The Sally Draper Reading List

A friend sent me today’s awesomeness (in the form of a link to the New York Public Library’s “Sally Draper Reading List.”).

I wasn’t able to post on the site (apparently I am spam, which makes me feel sad and forces me to question my existence), but here’s what I tried to add:

I love this!

In terms of romance novels, I echo a lot of Joanne’s titles (especially Cavanna’s Going on Sixteen and Daly’s Seventeenth Summer). 1955 Sally might also have read Mary Stolz’s To Tell Your Love and The Sea Gulls Woke Me, Anne Emery’s Senior Year, Rosamond Du Jardin’s Wait for Marcy, and Amelia Walden’s Three Loves Has Sandy.

Good times…!

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"Well, darling, you and your gold lame"


I’m back to thinking about one of my favourite topics in relation to teen girl romance novels: clothing.

I’ve noticed that many of these novels employ daughters as the family dress-up dolls. In Amelia Elizabeth Walden’s A Boy to Remember, Karin moves to live with her grandparents and, in supposed celebration, her grandfather buys her a whole new wardrobe, purchasing

with a lavish hand that first amazed, then startled her. Everything she tried on, that was becoming and fit well, he wanted to buy for her. In less time than most people would take to select one good dress, he had bought her a navy broadcloth suit and a heathery tweed, a half dozen school dresses in the finest woolens Karin had ever touched, four skirts with cashmere sweaters to match, shoes, handbags, gloves, stockings. (27)

(Seriously: skirts with cashmere sweaters to match? I live in the wrong decade… and possess the wrong socioeconomic status!)

While Karen’s grandmother tells her that “it’s a long time since we’ve had someone young to fuss over” (27), it’s a salesclerk who reveals another intention behind the wardrobe:

Then, as the head of the department stood by, smiling at Karin and holding her grandfather’s check in her hands, she said a disturbing thing to Karin.
“You look charming in it, Miss Berglund. You’re fortunate to be the granddaughter of Mr. Berglund.” (28)

Karin realizes that her new clothing is not simply for her; she is also part of a show intended to demonstrate her grandfather’s status in the community.

Just as Karin’s wardrobe is as much for her grandfather as it is for her, so too Dody Jenks’ election as Snow Queen in Mary Stolz’s Pray Love, Remember is, for her mother, as much her own election as it is Dody’s. While Dody’s various family members congratulate her, Mrs. Jenks gloats “‘And think what Mrs. Mann and Mrs. Gates will say….Oh my, wouldn’t I just like to see their faces— ’” (114). Dody’s election is a conquest not only for Dody, but for Mrs. Jenks herself, who feels as if

she’d been, too often, overlooked by Mrs. Mann and Mrs. Gates when they’d passed on the street or met in the school at meetings and things. Not snubbed, she realized dully, but unrecognized. This was heart’s ease, this triumph of Dody’s…. Bosom lifting, Mrs. Jenks said to them, “Oh yes, we’re definitely moving a step up in this town’s society, let me tell you—” (114-115).

Dody’s Snow Queen dress becomes a family affair. The family cannot afford a new dress, but Dody’s older sister-in-law, Joyce, purchases material and makes one for her, while “in an access of proud confusion… Mr. Jenks contributed money for a cheap but dazzling pair of rhinestone earrings” (118). The family’s collective pride in Dody is thus demonstrated not in what she has done, but, on the night of the Winter Ball, in how she looks:

when she went down and stood in the living room door, her assembled family looked up in stunned silence. Then Larry, scratching his head, said hoarsely, “Cripes!” Marjorie said over and over, “She’s beautiful. She’s the most beautiful thing I ever saw.” Mr. Jenks blew his nose, and Mrs. Jenks put her hands to her face and sobbed. (118)

Like Karin, Dody is not only a member of the family, but also the emblem of that family’s social status within their community.

(Random aside: I LOVE Marjorie’s response. It’s so perfectly Marjorie. I always picture her crying after that statement, like Daisy staring at Gatsby’s shirts.)

As emblems, however, these girls are not without their own consumer agency. Although female protagonists like Dody and Karin fulfill the role of family status symbol, they are still in charge of the actual clothing that is purchased/made for them. Joyce may provide the idea and labour for Dody’s dress, but it is still Dody who designs it. Similarly, although Mindy’s shop-owner cousin Alix in Betty Cavanna’s The Country Cousin (1967) must slowly teach Mindy how to emulate the more sophisticated styles of Philadelphia girls, by the end of the novel it is Mindy whose hand-made dress design is purchased by a large New York clothing manufacturer, and whose future at Parsons School of Design consecrates her status as taste-maker.

There’s much more work to be done here, of course, particularly in regard to this taste-maker agency/ status symbol lack of agency dichotomy happening. For now, however, I’ll admit that the main reason I used to love these books –okay, the main reason I still love these books –is because you can’t get any better than their descriptions of clothes. I’ll finish this little post with my all-time favourite description, from Mary Stolz’s The Sea Gulls Woke Me:

(scene: the high school dance. Jean, having fled her hideous date, is now hiding out in a bathroom stall. The popular girls have entered the washroom).

“Did you see that Jean whatsis here with whoosis Coyne?”
Did I. I must get the recipe for that dress.”
Jean shuddered. This was a classic predicament, but she couldn’t recall the classic reaction.
“Well, darling, you and your gold lame. What I say is, after gold lame, what is there?”
“There’s always the platinum-studded cardigan.”

Gold lame? Platinum-studded cardigan? Hiding out in the bathroom? LOVE IT!

Crypto-Lesbionic


So yesterday, while I was waiting for someone to finish working on the only microfilm machine that was still working in the library (please, someone, give that library money!), I decided to catch up on Read Roger, a feisty blog written by Roger Sutton, editor of the Horn Book.

[I must pause here to announce bias: Roger Sutton is one of those literary geniuses who knows EVERYTHING about both children’s/young adult literature AND about the people who created it. I suspect I’m developing a total academic crush on the man.]

Anyway, Sutton had posted a link to the announcement of the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award. See here

What really intrigued me was his commment:

That said, it’s nice to see Walden get some recognition again–back in the 50’s-60’s she wrote several crypto-lesbionic sports novels notable for their fearless female main characters and basketball play-by-plays as exciting as anything penned by the boys.

Wait–“crypto-lesbionic?” So I’m not the only one who noticed this?

The comments section was even more interesting. There was an anonymous poster who seemed a little upset about Sutton’s statement. Sutton replied:

What I meant was that gay kids could find themselves in her books, that the intense alliances between her female characters could, should one so desire, be construed as having romantic overtones.

And suddenly, just like that, Roger Sutton opened up a whole new path of thought for me.

In Amelia Elizabeth Walden’s and Janet Lambert’s books in particular, I’ve noticed both possibly homosocial and possibly homosexual relationships, but I’ve been hesitant to define them as one or the other. They often seem to revolve around a kind of “girl crush”, particularly between a protagonist and her teacher. Yet there are some instances in which, were these books written today, I would simply assume a lesbian relationship between the characters.

Here’s an example from Janet Lambert’s Candy Cane:

Anne was golden-brown and black. Black hair like Barton’s, brown eyes that danced, and a smile—Candy felt faint from joy because, oh miracle, Anne’s smile was for her. Anne had come to see her….Candy clasped her hands around her thin little knees and sat looking at Anne like a thirsty flower in a warm spring rain.

Hmmm…

And these ambiguous relationships can also be found in secondary, adult characters. In Amelia Elizabeth Walden’s Three Loves Has Sandy, for example, Fred, an older man and the voice of wisdom and authority in the novel, tells the protagonist, Sandy, about his past relationship with a famous sculptor named Johansson:

“I lived with Johansson in his studio, worked with him, met the brilliant and famous people who came to see him. I learned a great deal from him. I could have learned a lot more….One day I quarreled with Johansson. It wasn’t a big quarrel. It wasn’t even about anything important. He blamed me for something I hadn’t done. I was terribly proud and very stubborn. So I just walked out on him…. I walked out on everything that was important to me. I lost it all because I was too proud to humble myself and keep it.”

Fred’s story could simply be about a quarrel with his mentor, but its context within the novel makes it even more interesting. Fred tells this story to Sandy after she quarrels with her soon-to-be boyfriend, Bill.

Double hmmm…

But what to do with it? What to do with it? Maybe the relationships are homosocial. Maybe they’re homosexual. Do those definitions matter? How do I fit them into the historical context of the 1940s/50s? Are they part of those silences I was talking about in my last post?

I keep thinking more and more about Sutton’s comment, particularly his idea that the relationships could have romantic overtones “should one so desire.” Perhaps Walden and Lambert (and the other female junior novel writers) allowed girls to be able to ponder different types of relationships within these overtly heterosexual romance novels? If so, were they aware of these alternative readings?

Triple hmmm… I’m only at the very, very beginning of examining this idea. Lots more to think about…

Finding my seat in the malt shop…


For the last couple of years I’ve been working on a project that analyzes American teen girl romance novels of the post-war and Cold War period (think novels by Mary Stolz, Betty Cavanna, Anne Emery, Rosamond du Jardin, Janet Lambert, and Amelia Elizabeth Walden, among others). I am in love with these books. Like: totally, butt-crazy in love. And so it’s been interesting to finally sit down and analyze them (using a New Historicist methodology, predominantly), and to attempt to understand exactly how these novels fit into their larger cultural milieu.

Of the few scholars who really examine these texts, most agree with Anne Scott MacLeod (who is, by the way, seriously awesome) that these are texts that are detached from their historical surroundings, and that demonstrate “with particular clarity the ambiguity of children’s literature as cultural documentation” (American Childhood 50). She notes that these novels are focused on domesticity and happy endings, not the controversial issues (the Cold War, the nuclear bomb, the Civil Rights movement, McCarthyism, among so many others) that we usually associate with their period of publication. The result of this focus is that

“even in a politically quiescent atmosphere, and even for a literature traditionally more concerned with individual experience than with social issues, postwar writing for teens was remarkable for its silences and was exceptionally unrevealing about the anxieties of its time” (50).

Okay, yes. Right. I agree that female junior novels (my name for these books) seem to be unrevealing, but I would also argue that their silences demonstrate a vital awareness of the culture in which they were produced. Silence, as absence, is not necessarily synonymous with “lacking in content.”

So how do I make the silence heard? Or, to switch to an easier metaphor, how do I make the invisible, visible?

I think one of the answers may be hidden in the trivialities.

Clothing, boys, the “right” seat in the malt shop –these elements come together to form levels of dominance within the adolescent social hierarchy. For the next however long, I will analyze these trivialities here, in this blog, to determine how they create a “female dominant society.” I will also attempt to examine how that society is paralleled by the women who produced and distributed these texts, whose middlebrow status and “feminine control” created a safe haven for leftist authors, editors, librarians, and educators during the Cold War.

And I will ask you, dear-readers-who-do-not-yet-exist (and quite possibly never will), to weigh in with any of your own insights/research/random I love Mary Stolzs.

Then, if all goes well, we will have contributed just that little bit to making the world more aware of these women authors, editors, librarians, critics, booksellers, and teachers who “insist on mattering.”