TODAY’S PORTRAIT: Flowers of War and Peace

Who would have thought that this dreamy camellia would rouse thoughts of war and peace for me?

Camellia Pink

Her photo is only one among the many I snapped at the Spring Bulb Show at Mount Holyoke, and — I would have said — one of the least of them. A hundred flowers had more presence than this one, brighter color, more exotic form. But something about her kept my finger away from the delete button. The softness of the flower? its almost translucent quality? the gentle roundness of the petals?

Descended from Asian ancestors, the quiet, unassuming camellia has become a quintessential flower of the American South. It is the state flower of Alabama. It doesn’t get more Heart of the South than that! And what is more emblematic of the American South than the Civil War? Or the War Between the States, as they prefer to say down below the Mason-Dixon line.

People of my age, wherever in the US they lived, shared one formative experience about the South and the Civil War. The towering Civil War film epic, Gone With the Wind, based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Margaret Mitchell, first opened in 1939. It ran a staggering 238 minutes, and held viewers riveted every instant.  Although I would have seen it later on in my pre-adolescent years, and probably missed much of its adult meaning, I was already old enough to be profoundly moved by the love drama of its main characters.

Anyone who knows about it will immediately identify Scarlett O’Hara, that stunningly ineffable egoist, as its heroine. You’re certainly supposed to do so. All the publicity and hoopla belonged to Vivian Leigh as the predatory Scarlett:

Lawsy, Miss Scarlett!

But I’ve always had my own, perhaps more boring, more conservative preferences. My heroine was Melanie Hamilton Wilkes, friend and foil to Scarlett O’Hara. Melanie was played by a quiet, demure Olivia de Havilland.

Sweet Melanie

See, her dress even looks like a camellia! The intentional contrast is made clear in this still from the film:

PInk and Scarlet(t)

Here’s the gentle pink of the camellia contrasted with the glamorous red of the Scarlet(t) woman. In the same way, the forceful and dashing Rhett Butler of Clark Gable is meant to overshadow that consummate Southern gentleman Ashley Wilkes, portrayed by Leslie Howard. My mother, along with thousands of American women, sighed over Clark Gable. Me, true to form, I pined for Ashley.

So you see how many long ago emotions were stirred by the photo of the camellia, especially when I hunted through my archives for a flower that might represent Melanie’s predatory rival. And here’s what I found:

Prize-winning Cattleya

Showy, glamorous and expensive, this cattleya orchid took first place at the Amherst Orchid Society’s show a while back. My tastes haven’t really changed in all those intervening decades, though. To me, the prize winner is gaudy and vulgar and predatory, just like Scarlett O’Hara. Give me the camellia any day!


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14 Responses to TODAY’S PORTRAIT: Flowers of War and Peace

  1. mybrightlife says:

    Another one of those classics viewed as a child. Can’t wait to share it with my girls!


  2. Lucid Gypsy says:

    Wow, I’m surprised that it isn’t too warm down south for Camellias!


  3. Your segue into one of my all time favorite flicks is genius! I too chose Melanie over Scarlett, but, unlike you, Clark was the hottie-pot-totie in my eyes. Then there were those Tarlton twins. George Reeves being my ‘super’ fave. I remember watching that movie and being riveted even though, like you, I was too young to ‘get it’ all. I think it’s time to sit down and take it all in again.
    Your camellia is gorgeous. No deleting needed there! Great post. Thanks!


  4. such an enjoyable story to follow along. Aren’t we amazing human beings that a colour, a touch of softness, an image can stir so many feelings and memories.


  5. Pauline says:

    No wonder you and I get along so well. I remember reading that book for the first time (I read it from beginning to end twice) the summer I was 12. Constantly being nagged at for being naughty, I too, wanted to be like Melanie. She was the stronger of the two and far, far nicer. My mother and I would discuss the moral issues of the story, my father (ever the historian) and I the war aspects. (I am a descendent through him of General James Longstreet).

    And the morning after I saw the movie (on a Saturday night), a young man who so strongly resembled my schoolgirl image of what Ashely Wilkes should look like (NOT Leslie Howard!) strolled down the aisle past me at church and I nearly fainted. He was in school on Monday morning, a transfer student, and in my art class. I immediately developed an enormous crush on him. Then didn’t I feel more like Scarlet!

    Your choice of flowers rings true – a camellia and an orchid!


    • Touch2Touch says:

      You, like M. Mitchell, are a wizard storyteller, Pauline! How vividly you relate these memories, which I find fascinating!
      I guess Rhett Butler was nowhere for either of us! We have to get together to talk about this (and a myriad other things) soon, fingers crossed!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Mercy says:

    oh T2T, such a long time since i visited you, and what wonderful memories you have stirred up!! my first introduction to GWTW (as its often now abbreviated), was when i was well past my teens, and it was the book rather than the movie – though when i did see the movie i thought the casting was so perfect – having read and reread the book a couple of times by then i recognized most scenes begrudging the few that were new to the film version – dont remember those now.
    But unlike you and most others here Judy i had my sneaky sympathies and admiration for Scarlett – she had to do the dirty work of pulling the family together, scraping together something to eat from the unyielding earth, or using her wits or charms such as ithey were, to cajole lenders, or prospective suitors into giving her what her family needed – though she seemed selfish and single- minded it was just so she could preserve Tara and the old order even as she was the first to make the needed shifts demanded by the new order… Part of my reasons were deeply personal with my own family going through a wrenching change of similar magnitude and while i envied Melanie her warmth and generosity of spirit (she too could be made of steel if you remember her handling of the confederate soldier who’d wandered by..), it was Scarlett who carried them through with grit and just plain perseverence.


    • Touch2Touch says:

      Doubly delightful to have you here visiting once again, Mercy, and to have your perspective on Scarlett, her motives and her mainsprings. Who could forget her ingenious use of the green curtains? The radishes? And her vow never to be hungry again? Certainly Scarlett is a survivor, and I always have respect for survivors, not being sure that I would be able to manage it myself.
      Happy to have brought back good memories! Best wishes to Jey and to the — no longer boys! — the young men of your family.


  7. Patti Kuche says:

    I can almost hear the theme music swelling up near yonder! I also have fond memories of greedy reading through the book when I was younger, somehow full of admiration for Scarlett and her tenacity for survival. Perhaps because I never really knew anyone like her in my tiny world where the women were always sacrificing themselves to the needs of weak men I found the devotion to Ashley, and Ashley himself, highly irritating. I feel so bad now . . . but I adore your camellia! 🙂


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