For the last decade feminist literary critics have convincingly argued that bestselling novels from Gone with the Wind (1936) and Forever Amber (1944) to The Valley of the Dolls (1966) and The Flame and the Flower (1972) reveal the psychic needs of twentieth-century middle-class American women, and that these needs have as much to do with desire for the emotional sustenance they once received from their mothers as with desire for heterosexual romance. However, as more and more women have moved from the private to the public workplace, their psychic needs have changed somewhat. Based on the American popularity of such bestselling contemporary novelists as Britain’s Rosamunde Pilcher, Ireland’s Maeve Binchy and America’s Anne Rivers Siddons, I would argue that in the 1980s and 1990s the needs of middle-class American working women have as much to do with the desire for a restorative place as for a nurturing relationship with mother or lover. These readers long for a serene, comfortable and beautiful retreat from their increasingly busy and stressful lives. Readers talk of ‘dwelling’ in novels by these authors and of taking trips to the places depicted in them. Perhaps not since before the American Civil War has the domestic novel as a genre been so popular with so many American women readers. Although such American writers as Sarah Orne Jewett, Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, Willa Cather and Eudora Welty have periodically revived the domestic novel since then, not until such contemporary novelists as Pilcher and Siddons completely refurbished the genre has it found such a large audience of American readers.

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Copyright © 1999 Routledge.

The definitive version is available at:

DOI: 10.1080/09574049908578403

Full Citation:

Jones, Suzanne W. "The Shell Seekers and Working Women Readers’ Search for Serenity." Women: A Cultural Review 10, no. 3 (1999): 327-40. doi:10.1080/09574049908578403.