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.
The fifth draft of Winsor's first manuscript of Forever Amber was accepted for publication, but the publishers edited the book down to one-fifth of its original size. The resulting novel was 972 pages long.
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. Forever Amber was also responsible for popularizing "Amber" as a given name for girls in the 20th century.
The book was condemned by the Catholic Church for indecency, which helped to make it popular. One critic went so far as to number each of the passages to which he objected. The film was finally completed after substantial changes to the script were made, toning down some of the book's most objectionable passages in order to appease Catholic media critics.
- In Child of Divorce, a 1946 film, Nora, the maid, balks at reading Roberta 'Bobby' Carter Forever Amber as a bedtime story.
- In the Christmas Eve 1946 show of The Abbott and Costello Show, Santa lists one of the reasons that Costello shouldn't get a present as him having a certain book under his bed. Lou says that it was only a book on how to make tea the right color. When Santa asks what it was called, Lou replies Forever Amber, to which the audience roars with laughter.
- On the Burns and Allen radio show, the book is often spoofed for its blatant references, usually with Gracie Allen commenting on it naively not knowing what it is all about.
- The book is referred to on multiple episodes of many radio shows including The Jack Benny Program, The Bob Hope Show, A Day in the Life of Dennis Day, The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show, The Fred Allen Show, The Alan Young Show, It Pays to Be Ignorant, The Great Gildersleeve and The Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy Show and Fibber McGee & Molly on the episode from 2/19/1952.
- On the 10/16/49 episode of The Jack Benny Program, Jack is in bed recuperating from a cold and asks his butler, Rochester, to read aloud to him from Forever Amber (“Amber kissed him on the ear and whispered, ‘Darling, if you ever come to London…’”). When another character asks Jack why he is reading a book that is six years old, Jack replies “I couldn’t trust myself with it when I was younger”.
- On the debut episode of the radio show A Day In The Life Of Dennis Day, Dennis Day dresses up as the female lead character from Forever Amber for a costume party because the costume is deemed too sexy for his girlfriend to wear.
- Amber St Clair appears as a historical character in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen as a member of the first incarnation of the League in the 17th century, Prospero's Men.
- In Ape and Essence by Aldous Huxley Forever Amber makes an appearance after Dr Poole's release to the Facts of Life where he is sleeping under guard of two Postulants, one who is himself asleep; the other who is 'absorbed in an ancient copy of Forever Amber.' Throughout Ape and Essence the Postulants spit at the sexual acts of others, so for one of them to be absorbed in the racy book is a bit of fun on Tallis's (Huxley's) part alluding to the hypocrisy of the religious leaders of the new society.
- In the film The Last Time I Saw Archie Archie Hall (Robert Mitchum) and William Bolden (Jack Webb) both read the book while lying on their respective bunks.
- In the 1949 psychological thriller Somewhere in the Night (directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz), Police Lt. Donald Kendall (played by Lloyd Nolan) jokes that the murderer confesses "... with full detail that'll make better reading than Forever Amber."
- In the 1948 Merrie Melodies cartoon Home Tweet Home, the nurse who is tending the baby and Tweety is seen reading (and gasping at) a book labeled AMBER.
- In I Love Lucy, Season 3, episode titled "Lucy Writes a Novel," Lucy reads about a housewife who makes a fortune writing a novel, and then pens her own book entitled "Real Gone With the Wind." Fred, Ethel and Ricky secretly obtain a copy and find upon reading it that it is all about them and not very flattering. The three of them then destroy the book in the fireplace and Ethel tells Lucy they changed the title to "Forever Ember."
Notes and references
- Guttridge, Peter (May 29, 2003), "Obituary: Kathleen Winsor: Author of the racy bestseller 'Forever Amber'", The Independent (London, England): 20
- Bernstein, Adam (June 1, 2003), "Kathleen Winsor, 83, 'Forever Amber' author", The Seattle Times: A29
- "Banned Book". The Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 - 1950) (Perth, Western Australia: National Library of Australia). 1 August 1945. p. 8 Edition: City Final. Retrieved 26 September 2013.
- Huxley, Aldous (1948) Ape and Essence, New York: Harper and Row; p.115 (Bantam edition, 1958)
- Guardian Unlimited book review of Forever Amber by Elaine Showalter, August 2002.