G4BB 104: O Cousin, What Art Thou?

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O Cousin, What Art Thou?

104.1  Dear G4BB: Last week you mentioned that in “Gone With the Wind,” Ashley Wilkes marries his cousin Melanie Hamilton. But of course, “cousin” covers a lot of genealogical ground. I know you…you can’t possibly let this go without investigating further, can you?  …Cool Daddy, House of the Rising Sun, Apt. 2C

104.2  Dear CD: God’s nightgown, you are so right! And right at the outset, let me say that I will be considering only textual evidence from Margaret Mitchell’s novel…a very long book, most of which couldn’t possibly be included in the movie. Even elements that did make the transition from printed page to silver screen were changed around…like the book says “My dear, I don’t give a damn”…no “frankly.” And germane to this discussion, there is one bit of genealogical evidence completely made up for the movie, which we’ll get to in due course.

104.3  The first mention of “the cousins” comes early on in Chapter 1…

In 1  ch 1

…in a discussion between the Tarleton twins, Brent and Stuart, re Ashley marrying Melanie. In the movie, it’s just “The Wilkeses always marry their cousins.”  It is referred to several other times, including this excerpt from Chapter 2, Gerald O’Hara speaking to his daughter Scarlett…

In 2  ch 2

Yes, I know what you’re thinking…but while Scarlett takes “queer” to mean “crazy,” her father goes on to explain he means it in the sense of “his folderol about books and poetry and music and oil paintings and such foolishness.” Notice he didn’t say “show tunes”…ahem…

104.4  In Chapter 6, Ashley himself tries to explain it to Scarlett…

In 3 ch 6

104.5  Now public opinion in the Peach Tree State in those days, based on this novel anyway, was mixed on the subject…some in favor of it, others not. It’s worth mentioning that Scarlett’s mother Ellen was in love with a cousin on her father’s side, Philippe Robillard, and would have married him except for her family’s objection…and the fact that Philippe is killed in a barroom brawl. But as to what type of cousins Ashely and Melanie actually are, there is only one textual clue, from Chapter 5, where the Tarleton twins’ horse-loving mother Beatrice is discussing the topic with Gerald and several of their respective daughters…

In 4 ch 5

104.6  Beatrice really is a hoot, and I have included the continuation of this passage in Wicked Ballsy if you’d care to give it a read. At first blush, it seems open and shut: her opinion is that “cousins” shouldn’t marry. But Ashley and Melanie are 2nd cousins…does the rule still apply to them? According to Mrs. T., it does apply, even to 2nd cousins. And I think it’s safe to assume that this mention of 2nd cousins implies her first mention of “cousins” meant 1st cousins. But later in the discussion, she relates her own experience…that her parents wanted her to marry a 2nd cousin and she would have none of it. So does “even second cousins” refer to Ashley and Melanie…or to her self? I think it can be taken either way…my sense is she means Ashley and Melanie…and so we’ll sketch out the possibilities in Chart 363.

chart 363

104.7  There is a subtle shift in implication from the book…Wilkeses and Hamiltons always marry their cousins…to the movie…only Wilkeses do. Now I doubt anything significant was meant by this change…but notice that in Chart 363A Ashley and Melanie are Wilkes 2nd cousins…but in 363B they are Hamilton cousins…in 363C they are both (double cousins? yes…wait for it!!)…and in 363D they are neither…their grandfathers married 2 sisters who were, let’s say, Bluebuckles. Perhaps, strictly interpreted, the movie version implies Melanie must be a Wilkes…still, all 4 possibilities equally fit the requirement of cousins marrying cousins.

104.8  But in these 4 cases, we’ve assumed that Ashley and Melanie are 2nd cousins because their fathers are 1st cousins…but in Chart 364…

chart 364

…we give them parents who are a mixed pair of 1st cousins…top, a male and female Wilkes…bottom, a female and male Hamilton. And there’s even another possibility that I didn’t diagram…that John Wilkes and Colonel Hamilton married women who were Bluebuckle 1st cousins, along the lines of Chart 363D. So that’s that? Pick the one you like? Well, no…because there is one very crucial complication.

In 7 ch 1

104.9  This is from Chapter 1 and is the first mention of the Hamilton clan. Pittypat is Ashley’s “cousin.” Now the way we drew it in Chart 363…and the bottom part of Chart 364…Pittypat is Ashley’s father’s 1st cousin, or Ashely’s 1st cousin once removed…and in the top of 364, she is so by marriage, not blood. Certainly “cousin” used here could simply be an abbreviation for “cousin once removed.” But could Ashley and Pittypat literally be 1st cousins? Chart 365, modeled after Chart 364, shows these possibilities…only now, Ashley and Melanie are not longer 2nd cousins, but are instead 1st cousins once removed.

chart 365

104.10  Personally, my reading of it is they are indeed 2nd cousins…public perceptions, at least reflected by the internet, are mixed…they are called 1st cousins, 2nd cousins, 1st cousins once removed, or just unspecified “cousins”…and some folks even hedge their bets by calling them “distant cousins.” But hey…since everyone has 2 sides to their family, can’t both be true: Ashley is 1st cousin to Pittypat and 2nd cousin to Melanie?

chart 366

104.11  But of course! In Chart 366, Ashley is 1st cousin to Pittypat and Colonel Hamilton since their fathers are brothers…they are Hamilton 1st cousins. Ashley is also a Wilkes 2nd cousin to Melanie…his father and her mother are Wilkes 1st cousins. And there’s an added bonus…Ashley and Melanie are also 1st cousins once removed thru the Hamiltons. So taking everything said in the novel literally, I’d say Chart 366 best fills the bill.

104.12  One thing you might ask yourself is this: Does Margaret Mitchell, and hence the characters she writes about, know what a 2nd cousin really is…the child of your parent’s 1st cousin…as opposed to the common mistake, the child of your own 1st cousin. And I’d say the evidence is yes…these excerpts are from Chapters 5 (top) and 15 (bottom)…

In 6 ch 5:15

104.13  See, the whole point of our system of cousins is that “numbered cousins,” not removed, are of your generation, and presumably in the pool of people you might marry. This is not to say you couldn’t marry someone much older or much younger than you are…or contrarywise, a numbered cousin might be of a significantly different age than you…but in general, this is how the generations shake out. Thus it is reasonable to think that Margaret and her characters are using numbered cousins correctly, as on the left side of Chart 367, not incorrectly, as on the right side.

chart 367

104.14  And given that the entire novel is set upon the backdrop of a culture that takes your genealogy extremely seriously…well, if you’re from Georgia, South Carolina, or Virginia anyway!…I think we’re on solid footing in believing they’re getting it right…here’s a quote from late in the book, Chapter 55…

In 5 ch 55

…and didn’t I tell you…double cousins!

104.15  In summary, Ashley Wilkes and Melanie Hamilton are 2nd cousins…notwithstanding the fact that Melanie’s aunt is also Ashley’s 1st cousin. And that’s the definitive answer…well, according to the book!

104.16  And I’ve already said that the book is all that counts. But there is a curious scene in the movie, with dialogue and information that is not found in the book, and I’d like to finish off today by examining it. It’s Christmas time, and Ashley is on leave from the fighting to visit Melanie and Scarlett, who are living with Pittypat in Atlanta. This scene takes place at a Christmas dinner…such a dinner does appear in the book, but the dialogue does not. This is spoken by Pittypat to her coachman and butler Uncle Peter, played by Eddie “Rochester” Anderson.

movie version

104.17  What is the point of this speech? If I might hazard a guess, it’s to indicate that yes, while Ashley and Melanie are “cousins,” they are appropriately distant, so as to assuage any moral indignation the ticket-buying movie patron might have felt. Chart 368 sketches out the circumstances as she suggests them…

chart 368

104.18  Here we see Pittypat’s father has an Uncle, Admiral Will Hamilton, and he marries one Jessica Carroll. Are they 2nd cousins once removed? Yes…Hamilton Sister and Hamilton 1 are siblings…Hamilton Sister marries a Mr. Carroll and has a Carroll son, who is 1st cousin to Hamilton 2. Their children, Jessica Carroll and Hamilton 3 are 2nd cousins…and Admiral Will married his father’s 2nd cousin, his own 2nd cousin once removed. That much is set…but now Jessica is also said to be kin to the Wilkeses. One of the easiest ways to do that would be to make her mother a Wilkes…and the great great grand aunt to Ashley thru his father John.

104.19  Trouble is, the Wilkes and Hamilton families are thus linked thru marriage only, not by blood…that’s the marriage of Ashley’s 2G grandfather’s sister to a man whose mother was a Hamilton. Now if you were to imagine the generations down from the union of Admiral Will and Jessica Carroll, you would indeed arrive at Ashley’s 4th cousin thru the Wilkes. But Melanie is descended from Admiral Will’s brother, and has no connection at with the Wilkes. In this case then, even saying “4th cousin by marriage” would be very tenuous…which is perhaps just as the screenwriters intended it, capeesh? Next week…the mailbag delivereth…

Wicked Ballsy

“Now, Ma’m, I’m taking issue with you on that!  Can you name me better people thanbrian boru.png
the Wilkes?  And they’ve been intermarrying since Brian Boru was a boy.”

“And high time they stopped it, for it’s beginning to show.  Oh, not Ashley so much, for he’s a good-looking devil, though even he– But look at those two washed-out-looking Wilkes girls, poor things!  Nice girls, of course, but washed out.  And look at little Miss Melanie.  Thin as a rail and delicate enough for the wind to blow away and no spirit at all.  Not a notion of her own. ‘No, Ma’m!’ ‘Yes, Ma’m!’  That’s all she has to say.  You see what I mean?  That family needs new blood, fine vigorous blood like my red heads or your Scarlett.  Now, don’t misunderstand me.  The Wilkes are fine folks in their way, and you know I’m fond of them all, but be frank!  They are overbred and inbred too, aren’t they? They’ll do fine on a dry track, a fast track, but mark my words, I don’t believe the Wilkes can run on a mud track.  I believe the stamina has been bred out of them, and when the emergency arises I don’t believe they can run against odds.  Dry-weather stock.  Give me a big horse who can run in any weather!  And their intermarrying has made them different from other folks around here.  Always fiddling with the piano or sticking their heads in a book.  I do believe Ashley would rather read than hunt!  Yes, I honestly believe that, Mr. O’Hara!  And just look at the bones on them.  Too slender. They need dams and sires with strength–“

“Ah-ah-hum,” said Gerald, suddenly and guiltily aware that the conversation, a most interesting and entirely proper one to him, would seem quite otherwise to Ellen.  In fact, he knew she would never recover should she learn that her daughters had been exposed to so frank a conversation.  But Mrs. Tarleton was, as usual, deaf to all other ideas when pursuing her favorite topic, breeding, whether it be horses or humans.

spavin“I know what I’m talking about because I had some cousins who married each other and I give you my word their children all turned out as popeyed as bullfrogs, poor things.  And when my family wanted me to marry a second cousin, I bucked like a colt. I said, ‘No, Ma.  Not for me.  My children will all have spavins and heaves.’  Well, Ma fainted when I said that about spavins, but I stood firm and Grandma backed me up.  She knew a lot about horse breeding too, you see, and said I was right.  And she helped me run away with Mr. Tarleton.  And look at my children!  Big and healthy and not a sickly one or a runt among them, though Boyd is only five feet ten.  Now, the Wilkes–“

“Not meaning to change the subject, Ma’m,” broke in Gerald hurriedly, for he had noticed Carreen’s bewildered look and the avid curiosity on Suellen’s face and feared lest they might ask Ellen embarrassing questions which would reveal how inadequate a chaperon he was.  Puss, he was glad to notice, appeared to be thinking of other matters as a lady should.

By way of explanation, Ellen is Gerald O’Hara’s wife, Scarlett’s mother…Carreen and Suellen are her younger sisters…and “Puss” is Gerald’s pet name for Scarlett. The “heaves” Mrs. Tarleton mentions is a breathing disorder found among equines…


Copyright © 2013 Mark John, All Rights Reserved

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