Yesterday's Stories: Popular Women's Novels of the Twenties and Thirties

Greenwood Press
Westport, Connecticut
Publication year

This book is not specifically about romance, and many of the novels discussed are definitely not romances, but some of the authors discussed were writing romances/romantic fiction and in her conclusion Raub states that "While Gene Stratton-Porter, Kathleen Norris, and Temple Bailey novels have gone out of fashion, the romance genre which they helped to define is still the best-selling type of women's fiction" (104). In

most popular women's novels of the period, the heroine is rewarded for her goodness, while her foil - unless she repents and changes her ways - can expect only discontent. In novels which focus upon young unmarried protagonists, such as those by Kathleen Norris, Temple Bailey, and Gene Stratton-Porter, we have seen that the typical heroine is young, unassuming, and artless, while her rival is older, calculating, and sophisticated. (77)


In popular women's novels of the Twenties and Thirties, a female character's moral worth can immediately be measured by the amount of attention which she gives to her physical appearance. In an era in which standards of beauty were increasingly set by advertisers and in which comeliness could be achieved through the judicious purchase of cosmetics, clothing, and accessories, popular women novelists decried what they deemed an excessive self-absorption fostered by a consumerist ethic. (79)

The "top best-selling writers, authors like [Temple] Bailey, [Gene] Stratton-Porter, and [Kathleen] Norris churned out one best seller after another, attracting and cultivating a loyal readership who remained faithful to them throughout their long careers" (9). For example, "Temple Bailey's novels tend to focus upon courtship" (24) and

In most of Bailey's novels, as in the Harlequin Romances of the postwar era, the heroine at first falls in love with the wrong man, a suitor who is not worthy of the heroine and will not make her a good husband. It is only when the heroine finally sees this beau in his true light - and realizes that it is the hero waiting in the wings who is the "right" man for her - that the novel can draw to a close. Because Bailey focuses so exclusively on the heroine's search for the perfect husband, her novels delineate in some detail the traits this paragon should possess, and the author dwells at length upon the characteristics of the marital relationship which both heroine and hero hope to achieve. [Kathleen] Norris's novels do not follow as rigid a formula as do Bailey's. Norris seems more interested in fashioning contrived, complicated plots than in ensuring her heroines' ultimate marital happiness. (26)


Delmar's heroines may shock their elders by their clothing, their cigarettes, their rouged lips; they may affect the "hard-boiled" wit of their generation; they may even transgress the sexual mores of their age. But, beneath their jazz age exteriors, they cling to the old-fashioned values of marriage and motherhood - just like Stratton-Porter's and Bailey's heroines. (15)

There seems to be some overlap between Chapter 1 on "The Flapper and her Sisters" and an article by Raub titled "A New Woman or an Old-Fashioned Girl? the Portrayal of the Heroine in Popular Women's Novels of the Twenties" (1994), published in American Studies 35.1: 109-130 so I have not listed it separately. A pdf should be available online at that link or via CORE.

Works in this collection