Scarlett (1994)



Director:  John Erman

Starring:  Joanne Whalley-Kilmer (Scarlett), Timothy Dalton (Rhett Butler), Stephen Collins (Ashley Wilkes)

based on book "Charleston" by Alexandra Ripley



This is the long awaited follow up to "Gone with the Wind."  It was a terrible disappointment and one reason for this is that Scarlett has suddenly become a wimp.  The real Scarlett would never have let Rhett go.  She would have pursued him until he finally either believed her that she really did love him or exhausted him to the point where he had to give in to her.

But in this version, Scarlett, inexplicably, gives up and goes to Ireland.  It is a shame to switch the story to Ireland rather than leave it in the United States dealing with the problem of economic slavery of blacks in the share cropping system.  But the loss of American history is partly compensated by the addition of Irish history.


Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:


The potato came to Ireland from the New World.  It proved to be both a blessing and a curse.  The potato is a very nutritional food with lots of vitamins.  (It lacks vitamin A, but the Irish could get that through their buttermilk.)  And the potato grew wonderfully in Ireland's soils.  The potatoes grew so well that the Irish population more than doubled in a hundred years. 

But the potato has one major problem: the problem of storage.  The potato can be stored for about 6 months (and if lucky maybe for 9 months).  When the Irish harvested the potatoes in the fall of each year, they could over-winter with them as food.  But in the planting season, the times were leaner until the next harvest. 

In the 1840s, the potato blight accidentally was imported to Ireland from America. 

1845 (September)  --  the Irish potato farmers soon found their potatoes rotting.  Lean times were ahead for them. 

1845 (October)  --  Prime Minister Robert Peale started importing grain called Indian corn.  He then sold this grain to Ireland.  He had a secret stash of the grain. 

When the Irish poor could not afford grain, the government introduced public works for the poor.  Most of the public-works projects were the building of what became known as famine roads.  (Some of the roads were useable, but some were roads to nowhere.)  The men could earn 8 pence a day, which was just enough to feed a family. 

1846  --  Robert Peale wanted to reform the corn laws.  He wanted to reduce the tariffs on corn import in order to reduce the price of grain in order to feed the poor.  But there was so much opposition from the farmers that the government fell. 

This was the real start of the problem for the Irish for now the Whigs came to power.  The Whigs, typical of rich people, believed in laissez-faire capitalism.  And according to the gospel of laissez-faire the government is not supposed to intervene in the market place.  This, of course, saves the government money, but it also condemns the poor to continued poverty and, in this case, starvation.  

Lord John Russell was the new Prime Minister and Sir Charles Wood was the Chancellor of the Exchequer.  The civil servant Charles Trevelyan, assistant secretary of Treasury, was responsible for managing the Whig policies concerning Ireland.  He believed in less government, not more.  He said that the Irish pauper simply did not like work. 

1846  --  The greatest mistake by the government was their promising the corn merchants that the government would not import more corn. Food prices soared and more people starved. 

One of the problems was that the English were very prejudiced against the Irish.  The English lampooned Irish rural life and portrayed the Irish farmers as buffoons.  Moreover, Victorian charity was extremely mean-spirited, stingy and punitive. 

1846 (end of July)  --  farmers noticed putrefying vegetation in their fields.  It was a disaster.  Now without reserves, people began to starve.  There now were no more supplies of Indian corn.

When starvations starts on a massive scale, diseases become rampant and kill more people than actual starvation.  They died of diseases like dysentery, yellow fever, typhus and pneumonia.  The people on the coast started eating the seaweed, which caused dysentery. Many of the fishermen were so weak from starvation that they were to weak to push their boats out to sea.  And that winter the weather was bad with many storms.  Many of those who did make it out to sea drowned.  Many men dropped dead while building the famine roads for public works.

1846-1847  --  the public works started taking on old men and women.  Now there were some 750,000 people on public works, but many were too weak to do any effective work.  And public works now paid a starvation wage. 

In some areas of Ireland, markets were full of food, but the poor had no money to purchase it.  And the wages paid by public works simply could not keep up with soaring food prices.  When people begged government to do something about this terrible situation, it was often claimed that government could or would not do anything.

1847 (spring)  --  public works suspended. 

But there were still the work houses.  The houses were filthy places where too many people were crowded into limited space.  These places were also paradise for diseases.  Illness spread through the house and people died like flies.

1846-1847  --  the Quakers organized emergency food supplies and started soup kitchens. 

The work of the Quakers embarrassed the British government somewhat and they started soup kitchens also.  The government began to feed three million people a day.

Some of the Protestant evangelicals started taking advantage of the situation to convert Catholic children to Protestantism. They offered Catholic children attending their schools free food if they would convert.  One particularly objectionable evangelical was a Mr. Mangle who said that the potato scourge was send by God to the Irish Catholics and that their priests were incapable of doing anything to stop it.

1847  --  around 300,000 Irish left, mostly for Liverpool.  But they were not welcome in England.  The situation was further complicated by a recession in England.  The number of Irish in Britain reach half a million with most never returning to Ireland.

1847  --  many Irish crowded Cork City to sail for America.  The voyage cost 4 pounds so the very poor could not emigrates.  Some 100,000 sailed for Canada. 

The voyage took from 6 weeks to 3 months.  It was hell at sea.  Typhus was spread by body lice and there was a great deal of dysentery because of a lack of sanitation. 

1847 (autumn)  --  the Poor Law Extension Act (Trevelyan's idea) was passed.  This made the landlords and the richer tenants responsible for paying for poor relief.  The richer were now responsible for paying the tax rates of the poor. 

This created a terrible system.  For, by evicting their tenants, the landlords would have less to pay because they would not have to pay the rates for them.  It was actually good for the landlord to evict as many poor as possible.  One landlord evicted some 2,000 families from his estate.  The system, however, made the starvation problem worse for the poor.

Some Irish and Irish Americans believe that Britain deliberately practiced a program of genocide on the Irish people.  They point to the fact that Ireland was exporting grain at the same time that Indian corn had to be imported into Ireland. 

The author of the TV program "The Great Irish Famine" took the position that this idea is just one of the many Famine "myths" that still exist today, creating continued hostility of the Irish and Irish-Americans toward Britain.  But this conclusion seems to contradict all that was reported during the program.  I think the British were hostile to and prejudiced against the Irish.  Instead of accepting British imperialism, the Irish were ungrateful and kept rebelling against what they saw as their oppressors.  The British did respond with some charity to the Irish, but it was never enough to stop the starvation and the emigration in Ireland.  The British never did enough to provide adequate resources to end the starvation/emigration and many of their policies actually made it worse.

I would say shame on the British.  It may not qualify as genocide, but it is just too close for comfort. 

1997  --  British Prime Minister Tony Blair did not formally apologize to the Irish for the Great Famine, but he did say that the British did too little to alleviate the tragedy. 


(Source:  a program on the History Channel called "The Great Irish Famine.")



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