Dedicated to Olivia Mary de Havilland: Happy 99th Birthday!
“Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubies…” When we read Proverbs 31, we never think of Scarlett O’Hara, but I think we overlooked in literature and in cinema an example of a “Ruby Woman.”
Melanie Hamilton Wilkes.
When I was ten, I read GONE WITH THE WIND for the first time. My mother had given me the book because her best friend, Jim Swords, was a top collector of the book, movie, and all things Margaret Mitchell and I begged to read the book. I fell in love – and would read GONE WITH THE WIND every Thanksgiving break for the next 30 years. I adored Scarlett my entire life as the epitome of the Southern woman: she was strong, she overcame obstacles, and frankly, my dears, she went after what she wanted – and got it. What better role model in literature and cinema for a Southern girl to grow up to desire to emulate?
Oh, how I love self-absorbed youth; rather like Scarlett, eh? Until life happens and we change and mature. Like Scarlett, we have some tough blows in life and channel our Inner Scarlett to be strong and move mountains. I became a librarian and often, my friend, Jim, would visit my library. He was always amused at my Scarlett collection of figurines. She kept me going, on many a tough day.
One afternoon, during a visit to my library, my darling Jim asked me, “Anne, what do you think of Melanie?” I had no Melanie figurines.
“She’s a wonderful best friend and sister in law. I think Mitchell wrote a great character, but she is a bit simpering. Olivia made her a bit of a goody-goody.”
“She is so much more, dear Anne, in both literature and cinema.” The subject changed to a work related topic and we never discussed the character or role of Melanie Wilkes again. I lost Jim to Diabetes a few years ago – a man who was very dear to my family.
I also woke up.
I changed my mind.
As I read the book in my forties and watch the movie for more clues on my evolving insight of the character of Melanie Wilkes, I see a character I did not appreciate in my youth. Jim knew I would eventually learn his point from that library visit, so long ago. I see Melanie Wilkes as a stronger woman than Scarlett. She is patient. She bides her time and selects her words. She knows true love – and she honors her husband. She is good – and she is strong, despite her frail body. She saves lives – by stopping the attack on Scarlett by the damn Yankee (although Scarlett rocks on hiding the body) and nursing the wounded. She sacrifices her most precious things by taking her wedding ring off to help the Southern boys at a fund-raising dance (she probably organized it, let’s face it: Melanie could multi-task). She does not judge: she worked with the town’s real “scarlet” woman to raise money for the Cause. She comforts – be it Rhett when Bonnie dies or the many scenes where she is a listening ear to Scarlett. She also takes care of people – holding them up both emotionally and physically (nursing the wounded, feeding the hungry, being the first in line in a crisis – she’s the go-to gal for help, validation, and comfort). Sure, she can be blind in her devotion to her sister-in-law’s true self, but Melanie loves Scarlett – and accepts the many flaws in her personality.
Scarlett, in both literature and cinema, does not realize her best friend is Melanie, until she is gone – but remains selfish in her own desires to “get Rhett back.” However, Melanie reminds Scarlett, on her own deathbed that Scarlett’s husband “loves you so”. She wants her best friend to go fix her life – even if the advice comes too late. She also reminds her best friend and sister in law, Scarlett, to care for Ashley and Beau, the two greatest loves of her life. Melanie has no selfishness, save the one thing she wanted: to give her husband children. It ultimately kills her.
Melanie Wilkes is the best friend a woman can have, in both literature and cinema.
How many of us have someone who would save our lives (and hide the body, hello), sacrifice to help others, not judge us when we are at our worst, love without fail, and most of all, die with the concern of others on our last breath?! Melanie Wilkes was no simpering miss; she was a Southern lady I always wanted to be – and she had a gentle strength that Scarlett never had, but it was equal to the firebrand hellion of Scarlett O’Hara.
Ashley was a smart man: he had his muse, his Ruby Woman, his better half. She was better than all of them by simple virtue.
It just took me a few years – and growing up and knocking down my Inner Scarlett, to find out that I want to be a Melanie, albeit fictional, who was, is, and forever will be, in both literature and cinema, a wonderful example of Christian and Southern womanhood. When I think of Proverbs 31:10? I have Melanie on my mind. Margaret Mitchell wrote the best friend of all time in literature; Olivia de Havilland gave her life. Oh, I love Melanie now! Go read GONE WITH THE WIND – and watch the movie – TODAY!
Enjoy the “best” of Melanie in the below clip. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Q_8cs7qYJM