Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann

published 1966   Jennifer in the 1960s

Jennifer returned to New York the first week in January. Senator Adams was detained in Washington for a few days, and Anne went with her as she bought her trousseau.

‘Everything must be different,’ she insisted. ‘Striking, but – you know – subdued. You’ve got to help me, Anne.’

They were in the fitting room at Bergdorf’s when Jennifer suddenly leaned against the wall. ‘Anne … have you an aspirin?’

She was ashen and the pupils of her eyes were dilated. The fitter rushed for the aspirin. Jennifer sat down…

Jennifer lit a cigarette. ‘It’s passed now. But that pain – it was a real bonecrusher…’

The fitter returned with the aspirin and the head saleslady came rushing in, visibly concerned..

Jennifer selected three dresses. The salesgirl thanked her, got her autograph for her niece and wished her luck.

observations: The news is not going to be good for Jennifer when she does have a checkup.

Poor Jennifer – the kindest and most harmless of the girls in the book – is a moviestar, with all the outward signs of success, but her body is abused by the people around her in the most blatant way. It’s not symbolic or a metaphor, it’s just factual: she has a facelift, and hormone shots for her breasts, she undergoes a sleep cure to lose weight (all organized by someone else), and in a chilling moment she tells Anne that of course she will be able to have children, because she has had seven abortions, so must be fertile. The ending Susann chooses for her is awful.

All this is related by Susann in her flat, weirdly non-judgmental style: she doesn’t blame male oppression for what happens to the women, nor does she judge the women for what would have been seen then as bad behaviour. Julie Burchill claims the book for a feminist tract in her 2003 introduction to a Virago edition – it’s more that the facts are all there, and the reader can make of them what she wants. Susann just seems to be shrugging her shoulders.

A moviestar today might have more control over her life.

This book has featured before, and is seen by me as a (rare) Clothes in Books failure. The picture, take a look here, is very nice, but it is not right for the text, which features Jennifer again. So I am taking the opportunity to offer two other pictures:

which would suit the description better. Both show dresses by Jean Patou, and are from the Dovina is Devine ll photostream. The top picture is from another great resource, the Clover Vintage Tumblr.


  1. Moira - This was such a controversial book, especially at the time it was first released. A searing look at the cost of the 'Hollywood life' and actually, I've seen that kind of life portrayed in other books too; not a life I would want...


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