Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Women's Pulp Fiction: Now we KNOW where chicklit comes from

Have you ever read the Best of Everything? Well, you should. It’s about promise and hope and career girls who smoke cigarettes and drink coffee out of jars and hang out with dashing men.

It’s also scandalous for its time: with abortion and affairs and women abstaining ( or not ) from sex and talking way too much about all of it.

It features a publishing company at the end of the 1950s and a girl who is driven to become an editor and often sacrifices relationship for career.

A career? For a woman? In the 1950s? As fast as you can say TV Dinners, Jello and Spam, every preconceived notion you had about women of this era is stripped by the author to reveal a woman’s work world: with the same gossip, double standards and salary issues many young women face today.

It was made into a film, by the way, with Joan Crawford and Hope Lange and Stephen Boyd ( did I mention Stephen Boyd?) and Louis Jourdan ( but I think I need to mention Stephen Boyd again).

My friend Martha loaned me Skyscraper by Faith Baldwin ( a little pulp gem she had discovered at BMV here in Toronto) to take with me on a trip to New Orleans. I read it on the plane and then by the hotel pool.

Basically, the novel, as in the Jaffe story, features a young career driven woman. This time the scene is New York in the 1930s and the depression is keeping many from flourishing work. While our heroine dreams of climbing the company ladder, she is also severely loyal to her fiancé. Problem is, if she marries, she is no longer employed. During the depression years, jobs were given to those who didn’t have a support system: to marry meant a woman no longer “needed” to work and thus ambition was replaced by a docile domestic realm of motherhood and servitude.

What this incredibly cheesy ( at least to our standards) melodrama does is prove a very pertinent and lasting point: that women often feel they must choose one or the other: family --- or career. Though written and published near 80 years ago, this novel is surprisingly still relevant. Sure, the toned language, the hair rollers, the sweet dates and dutch treats and “wild” girls have been replaced by all of the mumbo jumbo that revolves around our 21st Century life--- but I don’t feel that the circumstances that plague said career girl are that different. She feels judged for choosing ambition over love and judged for feeling attraction to a man who doesn’t fit into the cookie cutter social status she is a result of .

These are two very interesting “chicklits” of yesterday which surprisingly feature the same ingredients as our modern fare of the same ilk: clothes, drinks out with boys, talks of sex and illicit acts, an obsession with shoes, double standards in the workplace and a wistful yearning for love and self-fulfillment at the same time. Sophie Kinsella this ain’t--- but you can see where she is coming from….

There are a few other titles in the same publication series as Skyscraper, under the umbrella Femmes Fatales: Women Write Pulp). Check out some of their other offerings, including the source material for the popular noir film, Laura.


Unknown said...

Oooohhh...The Best of Everything...I haven't seen that movie in years! But now that you've reminded me Stephen Boyd is in it, I need to remedy that asap. And I've never read the book which is apparently a great oversight on my part.

Rachel said...

it is so very worth reading