Sharpe’s Devil

Sharpe’s Devil: Chile, 1820
© 1992 Bernard Cornwell
280 pages

Twelve years ago, Cyberkitten introduced me to Richard Sharpe, and for the next two years I happily followed him through India, Iberia, and France. These days I am forced to look for books like the Sharpe’s series, and though many are close none have Cornwell’s pleasing mix of action, comedy, suspense, and solid characterization. I was therefore happily surprised to discover I’d missed a Sharpe book during my initial run, and now have the opportunity to march with the rifleman again. This time, Sharpe is in the New World — hunting for an old Spanish friend, who has gone mysteriously missing while Chile struggles to break free of the dons’ dominion. Sharpe’s Devil marks the end to the series, and while Sharpe is definitely not at the height of his powers here, Cornwell delivers an exciting tale of espionage and action with an unforgettable supporting character.

The Napoleonic wars are over, and Sharpe is a soldier no more. He’s spent the last five years living as a farmer in France with a beautiful fille and a litter of children, trying to get along with neighbors who are not at all happy with the fact that an English soldier has taken up residence there. An old friend has gone missing in Chile, and his distraught wife has offered Sharpe and Harper a pile of money to go find him. Amid much teasing (Harper has been living a bit over-healthily in peacetime, shall we say?) the two set out, and after paying their respects to the imprisoned Bonaparte at St. Helena, begin their quest. That small gesture of respect to Bonaparte, however, compromises Sharpe’s mission in ways he won’t realize until too late. Chile is corrupt and wickedly treacherous, and instead of being treated like honored guests, Sharpe and Harper soon find themselves in irons, betrayed by the local British authorities and the Spanish alike. Although this would have happened regardless, Sharpe definitely made matters worse for himself by agreeing to accept a small token from Napoleon to deliver to an ‘admirer’ in Chile by way of the American embassy: I suspect most readers were screaming at Sharpe to be cautious, but after so many years removed from battle and the corruption of power-plays, perhaps his sword has gotten a bit rusty.

Sharpe’s Devil has a setting unlike anything else in the Sharpe’s series: a dangerous ocean filled with privateers and icebergs, and the varied, dangerous landscape of Chile itself, with its Indian population still actively resisting the Spanish and distant volcanoes belching smoke. In due time, Sharpe will encounter the leader of Chile’s rebellion, an Scottish lord ejected from Parliament who now leads the desperate fight against the dons with nothing but wits, cheek, and a lot of bravado. He’s an absolute riot to read, and I was delighted to learn he was a real person, one who had an unbelievable career and may have inspired C.S. Forester to write the Horatio Hornblower series. He’s such a character, in fact, that it’s him and not Sharpe who drives the military action of the last half, attacking the Spanish with outrageous schemes and bringing Sharpe along for the ride — though the rifleman does have a flash of cunning himself that helps. There are few people who could out-shine Sharpe, but Cornwell has found one in history and brought him to life again.

It was a great joy to return to this series and see Sharpe in action yet again, even if he was an older farmer who was plainly tired of fighting at this point. The setting, the story of rebellion and treachery, and the supporting characters more than made up for Sharpe’s obvious disinterest in the fight.

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Lionheart

Lionheart
© 2020 Ben Kane
400 pages

A noble son of Ireland is transported to England as a hostage to secure his father’s loyalty, and the adventure of a lifetime begins. Abused and ill-treated by the petty lords who are given custody over him, “Rufus” — not his name, but what do the newly English Normans care? — earns favor for himself when he sounds the alarm and prevents the Duke of Aquitaine, the warrior-prince Richard, from falling prey to a Welsh ambush. Accepted into Richard’s ranks as a squire, Rufus sees first-hand the treachery of Richard’s brothers, and joins him in France to put down a rebellion and deal with French mischief. The first in a trilogy, Ben Kane offers a fictional glimpse at one of England’s most famed kings, a man capable of winning the loyalty of even an enemy of the king.  

I was most impressed by Ben Kane’s “Eagles” trilogy, concerning the Battle of the Teutoberg Forest and its aftermath, and continue to enjoy his historical adventures here. Although Lionheart doesn’t have one massive battle at its heart, Rufus and his lord are never far from the din of war. Rufus is forced by circumstance to excel in combat from the first moment he arrives in England, despised as he is by some of the lords who lack Richard’s regard for him and lash out at him in their jealousy. The power-plays between Henry II’s sons drive the plot here: the young heir, Henry, is landless despite his title, and is thus jealous of his younger rival Richard, who holds Eleanor’s vast realm of Aquitaine. Geoffrey and John also have smaller holdings, but the three petty princes are all united in their jealousy of the warrior-prince, and even scheme against their father with the French to foment rebellion in his territory to weaken Richard’s standing. Rufus accompanies Richard and continues making a name for himself through a series of altercations against rebels, mercenaries, and Welshmen. Although Rufus should loath the English, he admires Richard and is proud to serve him, despite the stress and indignities of having enemies in Richard’s camp: such is his devotion that he agrees to follow him even to the Holy Land, there to fight far-distant enemies. 

Lionheart is a strong start to a promising trilogy, with a sympathetic but not unbelievable main character poised for greater adventures still alongside his lord. Kane’s use of visceral details to make the medieval setting come alive is similar to Bernard Cornwell’s, and he incorporates period terms (Outremer, mesnie, etc) to further immerse the reader in the story All this is much appreciated, as is the marginal-at-best role that romantic entanglements play: I get their appeal and appreciate their value in sometimes motivating the main character in a military adventure, but some authors go overboard and it gets distracting.

Next up: Crusader. Deus vult!

Related:
Here be Dragons, Sharon Key Penman.Set during the reign of King John, though I can’t remember if it was during his usurpation of Richard’s role or afterwards…
Captive Queen: A Novel of Eleanor of Aquitaine, Alison Weir.

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Drunk Flies and Stoned Dolphins

Drunk Flies and Stoned Dolphins: A Trip through the World of Animal Intoxication
© 2021 One R. Pagan
320 pages

Drunk Flies and Stoned Dolphins promises readers amusing stories of animal intoxication, but delivers instead a serious but enjoyable look at animal and human pharmacognosy and presents a case for why psychoactive drugs exist in nature to begin with. Pagan opens by reviewing studies and observations which prove that animals from insects on up make use of substances found in nature (through fungi and plants), sometimes to treat themselves and sometimes to protect their nests and young from parasites: nicotine, for instance, is consumed by bees to destroy internal parasites, but birds also use substances with nicotine in them to make their nests less attractive to insects. From here, Pagan considers the question of why psychoactive substances exist in nature to begin with, and the answer lies in plant behavior. Although we tend to dismiss plants as not having behavior, playing the passive background role in our nature scenes, the stage for animals to show off their own mobility – Pagan briefly addresses that misconception before making a cause for psychoactives as active plant defense. Substances that distract, disorient, or otherwise infeeble predators (predators like insects, deer, or any other plant-chowers) are a powerful weapon in plantkind’s toolbox, but different substances have varying effects on different classes of lifeforms – and some can be addictive to the point of the consumers’ destruction: Pagan includes one observation of goats that, being hooked onto chewing a certain kind of lichen, destroyed their teeth and made themselves unable to eat properly. The plant-defense option doesn’t explain all drug-like substances, but it’s a promising start, and Pagan mentions other ideas when they’re relevant, like the connection between alcohol proclivity and the ability to find ripe fruit. It’s not all serious argument, though: Pagan does weave in anecdotes about squirrels on meth, and octupi and elephants on LSD.   Drunk Flies proves as entertaining as its name promises.

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March 2022 in review

March started strong and abruptly crashed, as I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump the last week — dragging through two e-books, making steady progress on Cancer Ward, and distracting myself by working in the garden or enjoying the spring air.

Climbing Mount Doom
…oops.

SCIENCE SURVEY
Ms. Adventure, Jess Phoenix (Geology)
Caesar’s Last Breath, Sam Kean (Chemistry)
The Treeline: The Last Forest and the Future of Life on Earth, Ben Rawlence (Flora and Fauna, or Ecology)



Base goal: 12 books. Current standing: 6/12.

Readin’ Dixie:
Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell

Classics Club Strikes Back:
Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell

The Unreviewed:
Oh my.

Cancel Culture had a promising start, addressing the modern fad of deplatforming anyone who has views outside the pinhead-sized Overton window, but proved to be an odd collection of essays, with topics seemingly unrelated to cancel culture (BLM’s antisemitism, for instance) appended on. Worthy topics, to be sure, but they didn’t mesh with the core issue nearly as well as the author supposed.

Reading the Bible Again for the First Time is a slight survey of modern Biblical criticism, introducing readers to concepts like Genesis’ two intewoven narratives, to to the non-Pauline status of some of the Pauline letters, or to the historical, rather than future-oriented, grounding of Revelations. The focus is not on criticism, though, as much on clearing the way for Christians who find parts of the Bible challenging by reducing hard sayings to metaphor and suggestion. I was already familiar with the criticism bit (having read books like Asimov’s Guide to the Bible when I was trying to figure out the truth after leaving Pentecostalism in 2006), so part of this was old hat for me. Its ideal audience would be moderate or liberal Christians: more conservative or orthodox readers will not be impressed by Borg’s approach.

Material Girls: Why Reality Matters for Feminists is a critique of gender identity from a lesbian feminist, and is far more philosophically-oriented than other books on the trans movement. The practical application of the book is to defend biological woman-hood from the postmodern conceit that being female is a state of mind. Although the book borders on academic in its discussion of gender concepts, the author argues that pretending sex doesn’t matter has been destructive of women’s interests, as female spaces are colonized by “trans men”, exposing women to male aggression in places like women’s prisons or bathrooms, and disrupting women’s sports completely. The author also takes issue with the trans-concept of females being girly and passive, and suggests that everyone be less binary in general. I’ll pass, but this was an interesting and new take on the trans-trend for me.

I also read The Treeline, a Netgalley title on how the northern hemisphere’s boreal forests are changing because of climate change. As it was an advanced copy, I need to give it proper review.

New Purchases, because I’m an Addict:
Inside the Klavern: The Secret History of a Ku Kulux Klan in the 1920s, David Horowitz. Analysis of an Oregon chapter’s meeting minutes. Might be interesting, might be stupefyingly boring. We shall see.
The Glass Cage: Automation and Us, Nicholas Carr. On the wanna-read list since forever.
Buzz, Sting, Bite: Why We Need Insects, Anne Sverdup-Thygeson. Purchased for Science Survey.
The Lonely American: Drifting Apart in the 21st Century, Jacqueline Olds. On the wanna-read list since reading Why We Hate Each Other.

Coming Up in April 2022:

Read of England, of course! Look for some histories (Liza Picard), some historical fiction (Ben Kane, Max Hennessy, and a classic or two.

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Irreversible Damage

Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters
© 2020 Abigail Shrier
276 pages

To the degree that gender dysphoria existed prior to 2015, it was almost wholly the domain of young boys.  In the last ten years, however, claims of dysphoria have exploded among adolescent girls,  to the degree that they now far outstrip claims made by teenage boys, and institutions from schools to medical authorities have happily added fuel to the fire, urging girls onto the path of transition with skids greased by the financial support of unwitting parents and those ever-reliable  dopes, ordinary taxpayers.  Abigail Shrier argues that the extreme levels of transgender angst among teenage girls owe more to a social media-fed social contagion than reality, and that the unquestioning acceptance of dysphoria, and relentless promotion of ‘transitioning’ as a cure, is not only unhelpful but cruelly irresponsible. Shier draws extensively on interviews with transitioners and their parents to deliver an informed condemnation of  trans-happy recklessness.

American society is sick and growing sicker, a nation filled with mentally and emotionally distressed people.  Small wonder, given how unmoored we are from everything that used to give life meaning, and treated as we are like cattle – herded into consolidated schools, treated like subjects by increasing technocracy, and offered nothing for our future but a lifetime of pills and consumerism.  Sheltered kids grow into emotionally fragile teenagers, and girls are particularly vulnerable  to emotional turbulence,   confused and alarmed by bodies that are changing rapidly.   Instead of helping teenagers work through their feelings, however,   the postmodern practice often urges hasty assignation of some special, immutable status and its immediate treatment. Ritalin for the boys, testosterone for the girls!  

 Shier’s  interviews reveal that a broad spectrum of emotional stressors – social anxiety, isolation, depression, self-loathing –  are attributed to dysphoria, despite how common these stressors have been across the decades, and despite the girls in question having no background with dysphoria whatsoever. This attribution is then amplified exponentially through girls’ social circles:  not only do they discover online communities that feed their interest, but in adopting a ‘trans’ identity they are able to escape association with a reviled majority (90% of trans claims are from whites) and embrace a new status as a socially-popular rebel. Unlike the upbill battle it took for homosexuals to achieve social acceptance, transexuals became overnight sacred cows in the west, with nonstop idolization of public transitioners, and nation-states and their subsidiaries making it illegal to refer to someone by the ‘wrong’ pronoun: recently  big tech has started kicking people off for questioning transorthodoxy, most recently the Babylon Bee. Were this simply a matter of confused young girls going through a phase marked by moodiness, language-policing, and a preference for male clothing,  it wouldn’t warrant a book. But distressed young women are encouraged, not only by their peers but by authorities who one would think would moderate impulse, not  inflame it, to hurdle head-long down a path from which there is no safe escape. Schools and universities increasingly assist students to begin chemical modification of themselves,  even against or without parents’ consent,   and push girls down a path marked by permanent and increasing body alteration. The risks are especially great for young women approaching or in the midst of puberty, which is a one-time flood of hormones that will  fundamentally alter their bodies and minds. To tamper with it is to miss risking the train altogether, to say nothing of the dangers attendant with cross-hormone treatment (guaranteed infertility and increased cancer risks) or  the deliberate damage that surgeries inflict. Despite the promises of plastic surgeons,  humans are not God and replacement breasts cannot be created de novo:  only a crude, functionless simulacrum can be fashioned,  and surgeries involving genitalia are outright hazardous.  Irreversible Damage is replete with stories of young women who, after  encountering so much biological friction or having time to attend to and understand their feelings more deeply, attempted to de-transition — but for those with broken voiceboxes,   five-o’clock shadows, and barren wombs and chests,   there is no real road back.

Irreversible Damage is heartbreaking and infuriating, written with total compassion for the young victims of this social-political mania. Although Shrier’s book is more narrowly focused than Ryan Anderson’s When Harry Became Sally, she writes, like him, with the intention of communicating with those who will disagree with her. There are little-to-no “reactionary” parents in this book: virtually all of the girls come from progressive families, even the first-generation immigrants from India with an American-born daughter, and their opposition to their daughter’s self-harm stems purely from knowing their daughters and realizing they’ve been suckered into a narrative, one that makes them first lie to themselves — inventing histories of mental distress when they evidenced none — and them to those around them. Shrier, too, focuses solely on teenage girls who adopt transgender identity as a way of coping with other mental and emotional stress: she doesn’t attack claims of dysphoria made by adults, or argue with the right of said adults to experiment on themselves as they wish. Children and teenagers, lacking the experience to truly act with discernment, need parents to step up, however that manifests itself — helping a child get counseling for emotional issues, not giving them smartphones until they’re older, or withdrawing them from schools whose teachers betray the very people who fund their paychecks.

It’s tragic and bizarre that a book like this has to be written, and contemptible that amazon attempts to de-list books like it. This is a must-read for parents of young women, but recommends itself more generally to those who have not given the transgender movement and its costs to those carried away by it much thought.

Related
By Any Other Name”, testimonial of a young woman whose story mirror’s Schier’s subjects. Worth reading. She also appeared on a podcast, the General Eclectic, in the episode “Her Name is Helena”. She does not appear in this book, but many like her do.

When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Movement, Ryan Anderson

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Top Ten Books on my Spring TBR

I missed last’s week TT theme on spring tbrs, so instead of following the prompt for today (titles with adjectives), I’m going to be sharing some upcoming books! 

Cancer Ward, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. An entry for my Classics Club Strikes Back list. Currently reading. 

Resurrection, Leo Tolstoy. Planned for around Easter (the title suggests that timing). Another CCSB entry. 

Survival City: Adventures Among the Ruins of Atomic America, Tom Vanderbilt. Bit of an impulse buy inspired by reading about the wildly irresponsible nuclear experimentation of the 1950s. 

Darwin Comes to Town: How the Urban Jungle Drives Evolution, Menno Schilthuzen. A science/TBR double play. It will fill either the Ecology or Wildcard slots in my science survey for 2022.   

Why Balloons Rise and Apples Fall: Physics in Bite-Sized Chunks, Jeff Stewart. Another science/TBR twofer, filling the Physics slot of my science survey.  

A Brief History of Motion, Tom Standage. A pop history of transportation!  

Liza Picard’s “Life of London” series, with titles like Restoration London and Elizabeth’s London. Will feature in April’s “Read of England” theme. 

Lionheart, Ben Kane. A novel of Richard I, another Read of England entry. 

No Apologies: Why Civilization Depends on the Strength of Men, Anthony Esolen. From the author of Defending Boyhood, Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, and similar works defending human life and culture from noxious postmodernity. A May release..

The Oil Kings: How the US, Iran, and Saudi Arabia Changed the Balance of Power in the Middle East, Andrew Scott Cooper. Started reading this last year and I really need to finish it off. So many meetings… 

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Worth Reading: “The Turn”

Liel Leibovitz writes on no longer being able to go with the flow, and more importantly — on realizing the American left is no longer recognizable as a voice for the people.

https://www.tabletmag.com/sections/news/articles/the-turn-liel-leibovitz

Quotes:

“You might be living through The Turn if you ever found yourself feeling like free speech should stay free even if it offended some group or individual but now can’t admit it at dinner with friends because you are afraid of being thought a bigot. You are living through The Turn if you have questions about public health policies—including the effects of lockdowns and school closures on the poor and most vulnerable in our society—but can’t ask them out loud because you know you’ll be labeled an anti-vaxxer. You are living through The Turn if you think that burning down towns and looting stores isn’t the best way to promote social justice, but feel you can’t say so because you know you’ll be called a white supremacist. You are living through The Turn if you seethed watching a terrorist organization attack the world’s only Jewish state, but seethed silently because your colleagues were all on Twitter and Facebook sharing celebrity memes about ending Israeli apartheid while having little interest in American kids dying on the streets because of failed policies. If you’ve felt yourself unable to speak your mind, if you have a queasy feeling that your friends might disown you if you shared your most intimately held concerns, if you are feeling a bit breathless and a bit hopeless and entirely unsure what on earth is going on, I am sorry to inform you that The Turn is upon you.”

“Because, after 225 long and fruitful years of this terminology, ‘right’ and ‘left’ are now empty categories, meaning little more than ‘the blue team’ and ‘the green team’ in your summer camp’s color war. You don’t get to be ‘against the rich’ if the richest people in the country fund your party in order to preserve their government-sponsored monopolies. You are not ‘a supporter of free speech’ if you oppose free speech for people who disagree with you. You are not ‘for the people’ if you pit most of them against each other based on the color of their skin, or force them out of their jobs because of personal choices related to their bodies. You are not ‘serious about economic inequality’ when you happily order from Amazon without caring much for the devastating impact your purchases have on the small businesses that increasingly are either subjugated by Jeff Bezos’ behemoth or crushed by it altogether. You are not ‘for science’ if you refuse to consider hypotheses that don’t conform to your political convictions and then try to ban critical thought and inquiry from the internet. You are not an ‘anti-racist’ if you label—and sort!—people by race. You are not ‘against conformism’ when you scare people out of voicing dissenting opinions.”

Spotted via Crisis magazine’s article, “Leftists Leaving the Left“.

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Righteous in their time

We live in a time when it has become politically correct to destroy statues of such historic figures as Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Christopher Columbus, Andrew Jackson, and others. A lesson about such statue-tory destruction can be learned by comparing the Jewish Bible (sometimes called the Old Testament) with the Christian Bible (New Testament) and Koran. The latter two books present perfect heroes: no one could be better than Jesus, and Muslims believe that Mohammed is beyond criticism. The Jewish Bible, on the other hand, presents all of its heroes as deeply flawed—that is, human. King David sinned mightily by sending Bathsheba’s husband to the front line to be killed so David could marry her. Abraham lied, claiming that his wife was his sister, and came close to slaughtering his son. Joseph framed his brothers by planting a valuable item in their baggage. Moses lost his temper and struck the rock. And on and on. I have always loved the Jewish Bible, precisely because of the imperfections of its heroes. It teaches its readers not to expect or to aspire to perfection, but only to improvement. It also judges people by their times. For example, it describes Noah as a ‘righteous man in his generation.; We should think about that phrase as we watch statues being promiscuously destroyed, Taliban-style, without balancing the good that imperfect humans achieved against the deeds we now correctly judge as evil. Washington and Jefferson were righteous men in their generation—a generation plagued by the unrighteousness of slavery. Although Washington freed his slaves upon his death and Jefferson tried to condemn slavery in his original draft of the Declaration of Independence, both could have done more to end the scourge of enslavement. For this they should be criticized, but their lives should also be viewed holistically, comparatively, and with a generosity of spirit. They did much good that cannot be ignored in any reckoning.

From Cancel Culture.

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Gone with the Wind

Gone with the Wind
© 1936 Margaret Mitchell
1037 pages

It’s been nearly twenty years since I visited the joined worlds of antebellum Tara and postwar Atlanta, tied together through the life of a ruined plantation belle turned business magnate, Scarlett O’Hara. I loved the movie in high school, being then in the middle of a Civil War obsession; Vivien Leigh’s beauty and acting chops certainly didn’t hurt. Gone with the Wind is much abused these days, as are the people it makes its heart – southerners – for now our ancestors are dismissed as cornpone nazis unworthy of any regard. Well, as Miss O’Hara would say – fiddle dee dee. There’s no arguing with political zealotry, and anyone who can’t see the honor in men like Lee is too partisan to take seriously. I came to Gone with the Wind not as a southern romantic or a modern troll, notebook in hand to list all of the things the naughty things I find herein, but to encounter its story – and I find it all the more improved from high school, because now instead of cooing over Tara I find myself impressed by Mitchell’s gift for description, unforgettable characters, and storied retelling of the war and the ruin it brought.  

I don’t know how known Gone with the Wind is outside the South, but down here everyone knows the basic gist: it’s a romance set during the Civil War. This is altogether too simplistic, however, for while it’s largely driven by romance – by Scarlett’s obsession with Mr. Ashley Wilkes, her cold-blooded habit of marrying men purely to manipulate other beaus or come to material gain, and her long, complicated relationship with Rhett Butler — there’s far more drama here than just one flawed woman’s lovelife. There’s the background drama, of course, the opening of the Civil War and the slow ruin of the South as it progresses: we open on scenes of the plantation gentry enjoying daylong barbeques on the lawn, and halfway through find the same characters – at least, those who have survived — getting by on hominy, their world destroyed by war and their families buried under the lawn instead of striding upon it, taken by war and disease. Reconstruction brings no relief, for taxes begin to consume what death left alone, and anyone with any faint connection to the Confederate government is barred from not only office, but voting — leaving Georgia in the hands of military occupiers, outsiders, and ex-slaves. We see the history happening, but Mitchell also weaves it in directly, especially before Scarlett begins paying attention to the war. There’s also incredibly rich character interplay, as four central characters respond to events in unique ways, sometimes taking similar actions for opposing reasons. Scarlett and her romantic rival turned sister-in-law, the saintly Melanie, bounce off one another, as do Mr. Ashley Wilkes and Rhett Butler: Scarlett is scandalized to realize Ashley and Rhett have similar ideas about the war, but Ashley is a man of duty and Rhett a man of appetite. The complex relations between Scarlett and her three peers dominate the novel.

Scarlett is the central figure of the book, and on her shoulders lays the story’s success. Gone with the Wind is her transformation’s as well as the South’s: we open on a child, an incredibly vain and selfish one who regards her mother as a saint and all other women as the devil, and men are her prey who exist to dote on her and ply her with favors for the pure gift of her company. She’s incredibly unlikable, but – having experienced her growth so many times – I can only laugh at her with Rhett Butler, amused by her vanity and hypocrisy because she’s delightfully real in her flaws. But more important than her flaws is her growth, because instead of being ruined by the war, by the loss of all she loves – -the deaths of her friends and family, the sacking of her home, the loss of her adolescent love — Scarlett rises like a phoenix. The war and reconstruction strip everything from her but her will, her determination not to be destroyed or beaten, and we soon see the spoiled but ruthlessly pragmatic belle working hard to turn ruin into rising fortune. A reader doesn’t have to like Scarlett, but by god he has to admire her.   Still, Gone with the Wind is a tragedy — not because it concerns the fall of the antebellum South, but because Scarlett’s cold determination not to be beaten alienates those around her and destroys her chances for a lasting happiness apart from transient pleasure and passing ambition.

Published in 1936, I can imagine what immediate appeal this had for readers stuck in a seemingly endless depression — a reminder that the South has survived worse. For women particularly, having recently realized the right to vote, Scarlett must have seemed a troubled inspiration from another age: a woman who took life by the horns and twisted it to her will, sometimes to excess. Gone with the Wind succeeds brilliantly at bringing the horrors, stresses, and moral dilemmas of the War and Reconstruction to life: it’s easy to read about the casualties at Gettysburg, and not realize the weight of death, but a novel like this draws the reader into a world of personalities and then makes us feel the losses when people we ‘know’ are destroyed. Although moderns like to scoff at Gone with the Wind as a romantic defense of the Old South, they betray their having not read it: both Rhett and Ashley are skeptics of The Glorious Cause, Rhett and other characters continually past against traditionalist prescriptivism, and when Ashley confronts Scarlett about using convict labor, she in turn challenges his and her family’s past reliance on slavery. The thorniest element of Gone with the Wind is its treatment of Reconstruction, particularly the thread in which male members of Scarlett’s class create a certain clannish committee to defend their women against the criminal actions of the now-empowered white trash and “free issue” blacks. As I understand the history of the Klan, it was marked by violence with far less noble motives, but presumably Mitchell was relying on memories of the period’s chaos, upheaval, and terror that she’d heard growing up. Mitchell employs them here not to celebrate them, a la Birth of a Nation, but to cast condemnation on Scarlett — for it is her recklessness that forces several characters to come to her defense through vigilantism.

Gone with the Wind is not without its flaws, but most have only been acquired through the accident of time — period language having become offensive, for instance. The heart of the book is as strong as ever, and the reader who can’t be swept away by the ensembled drama here, particularly Scarlett’s part, because of politics has done themselves a great disservice.

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Man against the mob

“The problem with going along [with the mob] is that it demoralizes you. It makes you a smaller person, inside. You’ll know you shouldn’t have done that, you’ll think badly of yourself for having done it, you’ll feel cowardly, and it will affect your life in other ways. […] That’s what totalitarian movements across history always knew. If you can grind people down, make them agree to the lies….you can make them do anything.”

“You think you’re doing a little thing, but you’re not. You’re diminishing your soul by [going along with the mob]. Because you know you could be something more than the person that just has to hang what Party Headquarters tells you have to hang this week.”

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