Yesterday's Stories: Popular Women's Novels of the Twenties and Thirties

Yesterday's Stories: Popular Women's Novels of the Twenties and Thirties

Yesterday's Stories: Popular Women's Novels of the Twenties and Thirties

Yesterday's Stories: Popular Women's Novels of the Twenties and Thirties

Synopsis

While scholars have begun to study popular women's novels of the 19th century, there has been relatively little attention paid to popular women's fiction of the early 20th century. This is the first study to focus on popular fiction written by, for, and about women in the period between the two world wars. The author examines such well-known best sellers as Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind, Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca and Pearl S. Buck's The Good Earth, as well as dozens of other popular novels that have been all but forgotten today, and seeks to uncover the values and attitudes widely held by middle-class women of the era by examining the basic beliefs affirmed in the books they read.

Excerpt

Popular taste is fleeting, as witnessed by contemporary reception of women's novels once in demand in America. Today, few have read, or even heard of, such best-selling novels of the 1920s and 1930s as Kathleen Norris Harriet and the Piper (1920), Gertrude Atherton Black Oxen (1923),Vina Delmar Bad Girl (1928),Gladys Hasty Carroll As the Earth Turns (1933), or Caroline Miller Lamb in His Bosom (1933). Yet, tens of thousands once read these books, and public libraries stocked multiple copies of these novels in order to satisfy patron demand. Despite--or, perhaps, because of--the fact that few of these books continued to engage readers past the decade of their publication, popular novels written by women for a predominately female audience are of particular value to the cultural historian. "The time-bound nature of the best seller," Erik Lofroth observes in A World Made Safe: Values and American Best Sellers, 1895-1920 (1983), "is of course precisely what makes it a suitable medium for an exploration of values that are current in a specific era." (15)

In this book I shall examine common attitudes and perceptions held by and about middle-class women in the Twenties and Thirties by analyzing the novels such women read most frequently. the interval between the two World Wars is a period of particular interest to those concerned with examining women's past perceptions and sensibility. During this time, middle-class women's lives were touched--and sometimes greatly altered--by a number of interconnecting changes in national social patterns which were precipitated by, and, in turn, precipitated, changes in women's values and attitudes. While few middle-class women of the day left a written record of the ways in which these trends impacted upon their own lives or of the degree to which their self-concept and their expectation of . . .

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