Vickie Lester remembers reading her first racy novel…and it was banned in Boston!

At the age of twelve my best friend, Anne Brown, slipped me a copy of Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor and whispered, “You have to read this.”

Thank goodness for Wikipedia, because while I recall being scandalized and completely caught up in the story, the particulars have gotten very hazy:

Forever Amber tells the story of orphaned Amber St. Clare, who makes her way up through the ranks of 17th century English society by sleeping with and/or marrying successively richer and more important men, while keeping her love for the one man she could never have. The novel includes portrayals of Restoration fashion, including the introduction and popularization of tea in English coffeehouses and the homes of the fashionably rich; politics; and public disasters, including the plague and the Great Fire of London…

While many reviewers “praised the story for its relevance, comparing Amber’s fortitude during the plague and fire to that of the women who held hearth and home together through the blitzes of World War II”, others condemned it for its blatant sexual references. Fourteen U.S. states banned the book as pornography. The first was Massachusetts, whose attorney general cited 70 references to sexual intercourse, 39 illegitimate pregnancies, 7 abortions, and “10 descriptions of women undressing in front of men” as reasons for banning the novel. Winsor denied that her book was particularly daring, and said that she had no interest in explicit scenes. “I wrote only two sexy passages,” she remarked, “and my publishers took both of them out. They put in ellipses instead. In those days, you know, you could solve everything with an ellipsis.”

Despite its banning, Forever Amber was the best-selling US novel of the 1940s. It sold over 100,000 copies in its first week of release, and went on to sell over three million copies.

20th Century Fox produced the 1947 film, directed by Otto Preminger, and when I caught it on television sometime in the 1970s I got my first inkling of what Hollywood does bringing a book to the screen…

Forever Amber, starring Linda Darnell and Cornel Wilde:


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  1. August 25, 2015

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