OF THE BABY NAME ELLEN
Ellen O’Hara is the mother of Scarlett O’Hara in Margaret Mitchell’s classic 1936 novel, Gone With the Wind, made into the equally successful 1939 movie of the same name (in which the character is played by the serene Barbara O’Neill). Ellen is an aristocratic Southern girl of French descent who, thwarted in her desire to marry her true love, devotes herself to the earthy Gerald O’Hara and the running of the plantation called Tara. She is almost impossibly good and dutiful, and presents a difficult model for her daughter to live up to. At the same time, however, Ellen provides the steadfast moral support for the family that almost immediately falls apart after her death. Scarlett, by dint of her formidable tenacity, turns their fortunes around, albeit not quite in the fashion of which Ellen would have approved. Nonetheless, it would appear to be Ellen’s influence that allows Scarlett to keep going, no matter the cost.
Countess Ellen Olenska is the memorable character in Edith Wharton’s Pulitzer Prize winning 1920 novel, The Age of Innocence who poses a threat to the marriage plans of two young members of upper class society in New York City of the 1870s. Ellen is the older, sophisticated and worldly cousin of May Welland, who is engaged to Newland Archer. Ellen has just returned from Europe alone, and plans to divorce her husband, a Polish count who has been cruel and unfaithful. Divorce in these circles at this time is unthinkable, and Ellen’s family enlists Mr. Archer, an attorney, to try and talk her out of it. In the process, he comes to appreciate her independence and to see how inequitable are the social restraints under which he has been raised. Fighting against the powerful attraction he has for Ellen, Archer convinces May to marry sooner than planned. Ellen, likewise in love and realizing its futility, nobly rises to the occasion. She agrees not to divorce her husband, she remains in America, and she distances herself from the young couple. Ultimately, upon learning of May’s pregnancy, she returns to Europe just as Archer is poised to leave May for her. Society’s strictures triumph, although, seeing Michelle Pfeiffer in the 1993 movie by Martin Scorsese makes us wonder where Daniel Day-Lewis found the fortitude.