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KATHRYN STELMACH ARTUSO Westmont College Irish Maternalism and Motherland in Gone with the Wind There was a land of Cavaliers and Cotton Fields Called the Old South. . . Here in this pretty world Gallantry took its last bow. . . Here was the last ever to Be seen of Knights and their Ladies Fair, of Master and of Slave. . . Look for it only in books, For it is no more than a dream remembered. A Civilization gone with the wind. . . —Prologue to Gone with the Wind, the film MOST AFICIONADOS OF GONE WITH THE WIND ARE FAMILIAR WITH THE prologue to the film, which scrolls across the screen accompanied by soaring music and cotton-laden landscapes, espousing a feudal fantasy of the Old South, the plantation myth of medieval gallantry, courtly cavaliers, and beautiful belles. Fewer would know that Margaret Mitchell did not compose the alliterative prologue to the film and in fact denounced its incantatory romanticization of the antebellum era, having written her novel as a specific critique of this “moonlight and magnolias” myth, which had earlier been advocated by local color authors such as Thomas Nelson Page and Joel Chandler Harris.1 Despite Mitchell’s attempt to make Ashley Wilkes the impotent mouthpiece for such paralyzing nostalgia, Hollywood’s romantic idealization of a golden age of abundance proved especially appealing during the Great Depression, and Scarlett O’Hara’s famous vow—as God is her witness— that she “will never be hungry again,” resonated with 1939 movie audiences in a manner perhaps inconceivable today. Such nostalgia for a lost era of prosperity and plenty manifests itself in a “historical” short film called 1 Though Sidney Howard wrote the screenplay, Ben Hecht wrote the prologue, with the original version reading as follows: “Here in this patrician world, the Age of Chivalry took its last bow” (Pyron 388-89). The term “patrician” proves far more evocative for my own research, connoting as it does the elements of aristocratic paternalism. 200 Kathryn Stelmach Artuso The Old South, directed by Fred Zinnemann and written by Herman Hoffman, which was shown by MGM in theatres prior to the release of Gone with the Wind.2 Images of wealth appear in rapid succession as the camera closes in on gleaming silver trays loaded with fifty or more mint juleps, followed by countless cups of coffee, and finally culminating in a shot of an aristocratic ballroom dance. As these images emerge, the following voice-over is heard: “Vast plantations were soon to flower upon the rich Southern soil. There came to the South an era of wondrous beauty, of moonlight and magnolias and mint juleps, an era of chivalry and true hospitality, and gallantries of devil-may-care cavaliers and their lovely ladies fair.” All of this occurred, according to the short film, because of King Cotton, but perhaps such a well-known personification falls short, when the “documentary” in fact metonymically deifies Cotton in a manner that removes any agency from white slaveholders, even as it offers paratactic tautologies that sound laughably absurd today: “Cotton mothered and fathered the Old South. Cotton brought the slaves. Cotton fought a war. Cotton created a magnificent empire, then destroyed it. Cotton was the South. Cotton is the South.” For the international release of Gone with the Wind, MGM added a different explanatory prologue, which scrolls across the screen in lieu of the “land of cavaliers” preface cited above: “A century ago there were two ways of life in the United States of America. The Northern way was that of growing cities and an industrial tomorrow.; the Southern way, that of slave-worked cotton plantations and a romantic yesterday.” (emphasis added). This prologue merges romantic nostalgia with a rural version of Southern identity established by the Agrarians in their 1930 manifesto, I’ll Take my Stand.3 Like their revivalist counterparts in 2 Zinnemann perhaps sought to atone for the overt racism of “The Old South” when he later directed an endearing film adaptation of Carson McCullers’s The Member of the Wedding (1952). 3 In Inventing Southern Literature, Michael Kreyling contends that the Agrarian project was and must be seen as a willed campaign on the part of one elite...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2689-517X
Print ISSN
0026-637X
Pages
pp. 199-230
Launched on MUSE
2020-02-27
Open Access
No
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