Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann
published 1966 section set in 1945
***See important note below about this picture ***
[Anne meets Jennifer for the first time, in a night club.]
Anne’s attention had also been drawn to Jennifer North, who was now surrounded by photographers. The girl was undeniably beautiful. She was tall, with a spectacular figure. Her white dress, shimmering with crystal beads, was cut low enough to prove the authenticity of her remarkable cleavage. Her long hair was almost white in its blondeness. But it was her face that held Anne’s attention, a face so naturally beautiful that it came a startling contrast to the theatrical beauty of her hair and figure… It was an innocent face, a face that looked at everything with breathless excitement and trusting enthusiasm, seeming unaware of the commotion the body was causing…
Jennifer smiled warmly at Anne. ‘Isn’t it murder? Every time I move, at least a hundred beads pop off this dress.’
Anne searched for an answer, but she could only manage a frozen smile.
***IMPORTANT NOTE: See this entry for better pictures to illustrate this extract, and an explanation of the blog's failure in this instance***
observations: Anne is put out, because Jennifer’s escort is the annoying Lyon, the man whom Anne will spend most of the book pointlessly in love with. But luckily Jennifer has her sights set on someone else, and she and Anne will become friends. Neely is the third of the trio of heroines. They never actually all three share an apartment, but it feels as if they do. They share clothes, give each other advice, and take drugs – the ‘dolls’ of the title. Clothes feature a lot, but usually only in vague descriptions – Jennifer has mountains of clothes which get passed on to Anne. There is a splendid bit where Neely gets a new dress to start work on a Broadway show, and Anne tells her ‘Neely, people don’t wear purple taffeta to work.’ Neely says: ‘You don’t, but I want to stand out at rehearsal.’ But on the whole the clothes are background, never filled in.
The book is sloppy, and not well-written, the plot is trashy, none of the characters is particularly nice - but it is magnetically readable, and you want to know what will happen to the three young women starting out on the make in post-War New York. (Nothing good is pretty much the answer.) In 2003 Julie Burchill wrote a new introduction to a Virago edition of the book, and it is an excellent enquiry into the question of whether the book is a feminist tract or not…
There is a highly enjoyable film of the book.
Links on the blog: When you wear evening dress is discussed in this blog entry, and here, and (for men at weddings) this one. Sylvia Plath’s Esther is out and about in New York a few years later in a black dress that cost $40, while Alice is on the razz in Boston in the book Maine.
The photo is from the State Library of Queensland, via Flickr.