When I was 12 my Mother bought a large lot of old books from a library sale. I was a voracious reader and she thought the books would occupy me for a while. On the top of the stack was Forever Amber by Kathleen Windsor. Published in 1944 (four years before I was born) it was already out of print. Unknown to my sweet Mama, it had received much criticism by the press.
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 US 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 its popularity. One critic went so far as to number each of the passages to which he objected. A film adaptation by 20th Century Fox 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.
The book was banned in August 1945 in Australia. The Minister for Customs, Senator Richard Keane, said “The Almighty did not give people eyes to read that rubbish.”
In the mind of a 12-year-old on 1960 Amber was to be learned from. Not for the promiscuity’s but for her problem solving ability and to learn what NOT to do in life.
My main take-away was Kathleen Windsor’s descriptive writing. I still can feel the heat as Amber battles the Fire of London and smell the stench as she and Bruce survive the Great Plague.