Gentlemen, may I say a word?

blockadeLe plan Anaconda décidé par Lincoln en 1861, selon la stratégie du général Winfield Scott. Il s’agit d’étrangler le Sud en bloquant tous ses ports. Sans industries, incapables d’exporter leur coton, les Sudistes tiendront cependant quatre ans, avril 1861 à avril 1865, ce qui est bien le plus étonnant (Musée maritime de Beaufort, NC)

La scène se passe dans une party d’aristocrates du Sud, en 1861 au moment où la guerre s’annonce, aristocrates persuadés de leur supériorité face aux Nordistes, des va-nu-pieds, des immigrés, des prolétaires et des bouseux. C’est le moment où le mouton noir, le sulfureux Rhett Butler, casse l’ambiance en expliquant que la guerre est perdue d’avance, car les Etats du Sud n’ont pas les moyens industriels, ni les ressources démographiques suffisantes.

Ce passage fameux d’Autant en emporte le vent, lu adolescent, marque au fer rouge, à tel point qu’on s’en souvient encore parfaitement des décennies plus tard. La tension dramatique est telle, le scandale et la surprise pour l’auditoire si forts, qu’on vit ce moment avec une rare intensité. C’est aussi la rencontre entre les deux protagonistes, Rhett et Scarlett, qui définit tout le roman. Scarlett déteste instantanément le malotru, et il faudra en réalité la moitié d’un livre de plus de mille cinq cents pages pour qu’elle réalise qu’elle en est tombée à ce moment irrémédiablement amoureuse.
Le pouvoir de la littérature est étrange, lire ce livre à un âge tendre fait qu’on tombe amoureux comme elle, non pas des personnages, mais amoureux de leur amour, on vibre à leur histoire, exactement comme si ça nous arrivait, bien avant de tomber amoureux pour de vrai dans la vie réelle. On éprouve l’intensité de la passion, comme si une telle passion nous tombait dessus, avec la même force. Difficile à décrire, mais néanmoins très réel. Peu de livres ont cet effet, chacun se rappellera de ses propres expériences de lecture, des livres qui l’ont marqué à ce point.
La fin du passage est d’un autre ton, assez amusante, elle met en relief l’inculture de Scarlett, qui croit que les Borgia sont une famille du voisinage… Inculture qui à l’époque devait être fréquente chez les filles et les femmes, faute d’une éducation réservée aux garçons. Mais Margaret Mitchell montre tout au long du livre la force de caractère de l’héroïne, et en fait un personnage mythique, force de caractère qui bien sûr n’a rien à voir avec son éducation.

Extrait de Gone with the windTexte du roman en ligne :

Of all the group that milled about under the trees, girls smiling excitedly, men talking impassionedly, there was only one who seemed calm. Scarlett’s eyes turned to Rhett Butler, who leaned against a tree, his hands shoved deep in his trouser pockets. He stood alone, since Mr. Wilkes had left his side, and had uttered no word as the conversation grew hotter.
The red lips under the close-clipped black mustache curled down and there was a glint of amused contempt in his black eyes–contempt, as if he listened to the braggings of children. A very disagreeable smile, Scarlett thought. He listened quietly until Stuart Tarleton, his red hair tousled and his eyes gleaming, repeated: “Why, we could lick them in a month! Gentlemen always fight better than rabble. A month– why, one battle–”
« Gentlemen, » said Rhett Butler, in a flat drawl that bespoke his Charleston birth, not moving from his position against the tree or taking his hands from his pockets, « may I say a word? »
There was contempt in his manner as in his eyes, contempt overlaid with an air of courtesy that somehow burlesqued their own manners. The group turned toward him and accorded him the politeness always due an outsider.
« Has any one of you gentlemen ever thought that there’s not a cannon factory south of the Mason-Dixon Line?  Or how few iron foundries there are in the South?  Or woolen mills or cotton factories or tanneries?  Have you thought that we would not have a single warship and that the Yankee fleet could bottle up our harbors in a week, so that we could not sell our cotton abroad? But–of course–you gentlemen have thought of these things. »
« Why, he means the boys are a passel of fools! » thought Scarlett indignantly, the hot blood coming to her cheeks.
Evidently, she was not the only one to whom this idea occurred, for several of the boys were beginning to stick out their chins. John Wilkes casually but swiftly came back to his place beside the speaker, as if to impress on all present that this man was his guest and that, moreover, there were ladies present.
« The trouble with most of us Southerners, » continued Rhett Butler, « is that we either don’t travel enough or we don’t profit enough by our travels.  Now, of course, all you gentlemen are well traveled.  But what have you seen?  Europe and New York and Philadelphia and, of course, the ladies have been to Saratoga » (he bowed slightly to the group under the arbor).  « You’ve seen the hotels and the museums and the balls and the gambling houses.  And you’ve come home believing that there’s no place like the South.
As for me, I was Charleston born, but I have spent the last few years in the North. »  His white teeth showed in a grin, as though he realized that everyone present knew just why he no longer lived in Charleston, and cared not at all if they did know.  « I have seen many things that you all have not seen.  The thousands of immigrants who’d be glad to fight for the Yankees for food and a few dollars, the factories, the foundries, the shipyards, the iron and coal mines–all the things we haven’t got.  Why, all we have is cotton and slaves and arrogance.  They’d lick us in a month. »
For a tense moment, there was silence.  Rhett Butler removed a fine linen handkerchief from his coat pocket and idly flicked dust from his sleeve.  Then an ominous murmuring arose in the crowd and from under the arbor came a humming as unmistakable as that of a hive of newly disturbed bees.  Even while she felt the hot blood of wrath still in her cheeks, something in Scarlett’s practical mind prompted the thought that what this man said was right, and it sounded like common sense.  Why, she’d never even seen a factory, or known anyone who had seen a factory.  But, even if it were true, he was no gentleman to make such a statement–and at a party, too, where everyone was having a good time.
Stuart Tarleton, brows lowering, came forward with Brent close at his heels.  Of course, the Tarleton twins had nice manners and they wouldn’t make a scene at a barbecue, even though tremendously provoked.  Just the same, all the ladies felt pleasantly excited, for it was so seldom that they actually saw a scene or a quarrel. Usually they had to hear of it third-hand.
« Sir, » said Stuart heavily, « what do you mean? »
Rhett looked at him with polite but mocking eyes. « I mean, » he answered, « what Napoleon–perhaps you’ve heard of him?–remarked once, ‘God is on the side of the strongest battalion!' » and, turning to John Wilkes, he said with courtesy that was unfeigned:  « You promised to show me your library, sir. Would it be too great a favor to ask to see it now?  I fear I must go back to Jonesboro early this afternoon where a bit of business calls me. »
He swung about, facing the crowd, clicked his heels together and bowed like a dancing master, a bow that was graceful for so powerful a man, and as full of impertinence as a slap in the face. Then he walked across the lawn with John Wilkes, his black head in the air, and the sound of his discomforting laughter floated back to the group about the tables.
There was a startled silence and then the buzzing broke out again.

[…]

Ashley strolled over to where Scarlett and Charles sat, a thoughtful and amused smile on his face.
« Arrogant devil, isn’t he? » he observed, looking after Butler. « He looks like one of the Borgias. »
Scarlett thought quickly but could remember no family in the County or Atlanta or Savannah by that name.
« I don’t know them.  Is he kin to them?  Who are they? »
An odd look came over Charles’ face, incredulity and shame struggling with love.  Love triumphed as he realized that it was enough for a girl to be sweet and gentle and beautiful, without having an education to hamper her charms, and he made swift answer:  « The Borgias were Italians. »
« Oh, » said Scarlett, losing interest, « foreigners. »
She turned her prettiest smile on Ashley, but for some reason he was not looking at her.  He was looking at Charles, and there was understanding in his face and a little pity.

Les Sudistes ont bien essayé de casser le blocus, notamment avec la fameuse bataille du Monitor contre le Merrimack, les deux premiers cuirassés de l’histoire, mais sans succès, un match nul et les deux navires furent détruits la même année, en 1862, le Monitor dans une tempête, le Merrimack après un échouage.

Beaufort, en Caroline du Nord, sous le cap Hatteras, a été occupé par les Nordistes dès le début de la guerre, la ville a servi de quartier général pour l’organisation du blocus 

Beaufort aujourd’hui, mouillage très pratique, petite ville charmante.

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