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Why was “Forever Amber” such a shocking novel when it was published?

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Mrs. Moll Davies, one of the actual mistresses of Charles II. Peter Lely, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

If Forever Amber seems familiar…

Forever Amber is a classic page turner known for being racy.  If you’re of a certain age, you might remember finding shoved onto the back of a book shelf in your house.  When it was published, it was banned in numerous U.S. states and several countries overseas, which naturally made it more popular! 

When you read it, you might wonder what all the fuss was about.  Although the book is remembered for its sex scenes, there really isn’t one in the entire book…but what you will find in many passages is “fashion porn”, the attraction for women living under war time clothing restrictions is obvious. 

Of course, what shocked people was all the adultery, not to mention the abortions.  What was going to happen to society if women got the idea that they could run around as much as the men did?   

These reactions also make me wonder if anyone read the thing through to the end.  I certainly wouldn’t want to be Amber, and I certainly wouldn’t want to be friends with her.   

Forever Amber is frequently compared to Gone With the Wind, which was published just a few years before.  I understand the concerns with that book’s portrayal of the U.S. Civil War, but aside from that, Scarlett is a much more sympathetic character.   

If you like one book, you will probably like the other, so read them both and decide for yourself!

 Forever Amber as Historical Fiction

Although it seems like it’s meant for women, Forever Amber was actually published during World War 2 in an “Armed Services Edition” intended to be read by sailors and soldiers at the front lines, and it was very popular with them as well! 

I am a person who has difficulty making it through most historical novels.  I much prefer reading books that were written as contemporary fiction at sometime in the past.  Historical fiction, to me, too often commits one of the several common sins: unrealistic situation or character responses for the time period or too much exposition.  I also get frustrated when I don’t know whether a section is based on real events or not. 

While there is a lot of sin in Forever Amber, mostly the sins above are avoided.  Necessary historical details are skillfully intertwined into the narrative.  While the main characters in the novel, Amber St. Clare and Bruce …. Are fictional, other historical characters, such as Charles II and his queen, Catherine, and his most significant mistress, Barbara Palmer, appear as characters.  Somehow, Winsor manages to merge fiction and history in a way that is engaging yet does not alter the historical record, if that makes sense.   

For its genre, Forever Amber is quite an accomplishment. You will enjoy the story and the invention of a new genre.

For a great book club guide and more great books similar to Forever Amber, click here!

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