I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
Wow, this is a door-stop of a book and apparently when the publisher accepted it for publication, they cut it down to one fifth of its original size. I can’t imagine having to wade through even more pages to get to the conclusion, so I thank the editors profusely!
It’s difficult, from our 21st century perspective, to see what the fuss was about in the 1940s. This is one of the novels that began the path that led us to 50 Shades of Grey. It caused a stir for all the sex (which is not graphic at all) and for the sexual manoeuvring of the main character, Amber St. Claire. I suspect some of the fury was about the depiction of a woman who (gasp) enjoyed sex and had some ambition to rise in her society. Maybe the female ambition was even more objectionable than the frank discussion of sex, who knows?
I was reminded of some other novels that I enjoyed in the past, namely the Angelique series by Anne Golon (under the pseudonym Sergeanne Golon in the 1950s). Angelique is a French adventuress, in much the same vein as Amber. Instead of one huge novel, Golon published about 10 books, each detailing its own swatch of history. I blush to confess that I learned a lot of French history from these books--when other university students complimented me on my knowledge, I did not admit that I learned it from somewhat erotic novels!
Also brought to mind was Victoria Holt’s book My Enemy the Queen, published in 1978 and set in the court of Elizabeth I of England. It was the sexual rivalry of its main character Lettice with Queen Elizabeth that reminded me strongly of Forever Amber.
I was frustrated by several personal beliefs of Amber’s, namely that sexuality was the be-all and end-all of life, that conspicuous consumption was THE way to go, and that everyone thought about life the way she did (and if they didn’t, then they should).
I think that we 21st century women can view Amber, et al., as markers of how far we have come—to a place where women are actually considered to be persons, i.e. we can vote, we can choose who we marry or if we marry, we can support ourselves—at least here in the Western world, we are no longer completely dependent on men to defend and support us and we have more autonomy than ever before. I think my biggest annoyances in reading Forever Amber were the limitations that Amber put on herself. She keeps saying that she won’t remarry—until a man shows up who is richer or of higher station than herself, and then she just can’t seem to resist the urge to jump into matrimony again. Plus, being an introvert myself, I couldn’t empathize with the constant drive to be at court, to be involved in all the back stabbing and plotting that went on there.
Incidentally, I believe I have added a new word to my vocabulary—I can hardly wait until I encounter someone who I can call a “varlet.” I think it will be highly satisfying.