The Stepford Wives
First edition cover
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|Pages||145 pp (first edition, hardback)|
|ISBN||ISBN 0-394-48199-2 (first edition, hardback)|
|LC Class||PZ4.L664 St PS3523.E7993|
The Stepford Wives is a 1972 satirical thriller novel by Ira Levin. The story concerns Joanna Eberhart, a photographer and young mother who begins to suspect that the frighteningly submissive housewives in her new idyllic Connecticut neighborhood may be robots created by their husbands.
Two films of the same name have been adapted from the novel; the first starred Katharine Ross and was released in 1975, while a remake starring Nicole Kidman appeared in 2004. Edgar J. Scherick produced the 1975 version, all three sequels, and was posthumously credited as producer in the 2004 remake.
The term "Stepford wife", which is often used in popular culture, stemmed from the novel and is usually a reference to a submissive and docile wife. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, it was sometimes used in reference to any woman, even an accomplished professional woman, who had subordinated her life and/or career to her husband's interests and who affected submission and devotion to him even in the face of the husband's public problems and disgrace.
The premise involves the married men of the fictional town of Stepford, Connecticut, and their fawning, submissive, impossibly beautiful wives. The protagonist is Joanna Eberhart, a talented photographer newly arrived from New York City with her husband and children, eager to start a new life. As time goes on, she becomes increasingly disturbed by the zombie-like, submissive Stepford wives, especially when she sees her once independent-minded friends—fellow new arrivals to Stepford—turn into mindless, docile housewives overnight. Her husband, who seems to be spending more and more time at meetings of the local men's association, mocks her fears.
As the story progresses, Joanna becomes convinced that the wives of Stepford are being poisoned or brainwashed into submission by the men's club. She visits the library and reads up on the pasts of Stepford's wives, finding out that some of the women were once feminist activists and very successful professionals, while the leader of the men's club is a former Disney engineer and others are artists and scientists, capable of creating lifelike robots. Her friend Bobbie helps her investigate, going so far as to write to the EPA to inquire about possible environmental toxins in Stepford. However, eventually, Bobbie is also transformed into a docile housewife and has no interest in her previous activities.
At the end of the novel, Joanna decides to flee Stepford, but when she gets home she finds that her children have been taken. She asks her husband to let her leave, but he takes her car keys. She manages to escape from the house on foot, and several of the men's club members track her down. They corner her in the woods and she accuses them of creating robots out of the town's women. The men deny the accusation, and ask Joanna if she would believe them if she saw one of the other women bleed. Joanna agrees to this, and they take her to Bobbie's house. Bobbie's husband and son are upstairs, with loud rock music playing—as if to cover screams. The scene ends as Bobbie brandishes a knife at her former friend. In the story's epilogue, Joanna has become another Stepford wife gliding through the local supermarket, and has given up her career as a photographer, while Ruthanne (a new resident in Stepford) appears poised to become the conspiracy's next victim.
In 1975, the book was adapted into a science fiction thriller directed by Bryan Forbes with a screenplay by William Goldman and starring Katharine Ross, Paula Prentiss, Peter Masterson and Tina Louise. The film also marked the screen debut of Brat Pack actress Mary Stuart Masterson (Peter's real life daughter), playing one of Joanna's children. While the script emphasis is on gender conflict and the sterility of suburban living, and the science fiction elements are thus only lightly explored, the movie still makes it much clearer than the book that the women are being replaced by some form of robot. Goldman's treatment of the book differed from that of Forbes with the robots closer to an idealized "Playboy Bunny"; it has been claimed that the look was scrapped when Forbes' actress wife Nanette Newman was cast as one of the town residents.
A made-for-television sequel was produced in 1980, titled Revenge of the Stepford Wives. It was critically panned. In this film, instead of being androids, the wives undergo a brainwashing procedure and then take pills that keep them hypnotized. As suggested by the title, in the end the wives are broken free of their conditioning and a mob of them kill the mastermind behind the conspiracy.
Yet another made-for-television sequel/remake was released in 1987 called The Stepford Children, wherein both the wives and the children of the male residents were replaced by drones. It again ends with the members of the conspiracy being killed.
A 1996 version called The Stepford Husbands was made as a third television movie with the gender roles reversed, and the men in the town being brainwashed by a female clinic director into being perfect husbands.
A remake of the original The Stepford Wives was released in 2004. It was directed by Frank Oz with a screenplay by Paul Rudnick, and featured Nicole Kidman, Bette Midler, Matthew Broderick, Christopher Walken, Roger Bart, Faith Hill, Glenn Close and Jon Lovitz. It was intended to be more comedic than previous versions. There were many other changes, most importantly the almost complete erasure of the powerful feminist message of the original film, culminating in a role reversal in which it is the powerful woman (played by Glenn Close) who is the evil mastermind of the injustice perpetrated on other women, and featuring a Stepford-drone replacement for the male partner of a gay town resident.
Both the 1975 and 2004 versions of the film were filmed in various towns in Fairfield County, Connecticut, including Redding, Westport, Darien, New Canaan, Wilton, and Norwalk. The 1975 version had several locations in the Greenfield Hill section of Fairfield, including the Eberharts' house and the Greenfield Hill Congregational Church. Additional scenes from the 2004 movie were filmed in Bedminster, New Jersey, with extras from surrounding communities.
In a March 27, 2007 letter to The New York Times, Ira Levin said that he based the town of Stepford on Wilton, Connecticut, where he lived in the 1960s. Wilton is a "step" from Stamford, a major city lying 15 miles away.
The term "Stepford wife" entered common use in the English language after the publication of Levin's book, and is generally used as a term of satire. It has been used by critics to describe Laura Bush, and Katie Holmes after her marriage to Tom Cruise. The label "Stepford wife" is usually applied to a woman who seems to conform blindly to an old-fashioned subservient role in relationship to her husband, compared to other, presumably more independent women. It can also be used to criticise any person, male or female, who submits meekly to authority and/or abuse; or even to describe someone who lives in a robotic, conformist manner without giving offense to anyone.
- by Goldman in Adventures in the Screen Trade
- "Political Theater: A Banned Play on the War (5 Letters)". The New York Times. March 27, 2007. Retrieved May 25, 2010.
- Iowa State Daily
- National Ledger - Katie Holmes Called 'Stepford Wife'
- The Stepford Wives (1975) at the Internet Movie Database
- The Stepford Wives (2004) at the Internet Movie Database