these marshes. Hell, I never wanted to be a rice planter. Langston would go on about rice varieties or negro management and I’d not hear a word for dreaming about the river." Eyes sparkling, he leaned toward his friend, "I’d drift through the fog, steering with an oar. One morning, I surprised a loggerhead sliding down an otter slide—sliding for the pure joy of it. John, have you ever seen a loggerhead turtle smile?

"I don’t know how many times I tried to slip past a sleeping anhinga without waking her. But that snaky head would pop from beneath her wing, sharp-eyed, not groggy in the least, and quick as that"—Rhett snapped his fingers—"she’d dive. Marsh hens weren’t near as wary. Many’s a time I’d drift ’round a bend and hundreds of ’em would explode into flight. Can you imagine flying through fog like this?"

"You have too much imagination," Rhett’s friend said.

"And I’ve often wondered, John, why you are so cautious. For what great purpose are you reserving yourself?"

When John Haynes rubbed his spectacles with a damp handkerchief, he smeared them. "On some other day, I’d be flattered by your concern."

"Oh hell, John, I’m sorry. Fast nerves. Is our powder dry?"

Haynes touched the glossy mahogany box cradled in his lap. "I stoppered it myself."

"Hear the whippoorwill?"

The rapid pounding of the horses’ hooves, the squeak of harness leather, Hercules crying, "Pick ’em up, you rascals, pick ’em up," the three-note song of the whip-poorwill. Whippoorwill—hadn’t John heard something about Shad Watling and a whippoorwill?

"I’ve had a good life," Rhett Butler said.

Since John Haynes believed his friend’s life had been a desperate shambles, he bit his tongue.

"Some good times, some good friends, my beloved little sister, Rosemary…"

"What of Rosemary, Rhett? Without you, what will become of her?"

"You must not ask me that!" Rhett turned to the blank black window. "For God’s sake. If you were in my place, what would you do?"

The words in sturdy John Haynes’s mind were, I would not be in your place, but he couldn’t utter them, although they were as true as words have ever been.

Rhett’s thick black hair was swept back off his forehead; his frock coat was lined with red silk jacquard, and the hat on the seat beside him was beaver fur. John’s friend was as vital as any man John had ever known, as alive as wild creatures can be. Shot dead, Rhett Butler would be as emptied out as a swamp-lion pelt hung up on the fence of the Charleston market.

Rhett said, "I am disgraced already. Whatever happens, I can’t be worse disgraced." His sudden grin flashed. "Won’t this give the biddies something to gossip about?"

"You’ve managed that a time or two."

"I have. By God, I’ve given respectable folk a satisfying tut-tut. Who has served Charleston’s finger pointers better than I? Why, John, I have become the Bogeyman." He intoned solemnly, " ‘Child, if you persist in your wicked ways, you’ll end up just like Rhett Butler!’ "

"I wish you’d stop joking," John said quietly.

"John, John, John…"

"May I speak candidly?"

Rhett raised a dark eyebrow. "I can’t prevent you."

"You needn’t go through with this. Have Hercules turn ’round—we’ll enjoy a morning ride into town and a good breakfast. Shad Watling is no gentleman and you needn’t fight him. Watling couldn’t find one Charleston gentleman to second him. He pressed some hapless Yankee tourist into service."

"Belle Watling’s brother has a right to satisfaction."

"Rhett, for God’s sake, Shad’s your father’s over-seer’s son. His employee!" John Haynes waved dismissively. "Offer some monetary compensation…." He paused, dismayed. "Surely you’re not doing this… this thing … for the girl?"

"Belle Watling is a better woman than many who condemn her. Forgive me, John, but you mustn’t impugn my motives. Honor must be satisfied: Shad Watling told lies about me and I have called him out."

John had so much to say, he could hardly talk. "Rhett, if it hadn’t been for West Point…"

"My expulsion, you mean? That’s merely my latest, most flamboyant disgrace." Rhett clamped his friend’s arm. "Must I enumerate my disgraces? More disgraces and failures than…" He shook his head wearily. "I am sick of disgraces. John, should I have asked another to second me?"

"Damn it!" John Haynes cried. "Damn it to hell!"

John Haynes and Rhett Butler had become acquainted at Cathecarte Puryear’s Charleston school. By the time Rhett left for West Point, John Haynes was established in his father’s shipping business. After Rhett’s expulsion and return, Haynes saw his old friend occasionally on the streets of town. Sometimes Rhett was sober, more often not. It troubled John to see a man with Rhett’s natural grace reeking and slovenly.

John Haynes was one of those young Southerners from good families who take up the traces of civic virtue as if born to them. John was a St. Michaels vestryman and the St. Cecilia Society’s youngest ball manager. Though John envied Rhett’s spirit, he never accompanied Rhett and his friends—"Colonel Ravanel’s Sports"—on their nightly routs through Charleston’s brothels, gambling hells, and saloons.

Consequently, John had been astonished when Butler came to the wharfside offices of Haynes & Son seeking John’s assistance in an affair of honor.

"But Rhett, your friends? Andrew Ravanel? Henry Kershaw? Edgar Puryear?"

"Ah, but John, you’ll be sober."

Few men or women could resist Rhett Butler’s what-the-hell grin, and John Haynes didn’t.

Perhaps John was dull. He never heard about amusing scandals until Charleston society was tiring of them. When John repeated a clever man’s witticism, he invariably misspoke. If Charleston’s mothers thought John Haynes a "good catch," maidens giggled about him behind their fans. But John Haynes had twice seconded affairs of honor. When duty came knocking, it found John Haynes at home.

Broughton Plantation’s main trunk was a broad earthen dike separating its rice fields from the Ashley River. The carriage lurched when it quit the trunk to turn inland.

John Haynes had never felt so helpless. This thing— this ugly, deadly thing—would go forward whatever he might do. Honor must be satisfied. It wasn’t Hercules driving the team; it was Honor’s bony hands on the lines. It wasn’t .40-caliber Happoldt pistols in the mahogany box; it was Honor—ready to spit reproaches. A tune sang in John’s head: "I could not love thee Cecilia, loved I not honor more"—what a stupid, stupid song! Shad Watling was the best shot in the Low Country.

They turned into a brushy lane so infrequently traveled that Spanish moss whisked the carriage roof. Sometimes, Hercules lifted low-hanging branches so the rig could pass beneath.

With a start, John Haynes recalled the story of Shad Watling and a whippoorwill.

"Ah," Rhett mused. "Can you smell it? Marsh perfume: cattails, myrtle, sea aster, marsh gas, mud. When I was a boy, I’d get in my skiff and disappear for days, living like a red indian." Rhett’s smile faded with his reverie. "Let me beg one last favor. You know Tunis Bonneau?"

"The free colored seaman?"

"If you see him, ask him if he remembers the day we sailed to Beaufort. Ask him to pray for my soul."

"A free colored?"

"We were boys on the river together."

Indeterminate gray light was filtering into the carriage. Rhett looked out. "Ah, we have arrived."

John consulted his pocket hunter. "Sunrise in twenty minutes."

The field of honor was a three-acre pasture edged with gloomy cypresses and moss-bedecked live oaks. The pasture vanished in the fog, inside which a voice was crying hoarsely, "Sooey! Soo cow! Soo cow!"

Rhett stepped down from the carriage, chafing his hands. "So. This is my destination. When I was a boy dreaming of glories awaiting me, I never dreamed of this."

Cattle bawled inside the fog. "We wouldn’t want to shoot a cow." Rhett stretched. "My father would be furious if we shot one of his cows."


Rhett Butler laid a hand on John Haynes’s shoulder. "I need you this morning, John, and I trust you to arrange matters properly. Please spare me your sound, kindly meant advice."

John swallowed his advice, wishing he hadn’t remembered about Shad Watling and the whippoorwill: After Langston Butler built Broughton’s grand manor house, his overseer, Isaiah Watling, moved his family into the original Butler home, which was convenient to the rice fields and negro quarters. Huge live oaks, which had been saplings when the Butlers first arrived in the Low Country, shaded the small, plain farmhouse.

Nesting in a live oak, that whippoorwill welcomed them from twilight until dawn.

Apparently, Belle, the Watling girl, thought the bird was seeking a mate. Her mother, Sarah, said the bird was grieving.

The question of whether the bird was flirting or weeping was mooted at daybreak, not long after they moved in, when a shot blasted through the house. When his mother rushed into his bedroom, Shad Watling’s smoking pistol lay on the windowsill. "Fool bird won’t rise me up no more," Shad Watling grunted.

In poor light at sixty paces, Shad Watling had shot the tiny whippoorwill’s head off its body.

John Haynes asked Rhett, "You’ve heard about that whippoorwill?"

"Just a yarn, John." Rhett scratched a match on his boot sole.

"Shad Watling has killed before, Rhett."

The match sputtered and flared as Rhett lit his cigar. "But only negroes and men of his class."

"Do you believe your gentle birth will turn a bullet?"

"Why, yes," Rhett said solemnly. "Hell yes! Gentle birth’s got to be good for something!"

"Comes somebody," Hercules spoke from his elevated seat.

Breathing hard, a young man emerged from the fog. His frock coat was folded over his arm and his trouser knees were wet where he’d stumbled. "Darn cows," he confided. He shifted his jacket and offered his hand to John Haynes, then thought better of it and made an awkward bow instead. "Tom Jaffery. Amity, Massachusetts. At your service, gentlemen."

"Well, Tom." Rhett smiled. "It seems your Charleston visit will be a memorable one."

Jaffery was two or three years younger than Rhett and John. "They’ll never believe this in Amity."

"Lurid tales, Tom. Lurid tales are the South’s principal export. When you describe us to your friends, remark the devilishly handsome, gallant Rhett Butler." Rhett’s brow furrowed thoughtfully. "If I were telling the tale, I wouldn’t mention the cows."

"Has your principal arrived?" John asked the young Yankee.

Tom Jaffery gestured at the fog bank. "Watling and that Dr. Ward, too. They don’t care for each other."

John Haynes took the younger man’s arm, walking him out of Rhett’s earshot. "Mr. Jaffery, have you seconded these affairs before?"

"No, sir. We don’t hardly do this kind of thing in Amity. I mean, my grandfather might have done it, but nowadays we don’t. I’m a novice, so to speak. My aunt Patience passed to her Heavenly Reward and she bequeathed me a sum, so I set out to see the country. Tom, I says to myself, if not now, for goodness’ sake, when? So there I was, admiring your Charleston harbor, which is, if I might say so, every bit the equal of our famous Boston harbor. Anyway, there I was when Mr. Watling approached me and asked was I a gentleman, and I said I certainly hoped so. When Mr. Watling asked if I would second him, I thought, Tom, you’ve come to see the country, and see the country you shall. I’ll never get a chance like this in Amity."

John Haynes didn’t tell the younger man that Shad Watling’s choosing a Yankee stranger to second him was a calculated insult.

"Are you familiar with your duties?" "

We seconds make sure everything happens regular."

John Haynes eyed the young Yankee thoughtfully. "Seeking reconciliation between the principals is our primary duty," he said with the regret of the man who has failed that duty.

"Oh, my principal isn’t contemplatin’ reconciliation. My principal says he anticipates shootin’ Mr. Butler in the heart. He and Mr. Butler are old acquaintances."

"It will be light soon. We generally let sunrise be our signal."

"Sunrise suits you, suits us."

"When the sun comes over the horizon, the gentlemen choose their pistols. As the challenged party, your man chooses first. Shall we load now?"

John Haynes braced the mahogany box on the carriage fender, unlatched it, and removed a pistol. The sleek knurled butt felt alive in his hand, as if he’d clutched a water moccasin. "As you see, the pistols are identical. While you observe, I’ll charge one pistol. You will charge the second."

John poured powder, set a round lead ball into an oiled cloth patch, and rammed it home. He placed a cap under the hammer and eased the hammer to half cock.

Excerpted from Rhett Butler’s People by Donald McCaig

Copyright © 2007 by Stephens Mitchell Trusts.

Published in 2007 by St. Martin’s Press

All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

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First Chapter

A Deathwatch
As Melanie Wilkes was dying, Rhett Butler waited in the parlor of his mansion on Peachtree Street, listening to the clock.It was October. A dark, drizzly afternoon.His glass of cognac had been distilled from grapes Napoléon's armies might have passed. It tasted like ashes.The Governor of Georgia, Senators, and United States Congressmen had been entertained in this room. The workman who'd fitted its chair rails had got more pleasure from this house than Rhett ever had.The big house was quiet as a tomb. After Bonnie died, he'd shunned Ella and Wade. He was afraid he'd look at the living children and think, it might have been you instead of Bonnie. If only it had been you. . . . Mammy and Prissy took the children out of the house to play. When it rained, Ella and Wade played in the carriage house.He'd quit going to his desk at the Farmer's and Merchants' Bank. Yesterday -- or was it the day before? -- the bank's president had come, deeply worried. Although the Farmer's and Merchants' hadn't invested in the Northern Pacific, when Jay Cooke declared bankruptcy, the New York Stock Exchange collapsed. All over the country, depositors raced to their banks to withdraw their savings. Banks had failed in New York, Philadelphia, Savannah, Charleston, and Nashville. The Farmer's and Merchants' didn't have enough cash to meet the demand."Rhett," the president begged, "could you help?"Rhett Butler pledged his fortune so Farmer's and Merchants' depositors could withdraw their savings in cash -- every cent. Since they could, they didn't.Rhett didn't care.The clock chimed the hour: six funereal strokes.A gust in the still room ruffled the hair on the nape of his neck and Rhett knew Miss Melly was dead.Melanie Wilkes was one of the few creatures Rhett had ever known who would not be deceived.As the brown autumnal light leaked out of the room, Rhett lit the gaslights.Had he loved Scarlett, or had he loved what she might become? Had he deceived himself -- loving the image more than the flesh and blood woman?Rhett didn't care.If she had betrayed him again and again with Ashley Wilkes, Rhett didn't care. Ashley was free now. If she still wanted the man, she could have him.That evening, when Rhett's wife came home from Melanie Wilkes's deathbed, she told her husband she loved him. Scarlett had never said that before, and Rhett may have believed her. But he didn't care. Rhett Butler looked into the pale green eyes that had mesmerized him for so many years and did not give a damn.
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Reading Group Guide

1. On the one hand, Rhett Butler was raised by a very stern, even abusive, father, who prided himself on being a true Southern gentlemen. On the other hand, his mother was very proper and devout. How did these different parental examples leave their impression on Rhett as a young boy?

2. Rhett’s father punished his mischievous son by making him work in the fields shoulder to shoulder with their slaves. How did this first person encounter with the slaves shape Rhett’s views on race?

3. Rhett and Belle Watling share a fascinating relationship throughout the novel. In the end, do you think Rhett was also in-love with Belle, or did he just love her as a friend?

4. What was it in Rhett’s nature that would enable him to shoot one of his dearest friends?

5. Although Rhett rejected “every proper duty of a Carolina gentleman’s son,” do you think in the end he emerged as the ultimate Southern gentleman? Why or why not?

6. Was Ashley Wilkes in-love with Scarlett O’Hara? Why or why not?

7. As a child, Rhett preferred being a barefoot, shirtless, and free-exploring “renegade” to the luxuries his father’s money could have offered him. He eventually became a self-made business tycoon. How is Rhett’s life story symbolic of the American Dream?

8. There are several opposing forces represented throughout RHETT BUTLER’S PEOPLE, such as peace and war, slavery and freedom, good and evil. How do the characters of Rhett Butler and Col. Andrew Ravanel represent these opposing forces?

9. How does Tad Watling serve as a symbol of a warring country’s future?

10. How is color used as a literary device to convey certain points throughout RHETT BUTLER’S PEOPLE? Colors such as blue (ex/ Bonnie Blue Butler), green (ex/ Scarlett’s eye color), black (Rhett’s eye color), and, of course, scarlet/red.

11. How is the fiery climax at the end of RHETT BUTLER’S PEOPLE indicative of the Old South’s last breaths?

12. How did Donald McCaig use the letters written throughout the novel, such as those between Rhett and his sister, Rosemary, as a device for helping to tell the story of Rhett Butler’s life?

13. Even though Scarlett O’Hara is self-absorbed and greedy, what is it about her character that makes the reader fall in love with her?

14. How does Rhett help Scarlett mature throughout the novel?

15. Are Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara equals in terms of wit and business savvy?

16. Does the old adage “opposites attract” apply to Rhett and Scarlett or are they genuinely two peas from the same pod?

17. How is Gerald O’Hara’s mental condition used as one more symbol of the Old South’s demise?

18. How does Donald McCaig use the character of Belle Watling, a lady of ill repute whom society deems unacceptable, to symbolize the most sincere form of human sincerity and compassion? Why is this important to the overall story of the Civil War period and the life of Rhett Butler?

19. What role does Aunt Pittypat play as a symbol of the Old South?

20. What does Rhett’s decision to join the Confederate army say about his character and loyalty?

21. Regarding the female characters, is Melanie Wilkes used by Donald McCaig as a balancing device to Scarlett’s strong personality? If so, how does he convey this balance?

22. Aside from a father’s love, is there a larger purpose Donald McCaig is conveying through his portrayal of how devastated Rhett was following the tragic death of his daughter, Bonnie?

23. How is Tara woven into the storyline of RHETT BUTLER’S PEOPLE as an integral character?

24. What do you think were the 5 events or factors that most shaped the man Rhett Butler became by the end of the novel? Explain.

25. Do you think, based on what you read in RHETT BUTLER’S PEOPLE, that Rhett and Scarlett will stay together forever? Why or why not?

26. What exactly do you think Donald McCaig means by “Rhett Butler’s People”?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 219 )
Rating Distribution

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 219 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 1, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    "Rhett Butler's People" Well worth reading!

    I admit I approached this sequel to "Gone With The Wind" with great trepidation after reading the truly dreadful "Scarlett" by Alexandra Ripley. Mr McCaig's sequel is cut from a very different cloth. His exceptional understanding of Ms Mitchell's characters is remarkable. His extensive back story of Rhett is both compelling and touching. The plot is skillfully wound around, before and after the original book. I LOVED this book when I expected to hate it! I think Ms Mitchell would have approved. "Rhett Butler's People" is in a word WONDERFUL! If you love Scarlett and Rhett read this book. It makes perfect sense.

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 24, 2008

    A Canvas Painted With Masterly Strokes

    As with his 'Jacob¿s Ladder,' which I also read recently, 'Rhett Butler¿s People' is a masterly achievement. It¿s lamentable that those who make the predictable mistake of comparing this expansion to the original, and who, judging by their impatience, seem to prefer, for fiction in general, the literary equivalent of a video game, appoint themselves to judge a great novel within the limited scope of their own expectations. I suspect they have neither the appreciation for, nor the knowledge of, the staggering work involved in recapturing the social customs and political tenor of a bygone era, or for the textures, nuances, observations, and poetic cadences of the author¿s crisp and resonant language - and in particular his attention to the senses: the coppery scent of blood, the acrid smell of smoke or of dried manure, or the air smelling ¿like a burned pepper,¿ the ripple of a specific fabric or a stream¿s shallows, the hungers and thirsts, the sweat, the tears, the triumphs and heartbreaks. Like Howard Bahr in his Franklin trilogy, McCaig wields a brush that paints a complete canvas. His work is not for those who wouldn¿t know an anhinga from a mud hen and couldn¿t care less, or a camellia from a sprig of forsythia, or green baize from a wintergreen poultice. McCaig¿s eye misses nothing, whether it¿s an osprey seizing a wriggling fish from the Flint River, or the detail that cotton plants are thinned eight inches apart. Contemporary writers have become oblivious to natural ambiance. It¿s all so boringly manmade now: asphalt, glass, concrete. McCaig is an artist whose brush paints a diverse and complete canvas. He offers much more than a limited ¿read.¿ He gives us a fully realized world.

    7 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 13, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Love GWTW. Like This.

    Timeline all mis-matched from GWTW, and alarming lack of Scarlett (even though she's in it.)

    But, hey, if you want Scarlett, read GWTW.

    If you want absorbing stories of Civil War battles and their soldiers, and Rhett's adventures whenever he went missing from Scarlett's life, enjoy this book.

    Even if you get annoyed with it, it's an enjoyable, sweeping read. I much liked the bittersweet story of Tunis Bonneau and Rhett, and Rhett's sister Rosemary is an engaging character. If it weren't for their stories, I'd have given it three stars instead of four.

    Melly, Ashley, and Scarlett fall flat as characters, as do Mammy and Prissy.

    Rhett, well, he holds his own since it's his story.

    Its even-handed, unromanticized treatment of the Confederacy and the Old South makes sure it will NEVER replace GWTW as THE definitive novel of the Old South. However, you'll find yourself drawn in to this saga by a premiere, expert writer with an obvious love for the South and a modern sensibility for its past and present.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 20, 2010

    A must read for any Gone With The Wind fan

    This book is great! It tells Rhett's side of the story. It begins before Gone With The Wind and continues after it. After I finished reading it I wanted to pick it up and read it again.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 17, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Okay not what Margaret Mitchell would approve

    The ending is very interesting it wasn't something that i was at the edge of my chair it mostly talked about "Rhett Kershaw Butler" and almost totally forgot about Scarlett the only interesting parts were the ending chapters and some at the start usually i had to drag myself to read the book because it bored me to distraction.Maybe you might dissagree with me because im 12 years old.So i think it is just better to imagine what happennd at the end of gone with the wind

    4 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 24, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    I couldn't stand it! (Spoiler Alert)

    I read this book with what I thought were the lowest possible expectations. After Scarlett I thought that nothing could possibly be as horrible, then I read Rhett Butlers people. This book destroyed everything good and sacred about Gone With The Wind and then it burned down Tara. I believe that Mr. McCaig should be taken to the highest court for treason and have his right to ever be published again taken away. If any one enjoyed this book then I apologize for this review but I do not take it back. This book read like a dime store romance, and the characters were completely and utterly different. Oh and it turns the most raw and passionate moments in the history of literature into a rape scene. I hate this book with every part of my soul and the very essence of my being. the biggest waste of time, money, effort, paper, and ink. Oh and if you did enjoy it suggest you read my recommendations.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 25, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    A wonderful book.

    I absolutely loved this book. I have also read 'Scarlett', the "official sequal", and I can honestly say that I cared for this book much more. Being able to see different aspects of the story, and especially being able to see it from Rhett Butler's point of view, made the original story that much better. I would definitely recommend this novel to anyone who loves "Gone With the Wind".

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 22, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:


    What has the author done to those characters I liked (or disliked) from Gone With the Wind?<BR/>Where did all the charm and magic go?<BR/>What a disappointment.<BR/>This is a bad book.

    4 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 14, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Historical Novel

    Rhett Butler was a very important character in Margaret Mitchell's GONE WITH THE WIND, but the main emphasis was related to the characher of Scarlett O'Hara. Captain Butler's family, which eluded us in GWTW, is now presented to us in a most intriging manner. We discover the reasons and the developments of Butler's character, when we learn of his past, his childhood and his personal feelings.<BR/>The author Donald McCaig does not disappoint us with his vivid illustrations, detailed descriptions and deeply moving insight. I am personally a history lover by nature, and I found his Civil War references to be not only interesting, but very authentic and historically correct. He transports us from the present, to another time in our nation's history when turmoil, sacrifice and heart-wrenching events either molded families together or tore them apart. I commend this author for such precise attention to the landscape, the structures, the cities and mostly to the characters, who are so totally believable. The South comes alive to us and we find ourselves involved in the War and in the struggles and heartbreaks of our nation.<BR/>GONE WITH THE WIND is a classic that will always stand the test of time. And as we read it, we felt completely fulfilled with the telling of that story, not sensing many unanswered questions. Who really was Belle Watling and why was her son in an orphanage? Who was her son's father? Who was Rhett's father? his mother? What were they like? Why was he not eager to join the Southern cause? <BR/>All the answers are found in RHETT BUTLER'S PEOPLE, a novel sure to keep you interested. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and would highly recommend it.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 15, 2009

    Cannot recommend this book

    I just finished reading this book after reading GWTW. I was almost embarrassed by the silly plots created by the author to tie in characters from the original book with this one. As one reviewer wrote, I too wonder if the author really read GWTW closely. The author's use of letters to reveal the thoughts and feelings of Melanie Hamilton was inconsistent with the character of Melanie Hamilton as was the whole storyline of Belle Whatling. In GWTW, Rhett identifies her at the end of the book as an "illiterate whore" and yet McCaig uses letters to and from Watling to develop his story. He also has Rhett baring his soul to his sister in the form of letters, mentioning relationships with mistresses and whores. I find this to be highly inconsistent with the norms of the day and really unbelievable. I am astonished the Mitchell estate would authorize a book so ridiculous.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 4, 2008

    Continuing the Story

    Having finished the new page-turner, RHETT BUTLER'S PEOPLE, can only say hurrah! It is most beautifully written and, from one who first read GONE WITH THE WIND at the age of 9, this book craftily and most successfully used the much loved phrases and situations in the original WIND in putting together the story of Rhett and Scarlet as most of who know the story so well have anticipated. The ending was masterful Very well done!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 3, 2008

    Hungry for more...

    This book was absolutely AWESOME, I could not put it down. When I finished it I was profoundly saddend because I want more. Of course there are a few differences but suttle ones. It is ok that Scarlett was not in it too much, I wanted every ounce of information I could get on Rhett. I can just dream a man such as him would exist. Any one who puts anything out of GWTW, I'm buying. Such a wonderful love story!!!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 24, 2007

    A reviewer

    Come on, nothing is ever going to compare with GWTW! But this is an attempt like some other novels (remember 'March'?) to take one of a great novel's characters and weave a background around him or her. Such is the case with this book. The prose is memorable and filled with atmosphere. A good read all-round.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 27, 2007

    Best sequel ever

    When I saw this book I thought I wouldnt read it as the sequel Scarlett was so bad. But due to curiosity I picked it up. I am a big GWTW fan and no it isnt as good as GWTW. But what could be? It is a good story that actually follows GWTW quite well. Read it with an open mind and if you loved GWTW. I think you will enjoy this.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 9, 2007

    Read for its own merit

    First, let me say that I am a sucker for a new take on an old story. And Gone with the Wind was one of my favorites of all time 'the book and the movie'. When you read this book, you can't compare it to Gone with the Wind. You have to be prepared to read this as sort of a continuim to that. Once thats settled, the story is wonderful and the writing is charming and sweet. This author took up where Margaret Mitchell left off and did a great job with it. It was so nice to get reaquainted with these characters. I wish that someone would do a series. It could just go on and on forever. It is definitely recommended reading.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 11, 2007

    A reviewer

    Gone With the Wind is my favorite book and movie. The first time I read GWTW, and the last lines 'Tomorrow is another day', I wanted more. So I rushed to Barnes and Nobles and bought Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley. After I read it, I tried to forget about it. Mitchell's Scarlett would NEVER sell Tara to Suellen! And being the GWTW fan I am, I ran to Barnes and Nobles and bought Rhett Butler's People the day it came out. After reading it, I feel so much better. It disregarded Ripley's sequel and gave me the ending I wanted. I highly recommend that any GWTW fan should read this book.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 17, 2012


    I have read GWTW several times as well as its sequel Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley; both books worked well tgether and are 2 of my favirites....but a part of me ALWAYS wanted to rewd Rhett's sideof the story...so when this bookcame out I rushed out to buyiton day one; I read the entire book although it is very well written; it was as if I were reading a completely different story and was sadly disappointed and shocked that Margaret Mitchell's people woulf okay this book when it was so off from GWTW and scarlett? Time linesand names didnt match in places and when you are writing a book that is a companion to one of our classics...details like that SHOULD BE IMPORTANT!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 27, 2011

    why is this book ten bucks

    i just bought this book from dollar general for 5 dollars.10 seems a little high for a nook book

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 26, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    If you want more, this is a good substitute

    Nothing about this book brought me back to the magic of Gone with the Wind. However, if you're like me and just want more of the Gone with the Wind characters this is a good substitute. However, you should be prepared to be somewhat disappointed in how McCaig handles Mitchell's wonderful characters. The key to enjoying this book is to try to separate this story from the classic Gone with the Wind story.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 24, 2009

    Oh Rhett...such a great story

    With Gone With the Wind as being one of my all time favorites, the book had some tall shoes to fill and I was definitely not disappointed. If you are a fan of this style of writing, era, or a history buff you will enjoy the book. If you are like me, a fan of the romantic story between Rhett and Scarlett, you will be thrilled to see more between them. Rhett was by far my favorite character in the original, I found Scarlett a little whiney at times, but loved Rhett! I always wondered where he disappeared to in the original and now we know!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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