Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Friday, July 11, 2008

Forever Amber and other red hot historical reads

I noticed quite a bit of buzz lately about Sourcebooks putting out a good number of reprints of Georgette Heyer titles,with some lovely covers that tempt even an overloaded reader like me to scoop some of those stories. I've never had the pleasure of reading Heyer but it did get me to thinking about Forever Amber,which I may give a reread this summer.

The first copy of Forever Amber that I owned was a mass market paperback with the front cover neatly torn off(this was before my book selling days,so I didn't recognize the numerous salvaged from a book store's trash copies of books that popped up at a dozen yard sales in my neighborhood at the time)and while I throughly enjoyed the story,I did long for a proper edition of the adventures of Amber St. Clare(is that a great name for a historical heroine or what?). A couple of years ago,I was able to get myself a nice British reissue(which was also released in the US)with an introduction by Barbara Taylor Bradford.

Forever Amber may seem to be pretty tame now,but it was the literary Basic Instinct of it's day. The book was banned in several states when it first came out in 1944 and condemned by religious groups for discussing such topics as illegitimate pregnancy,abortion and "women undressing in front of men"(how did they think those ladies got pregnant in the first place,thru osmosis?). That didn't stop the sales of the book,Forever Amber was one of the biggest bestsellers of the 1940s.

Hollywood made a film version of it that was released in 1947 but it's a very watered down depiction of the book,with numerous changes to make Amber look more a nice girl as appeasement to straight laced folks in the audience.

One of the reasons that I liked Amber St. Clare so much is that she reminded me a lot of Scarlett O'Hara;both of them do have much in common. They are women who are torn between fitting into the cultural cookie cutter place that society insists upon them and yet wind up defying all of those social conventions when it suits them.

Both of them fall in love with unavailable men(for Amber,it's more of an emotional abandonment combined with social snobbery while Scarlett's in full pursuit of a married man)and soundly reject those who can really return their love.

Scarlett and Amber also have to flee from fires(Amber,The Great Fire of London,Scarlett,the burning of Atlanta)with the help of their men of the moment. Another major connection between the ladies is their unflagging selfishness and willingness to go to any means to achieve their goals in life. You could debate which one is worse and the circumstances that each one had to deal with(Restoration England,The American Civil War)but both of these gals have blood on their hands and would need a good defense lawyer if caught.

Scarlett would have a better chance of getting off,due to being able to declare self defense, but Amber's street savvy might lead her to finding a way out of such a mess.

The likability factor for both of them is pretty sketchy; after my second reading of GWTW,I couldn't help but think that Scarlett was a total bitch. A third reading helped me to gain a little more perspective and appreciate that some of her over the top attitude was necessary to survive the aftermath of the war and the changing new world around her. Amber was a hardy little survivor,too,but not so much concerned with being perceived as a "great lady" like Scarlett was,which may have given her a few less complexes and a sturdier backbone.

I don't know if any of Heyer's heroines are as spicy as Amber and Scarlett(her books have been recommended as appropriate for Jane Austen fans) but there is a huge novel set during the battle of Waterloo that looks enticing,An Infamous Army. The leading lady here is a widow,Lady Barbara Childe,who has flung off the traditions of mourning and has become quite the party girl,since she never loved her arranged marriage husband in the first place.

A member of the Duke of Wellington's staff falls madly in love with her and impulsively asks her to marry him,even tho he's well aware of her bad reputation. Lady Barbara says yes(mainly because she finds his attentions amusing)to his proposal but still keeps up her wild ways. Sounds like Amber and Scarlett would fit right with Lady Barbara to me. Now,if they could all team up with one more deviously like minded gal(Mary Crawford from Mansfield Park,perhaps?),I bet they would give those Sex and the City chicks a real run for their money.

Well,whether I get my hands on An Infamous Army or plunge like a low cut neckline into Forever Amber,one thing is for certain: when it comes to gorgeous guilty pleasure reads,the British are the best. I know that the author of Forever Amber was an American but you wouldn't know it from reading that book,folks. Maybe it's just my own personal preference but there's just a special spark that English writers have for certain genres that make them much more fun. I don't think I'm alone in this,I really don't:

1 comment:

Ladytink_534 said...

I've been hearing good things about Georgette Heyer lately but I'm ashamed to admit that I had never even heard of her until all the buzz started.

I see House!