Jacqueline Susann and the “Sex-Boiler”

Today is the 94th birthday of the late Jacqueline Susann, whose Valley of the Dolls (1966) was one of the most notorious examples of a uniquely American literary genre — the “sex-boiler.” In the publishing trade, these novels used to be called “bodice rippers.” As the trade name implies, some of them are historical romances (women haven’t worn bodices, after all, since the 18th century). And indeed, Kathleen Winsor’s Forever Amber (1944), set in what Fanny Butcher called “that lustiest of all English history’s periods, the time of Charles II,” may have been the first of its kind. But later examples of the genre discarded the trappings of history for contemporary stomping grounds. Think here of Peyton Place (1956), Grace Metalious’s saga of lust, lechery, adultery, and alcoholism — but mainly lust and lechery — in a small New England town. Nor are sex-boilers “women’s pornography”; nor are all of them written by women. Harold Robbins wrote some of the biggest-selling sex-boilers of all time, especially The Carpetbaggers (1961).

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Jacqueline Susann and the “Sex-Boiler”

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