Why do women love Marjorie Morningstar?

All about fiction.
Sept. 14 2005 6:16 AM

Marjorie Morningstar

The conservative novel that liberal feminists love.

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Of course there is, or at least there has been since the 1970s: a "third way" in which one's professional aspirations are juggled with domestic ones, BlackBerrys balanced with baby bottles. So, why are today's post-feminist women still reading—and loving—Marjorie Morningstar?

To start with, the juggling act has proved less glamorous than expected, with women now portrayed as running themselves ragged trying to have it all. As a result, Marjorie Morningstar has emerged as a new favorite of those post-feminists and traditionalists who share Wouk's disdain for adolescent experimentation and his advocacy of more conservative roles for women. For them, Marjorie offers survivor's wisdom from the outside world. "Trust me," she seems to say, "I've been there, and it's not worth it."

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Most contemporary readers, though, don't come to the book with any agenda, nor do they leave with one. In fact, since the book's publication, the end has confounded many readers, leaving more than one book club discussion in tatters over Wouk's intended meaning.

Regardless, there is one point of agreement: Almost everyone loves the Marjorie of the first 556 pages. This Marjorie evokes the period when girls are still free to dream about their future, before they actually have to start making choices about it. Wouk might wince at the thought, but what women enjoy about his book is the promise of adolescence. As she enters middle age, Marjorie continues to defy her paternal creator, like the rebellious teenager she was meant to be.

Alana Newhouse is the arts and culture editor at the Forward and editor of A Living Lens: Photographs of Jewish Life from the Pages of the Forward.