she imagines the trees singing "Good-by, Allison! Good-by Allison!"--
and she is ready to wish them a good-by in return. Finally, running
to David, she runs not to a paternal prince, but to a man who, like
herself, stands at the very beginning of a writing career- a career of
active production rather than passive consumption. Thus, we might
imagine these two, not in Peyton Place, but in New York, not "happily
ever after," but struggling, struggling to banish fantasies imposed by
the past so as to construct realities for the future.
Grace Metalious, Peyton Place ( New York: Dell, 1956), p. 185. All further
page citations from Peyton Place are from this edition and will be included
within parentheses in my text.
Figures compiled by Alice Payne Hackett and
James Henry Burke in Eighty Years of Bestsellers ( New York: R. R. Bowker Co., 1977) place Metalious's novel tenth on a combined (hardcover and paperback) listing of all
bestsellers in America between 1895 and 1975. Over 10,600,000 copies have
been sold (p. 10).
The ambition of a twentieth-century housewife, "to write and be a celebrity," differs considerably from that of the nineteenth-century "mad scribbling woman." The latter, almost without exception, wrote to alleviate pressing
financial needs; if she did not turn out so many pages a week, her family did
not eat. As Nina Baym, in Woman's Fiction: A Guide to Novels by and about
Women in America 1820-1870 ( Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1978), notes:
the nineteenth-century woman saw "authorship as a profession rather than
a calling, as work and not art" (p. 32).
For a critical, rather than novelistic, analysis of fairy tales' pernicious
presentation of woman's estate, see Karen E. Rowe "Feminism and Fairy
Tales," in Women's Studies 6 ( 1969), pp. 237-57. Two sentences from Rowe's
final paragraph must serve as brief summary here: "Whether expressed in
pornographic, domestic, and gothic fictions or enacted in the daily relations
of men and women, fairy tale visions of romance . . . continue to perpetuate
cultural ideals which subordinate women. As a major form of communal or
'folk' lore, they preserve rather than challenge the patriarchy" (p. 253).
See Tania Modleski "The Disappearing Act: A Study of Harlequin Romances," Signs 5 ( 1980), p. 435, for a description of the effect of those
Harlequin romance commercials that show "a middle-aged woman lying on
her bed holding a Harlequin novel and preparing to begin what she calls her
'disappearing act.' "