Insatiable Appetites: Twentieth-Century American Women's Bestsellers

By Madonne M. Miner | Go to book overview

nections between Mitchell's audience and her Civil War characters. For example, Morton cites parallels between Scarlett O'Hara's fate and "that of millions of American women during the Depression, for whom scrimping and cutting corners became a way of life.'' 33 Similarly, we might note the ways in which Peyton Place, with its limited cast of characters all passionately engaged in interpersonal conflicts, accords with American middle-class society of the 1950's, which had withdrawn its attention from large landscapes to focus instead on a smaller family unit. Or again, we might look to Scruples, published in 1978, for its depiction of tensions peculiar to a late-twentieth-century audience of consumers caught in a system that demands ever more consumption.

In the pages which follow, however, I am less interested in differences from novel to novel and more interested in similarities. Thus, rather than pursuing a project along the lines of Morton's, I sacrifice consideration of context and change in favor of consideration of text and stability. Fifty-two years and a tremendous amount of history separate Gone with the Wind from Scruples, but these bestsellers, as well as Forever Amber, Peyton Place, and Valley of the Dolls, bear a marked resemblance to one another. The repeated features exceed simple chance; they testify, instead, to a familial linkage, a matrilineal tradition.


Notes
1.
C. E. Frazer Clark Jr., ed., Letters of Hawthorne to William D. Ticknor ( New York: NCR Microcard Editions, 1972), p. 75. Quoted in Susan Geary, "The Domestic Novel as a Commercial Commodity: Making a Best Seller in the 1850's," Bibliographical Society of America Papers 70 ( July 1976), p. 365.
2.
James D. Hart, The Popular Book: A History of America's Literary Taste ( Berkeley: University of California Press, 1961), p. 93.
3.
Hart, p. 97.
4.
See especially the comments of Henry Nash Smith in Democracy and the Novel ( New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), pp. 1-15.
5.
Smith notes that during the thirty years preceding the Civil War,

masculine and aristocratic values were supplanted by the leveling influences exerted by rapid increases in population and wealth, by the spread of free public schools, by the evangelical movements, and especially by the cultural influence of women, who for the first time were gaining enough leisure to have time to read, and enough education to enjoy and produce books. (P. 8)

-11-

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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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