Monday, October 05, 2009


Marjorie Morningstar, Herman Wouk, Doubleday & Company Inc, 1955, 584 pp

I remember one summer day when I was a young teen, a movie by this name came on afternoon TV. My mother, passing through the family room, hurriedly turned it off and forbade me to watch it. In her eyes, it was too advanced in concept (translation: sex) for a girl my age. She didn't know, of course, that I was reading Lady Chatterley's Lover or Tropic of Cancer at babysitting jobs. In the long view, none of these books did much to prepare me for womanhood, but at 13, I was just trying to learn about sex.

Marjorie Morningstar was the #1 bestseller in 1955. When I finally read it in 1992, after having read Wouk's Youngblood Hawke, I found out what I had missed over thirty years earlier. It starts out great. Marjorie is a Jewish girl with stars in her eyes. She is all set to flaunt everything her mother tried to teach her and become an actress. She falls for Noel Airman, director of plays, a rebel against Judaism and society and a comet burning out. He is in fact another version of Youngblood Hawke, a novelist who meets a tragic end.

After much emotional waffling, reminiscent of Bella in Twilight; after realizing that being a "bad girl" means you have to go to bed with the guy, Marjorie turns tail and settles for marriage, security and all the rest, just as Noel had predicted. (I never finished the Twilight Series and don't know what Bella decided.) I'm not sure what Wouk was up to here. Youngblood Hawke burned out from a relentless pursuit of art and fame, as is predicted for Noel. It's a depressing end, but in the 1950s and today, that is appropriate for a man. Are women not allowed to burn out? Can they not be comets?

Well, the double standard was the official line in the 1950s. Marjorie Morningstar was an enlightening read. Free love, feminism, and all the rest was just a decade away in 1955. And at least Wouk posed the questions.

(Marjorie Morningstar and Youngblood Hawke are both available in paperback by special order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

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