Insatiable Appetites: Twentieth-Century American Women's Bestsellers

By Madonne M. Miner | Go to book overview

Introduction: "Guaranteed to Please the Female Reader"

Of course it all began with my mother. . . . My love for her and my hate for her are so bafflingly intertwined that I can hardly see her. I never know who she is. She is me and I am she and we are all together. The umbilical cord which connects us has never been cut so it has sickened and rotted and turned black. The very intensity of our need has made us denounce each other. We want to eat each other up.

-- Erica Jong, Fear of Flying

On January 9, 1855, Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote a now-famous letter of complaint to his publisher, William D. Ticknor. According to the novelist, his works could not hope for success in the marketplace, since "America is now wholly given over to a d-- d mob of scribbling women." 1 Recent scholarship not only corroborates Hawthorne's contention that women were muscling into the marketplace, but also provides us with a more complete account of this mob. In Women's Fiction: A Guide to Novels by and about Women in America, 1820-1870, for example, Nina Baym describes many of the white middle-class women who produced novels which sold in unprecedented numbers. Of course, description of the scribbling women provides us only with names of the ringleaders. Behind these women are the real mobsters: readers able to affect the marketplace by a show of their purchasing power. Although it is now impossible to procure precise demographic documentation of the audience which purchased seventy thousand copies of Fern Leaves from Fanny's Portfolio2 or 2 million copies of novels by Mary Jane Holmes, 3 the amazing escalation of sales figures during the mid-nineteenth century leads literary historians to assume the presence of a new

-3-

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Insatiable Appetites: Twentieth-Century American Women's Bestsellers
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Recent Titles in Contributions in Women's Studies ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction: "Guaranteed to Please the Female Reader" 3
  • Notes 11
  • 1 - Gone with the Wind: And the Cupboard Was Bare"" 14
  • Notes 32
  • 2 - Forever Amber: Swollen Up like a Stuffed Toad"" 35
  • Notes 55
  • 3 - Peyton Place: The Uses--And Abuses--Of Enchantment"" 58
  • Notes 74
  • 4 - Valley of the Dolls: Wow! What an Orgy!"" 78
  • Notes 98
  • 5 - Scruples: It's as Addictive as Chocolate"" 101
  • Notes 123
  • Conclusion 126
  • Notes 141
  • Bibliography 143
  • Index 153
  • About the Author 159
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