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Literature / Forever Amber

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Forever Amber (1944) is a historical romance novel by Kathleen Winsor set in 17th-century England.

The novel 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 can never have. The subplot of the novel follows Charles II of England as he returns from exile and adjusts to ruling England. 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. Many notable historical figures appear in the book including Charles II of England, members of his court, and several of his mistresses including Nell Gwyn.

Winsor's inspiration for the book came from her first husband who had done his undergraduate thesis on Charles II of England. For five years while he was serving in the army she read books on the period and wrote numerous drafts of what would become Forever Amber.

The novel was condemned as indecent by the Catholic Church, which helped to make it popular. One critic went so far as to number each of the passages to which he objected. Fourteen US states also banned it as pornographic, but despite (or because of) this, Forever Amber became the best-selling American novel of the 1940s, selling over 100,000 copies in its first week of release and more than three million in total. It was also responsible for popularizing "Amber" as a given name for girls in the 20th century.

Adapted into a 1947 film by 20th Century Fox, directed by Otto Preminger and starring Linda Darnell in the title role, with a supporting cast that includes Cornel Wilde, Richard Greene, George Sanders, Glenn Langan, Richard Haydn, Jessica Tandy, Anne Revere, and Leo G. Carroll. In spite of making substantial changes to the source material – the screenwriters had to tone down some of the novel's most objectionable passages, in order to pass muster with The Hays Code – the film was also a big success, earning the biggest opening-week box office totals of any movie released up to that point in time.

Forever Amber contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Adaptation Dye-Job: The brunette Amber is portrayed by the red-haired Linda Darnell in the 1947 film adaptation.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: A meta example, the novel was condemned for depicting fornication, abortion and women undressing in front of men.
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: The three most significant of Charles's mistresses are this: Nell is blonde, Amber is brunette and Barbara is redhead.
  • The Casanova: Bruce Carlton. Most men of the time aspire to be this with varying results.
  • Decadent Court: The court of King Charles II, which is true to real life as the backstabbing and debauchery there was legendary.
  • Death by Childbirth: Amber's mother, Judith, dies just after she is born.
  • Desecrating the Dead: Averted in the case of Black Jack Mallard and the two criminals hanged with him, whose corpses were "treated with respect and not, as often happened, carried through the streets and mangled beyond recognition."
  • Doorstopper: Nearly 1000 pages long in standard print.
  • Happily Adopted: Amber with her country family, until she catches sight of Bruce anyway.
  • Intro-Only Point of View: The prologue is based around the POV of Judith, who gives birth to Amber and then dies.
  • May–December Romance: Amber and her second and third husbands. She is in her teens and late twenties while both of them are retirement age.
  • Of Corsets Sexy: The fashion of the Restoration favored corsets and extremely low necklines. Amber always dresses this way.
  • Our Love Is Different: The novel takes an odd view of this trope. When Amber first meets Bruce Carlton at sixteen years of age, she's convinced that they're true lovers even after he leaves, and this continues when they reunite some years later. The thing is, Amber knows he's The Casanova. When her stepdaughter becomes infatuated with him, Amber is cruel and blunt in explaining about how Carlton only cares about her to the extent it gets him laid. And yet never at any point does Amber consider that her infatuation with him is any different, willfully ignoring all evidence to the contrary.
    • It's this aspect of her character that ends the story when two nobles at the English Court who are normally enemies decide that Amber's highly fickle political whims make her too dangerous to keep around. They forge a note from Carlton saying he loves her and wants her to follow him back to America- and poof! Problem solved!
  • Show Stopper: Lampshaded when the actors pause to acknowledge the entrance of King Charles II.
  • Slut-Shaming: Happens often thanks to the huge double standard between men and women in regards to losing their virginity. Men are praised, women are either scorned and jeered at or punished.
  • Til Murder Do Us Part: Amber uses a horsewhip to attempt to kill her third husband, after he has tried to poison her. A blow from her servant finishes him off.
  • Young Future Famous People: A preteen Nell Gwyn makes an appearance.