2021: #63 – Forever Amber (Kathleen Winsor)

2021: #63 – Forever Amber (Kathleen Winsor)Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor
Published by Chicago Review Press on 1944
Genres: classic, hf - 1600s, historical fiction, romance
Pages: 976

Abandoned pregnant and penniless on the teeming streets of London, 16-year-old Amber St. Clare manages, by using her wits, beauty, and courage, to climb to the highest position a woman could achieve in Restoration England—that of favorite mistress of the Merry Monarch, Charles II. From whores and highwaymen to courtiers and noblemen, from events such as the Great Plague and the Fire of London to the intimate passions of ordinary—and extraordinary—men and women, Amber experiences it all. But throughout her trials and escapades, she remains, in her heart, true to the one man she really loves, the one man she can never have. Frequently compared to Gone with the Wind, Forever Amber is the other great historical romance, outselling every other American novel of the 1940s—despite being banned in Boston for its sheer sexiness. A book to read and reread, this edition brings back to print an unforgettable romance and a timeless masterpiece.

“And look how you got here. ‘All rising to great places is by a winding stair.’ Have you ever heard that?”

Referring to Amber’s journey as a winding stair is a bit of an understatement. This nearly 1000 page book covers approximately 10 years of her life, and yet I feel like it wasn’t enough. Through her multiple marriages, multiple children, and multiple sexual partners, Amber has one main goal in mind — become the wife of Lord Bruce Carlton, the man who took her virginity and “rescued” her from the village where she grew up. But if she can’t have him, she’ll settle for being the wealthiest, most important woman in London.

This book truly has everything. Love, despair, marriage, adultery, murder, prison, con-artistry and other deceptions, birth, death, war, the plague, and the Great Fire of London. And even when Amber is at her lowest, she still manages to come out on top. She’s very emotional, but she’s also very intelligent. She is great at reading people, except for Bruce. She is so blindly devoted to him, that she can’t see the way he really sees her. Though his inability to stay away from her doesn’t really help. He’s one of two people in her life that know where she truly came from, and his ingrained classism can’t look past it.

One quibble I have with the book is that the last 25% spent too much time away from Amber and mired in the politics of the court. I didn’t really care who was plotting against who to become King in the future, I wanted to know what it had to do with Amber.

This book made news when it was published, even being banned in several states as “pornography”. According to Wikipedia, the Massachusetts’s attorney general cited 70 references to sexual intercourse, 39 illegitimate pregnancies, 7 abortions, and “10 descriptions of women undressing in front of men”. I scoffed at this at first, because the first time Amber has sex I actually had to re-read the passage because it is so veiled that I wasn’t certain it happened, but there were definitely references to some acts later in the book that I can see causing people to clutch their pearls. Despite this, it was still the best-selling novel of the 1940s in the US.

Modern romance readers would disagree with its categorization as a romance because I can’t say that it really has a happy ending, more of an ambiguous one. When Amber leaves England, her tale ends.

I’m really glad I read this. It was an ADVENTURE. 

I read this for the following reading challenges:

Other reviews:

  • “If the measure of a good book is that it keeps one’s attention, well, I can’t lie, I spent the three days it took me to read this either reading the book or thinking about it. I can’t tell you whether or not you might find Forever Amber worth reading. I can tell you that if you do read it, you will be in turns amused, delighted, horrified, and appalled – but you certainly won’t be bored.”Smart Bitches Trashy Books
  • “In spite of the problems I had with it, Forever Amber remains interesting for its entirety; at over 950 pages, this is quite a feat.”That’s What She Read
  • “It was a beautifully written book that I will probably re-read over and over again. It gave a great insight into the lives people led at Charles’s court, one that was decadent and sinful in comparison to the Puritans who had preceded him.”A Girl Walks Into a Bookstore…

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