Monday, August 30, 2010

The Quotable Rhett Butler: Dog in the Manger

Ooops, have I been derelict in my blogging duties last week? It looks like I've skipped on our Quotable Rhett Butler series, so we'll have to fix that today. But first I have a quiz for you. Can you name one similarity between Ashley Wilkes and Catherine Earnshaw, the heroine from Wuthering Heights? The answer, related to this week's quote, after the jump, at the end. 

And now let's turn to our eloquent hero. The line I had selected for last week came from the famous "no more babies" scene. This is Rhett's cryptic reply when Scarlett announces him that she wants separate bedrooms: 
"You like dogs, don't you, Scarlett? Do you prefer them in kennels or mangers?" --Gone with the Wind, Chapter LI
As his previous question ( "You've been to the lumber office this afternoon, haven't you?") indicates, Rhett is aware of the part Ashley Wilkes played in Scarlett's decision, and he lets her know about it by alluding to the expression "dog in a manger," which perfectly defines their situation. Well, tries to let her know, since Scarlett obviously misses the implication, but still...

I myself had to google for the expression the first time I read Gone with the Wind in English, and the fable from which it was derived struck me as quite ironically adequate to the circumstances. (Okay, so substituting Rhett for the ox and Ashley for the dog made me giggle. Did I ever claim I went above the mental age of 5?) Here's the fable: 
"A Dog looking out for its afternoon nap jumped into the Manger of an Ox and lay there cosily upon the straw. But soon the Ox, returning from its afternoon work, came up to the Manger and wanted to eat some of the straw. The Dog in a rage, being awakened from its slumber, stood up and barked at the Ox, and whenever it came near attempted to bite it. At last the Ox had to give up the hope of getting at the straw, and went away muttering: 

'Ah, people often grudge others what they cannot enjoy themselves.'"
--Aesop, Fables
Not a particularly hard to follow allusion, since the phrase "dog in a manger" was and is in common use. Even Scarlett would have probably caught it if not for her anger and disappointment at her husband's reaction (though one can wonder, what did she expect?) and the only remarkable thing about it was the extent to which Rhett kept his cool in this scene. Such a difference between the Rhett in the book, who is able to find a stinging elaborate comeback in any situation and perfectly hide his true feelings, and the Rhett in the movie, who kicks  doors and hurls glasses. (Note the depth of my hatred for that particular scene.)

What gave me a thrill, though, was to later find the  expression Rhett used in a similar jealousy/love triangle context in Wuthering Heights. See what that context is after the jump (minor spoilers if you haven't read the book).

The phrase occurs during a fight between Isabella and Catherine, in Chapter X of the novel. Isabella, smitten with Heathcliff, is frustrated that Cathy always sends her off when he comes to visit, and she accuses her sister-in-law of being a dog in the manger ("You are a dog in the manger, Cathy, and desire no one to be loved but yourself!").  

And there you have it. Both Ashley and Cathy, though married, try to keep their love interests tied to them, which makes them dogs in other people's mangers. I bet you thought I was going to say they are both married to mealy-mouthed ninnies, didn't you?

PS: since we're on the topic of Wuthering Heights, if you haven't done so already, please be sure to cast your vote on the TCM page for the 1939 adaptation of Wuthering Heights to be released on DVD in the United States. It currently ranks 18 in their waiting line, help bring it closer to #1! If you're still not convinced, check out and Kendra's review and the wonderful materials on this film from


  1. Wonderful addition to the series. I love how MM lets us believe we are in somewhat calmer waters when this scene occurs. That is why this book is never a dull read.

    Knowing Scarlett she would have loved some dramatics that would show her that she was still Rhett’s nr. 1 choice for a wet dream. She might have considered granting him more ‘favours’ then. But of course Mr. Butler decided not to play and so yes, admirable self-control from book-Rhett; makes you wonder if he learned that by surviving in the big bad world on his own or already at his parental home. We know that there is a whole other passionate side to Rhett and this post makes me wonder what Rhett was like as an adolescent. Was he easily enraged and taunted by his dad for it? Or had he learned to keep himself to himself as from an early age?

    At this scene he must have been surprised by Scarlett’s announcement but he manages to use his defense mechanism very well nonetheless. This reminds me of conversations they had earlier about Scarlett adoration for Ashley which usually resulted in Rhett making derogatory comments about the blond hero and Scarlett expressing her anger over that by calling Rhett a lowdown something and slamming Rhett’s feelings for her in the process. Never did this make Rhett topple over and express his deepest feelings, not even here when she gives their relationship the death sentence. It is kind of funny how finally it is that reputation that Rhett claimed nobody needed that brought out the beast in him; making him a cuckold to the outside world, making herself the tramp of the town and most of all, damaging Bonnie’s precious reputation. Interesting how life comes back to bite you in the behind ;-)

  2. Interesting points. I don't know what to say regarding whether Rhett's ability to disguise his feelings came after he was thrown out or not. I suppose the question is when he came to realize he doesn't belong in the intensified South that was Charleston. If this realization came in his early adolescence, then I would say he exercised a good measure of self-restraint before the series of events that led to his banishment. But I think it's safer to say it was a combination of before and after. Also remember the way he recounts the New Orleans incident to Scarlett "I was young and impressionable."

  3. Excellent analysis, Bugsie and SJ.

    I'll admit that I feel a bit lost at times because many of Rhett's allusions go over my head (and the dog in the manger or kennel reference is one of them). So thank you for explaining it!

  4. I love this one! I had Googled that reference and I thought I understood it but I didn't. Somehow I was thinking that Scarlett is the dog but now I realize that Rhett was calling Ashley the dog. What really helped was putting Ashley in the same category as Cathy. It's very easy for me to understand how Cathy is the dog because she would not have Heathcliff but is upset that Isabella wants him. Now I clearly see that Ashley is the dog because he wants Scarlett but won't take her. He keeps stringing her on so she blows off Rhett so he can't have her.

    In my most recent reading of the book I am finally realizing the ramifications of his actions in respect to Scarlett and Rhett's relationship. He had the option of cutting her off at any time and telling her that he did not love her and that he loved Melanie. Scarlett is practical and would have seen the futility in going after a man that was truly in love with someone else. (Of course now I'm thinking of Frank Kennedy but that's different because he wasn't actually married and she didn't actually want him, just his money.) Without spending all her time mooning at Ashley she would have paid more attention to Rhett and maybe figured out that he was the man she really loved, not Ashley. There are several points in the book where Scarlett is aware of certain feelings she has for him but she always puts them off because of Ashley. In the pivotal dining room scene Rhett points this out to her and tells her she is throwing away her happiness because of her "mooning."

    I never disliked Ashley that much. He was just there. Just the sorry guy that Scarlett was in love with. Now I view him in a worse light because I understand what he was actually doing. To me he is the real poison to Scarlett and Rhett. If he had just let her go she would've figured things out. Now I'm putting a lot of blame on him but I think it's about time. I've always hated what Scarlett and Rhett did to each other and I never thought about how their failed relationship was affected by Ashley.

    So again, really great post! Anything that can inspire this much thought from me has got to be good!

  5. Thank you for your comment. We're very happy that you liked the post.

    I think you are right about Ashley having a huge part of the blame in this situation. I don't tend to hate Ashley, but the conversation he has with Scarlett about Rhett coarsening her is unforgivable. I think that he wanted Scarlett just as irrationally as she wanted him, but unlike Scarlett, he was not blind to all the implications. He knew they wouldn't be happy if he got her; he probably realized he was more attracted to her physically than anything else. And yet he only makes feeble attempts to get away from her.

  6. I had thought about his knowing the implications of everything but I couldn't articulate my thoughts on that point. In their meeting in the library at Twelve Oaks it seems that he is making a very clear point on why they would not be good together, yet he does not end the relationship even though that would have been a perfect point at which to do it. It's harder to forgive Ashley in this situation because he knew that it was hopeless while Scarlett was completely clueless.

    Ashley is clueless in his own way though if he thought that Rhett was what coarsened Scarlett. What coarsened her was her own personality and then that personality being pushed the extreme to survive. Rhett does have some effect in her coming out of fake mourning and loans her money for business but by the time she marries him she is who she is and I think he has little effect on her at that point. He basically lets her do whatever she wants and especially after Bonnie is born it is Rhett who appears to have more propriety than Scarlett does.

    This is slightly off-topic but I was wondering how I could submit a quote for The Quotable Rhett Butler?

  7. I don't think I can add anything to what you said. Great post! I actually felt bad for him about the New York situation. Scarlett really manipulated him into that situation and then even used Melanie to get him to do what she wanted. He did want to get away from her but she had such a strong, over-powering personality that was just too much for him to handle.

    It's also in that mill conversation that he states how Rhett and himself are actually quite similar. They have the same opinion on a lot of things but they react differently. It must've killed him to realize how much in common he really had with him.


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