March 31, 2014

Authorized Gone with the Wind prequel to tell Mammy’s story

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Hattie McDaniel. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Hattie McDaniel. Via Wikimedia Commons.

The character of Mammy in Gone with the Wind is an important one, symbolically; it’s the role that earned Hattie McDaniel an Oscar in 1940, the first African-American to do so. Despite being an iconic figure in film and literature, though, the character is one without a great deal of depth, or even a name, for that matter. Author Donald McCraig is hoping to address that and offer up a more fully realized Mammy in his upcoming novel, Ruth’s Journey.

A prequel to Margaret Mitchell’s classic Gone with the Wind, McCraig’s book will follow the heroine’s life story as she’s taken from her home in Saint-Domingue (now Haiti) to slavery in the US, Julie Bosman writes for the New York Times.

McCraig is the author of one of the two authorized Gone with the Wind sequels, Rhett’s People, published in 2007. It was his idea to use a prequel to explore the house slave’s backstory, as well as to name her Ruth. The editorial director of Atria Books (the book’s publisher), Peter Borland, says of the idea to move backwards chronologically, “[McCraig] felt that Mammy was such a fascinating and crucial character to the book. He wanted to flesh out a story of her own.”

Borland also addresses the criticism of Mitchell’s novel has received for its depiction of black characters: “What’s really remarkable about what Donald has done is that it’s a book that respects and honors its source material, but it also provides a necessary correction to what is one of the more troubling aspects of the book, which is how the black characters are portrayed.”

Bosman writes that Ruth’s Journey follows the title character as she’s taken into slavery in Savannah, GA; McCraig has invented details such as a marriage early in her life, and “a connection to Rhett Butler’s family that explains her hostile behavior toward Rhett later.” Beyond that, he delves into the backstory of another intriguing character, Ellen Robillard O’Hara, mother of Scarlett O’Hara, who dies relatively early in Gone with the Wind.

Although Ruth’s Journey is the first authorized prequel to Mitchell’s novel, McCraig isn’t the first to retell the story from the perspective of the slaves. In 2001, Alice Randall published The Wind Done Gone, a parody that recounts the same events as Gone with the Wind from the perspective of Cynara, an illegitimate daughter of Mammy and Scarlett O’Hara’s father. The book studiously avoids using the actual character names, but the Mitchell estate still attempted to prevent its publication with an injunction that was ultimately denied by a federal appeals court.

Ruth’s Journey is scheduled for publication this October.

 

Nick Davies was a publicist at Melville House.

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