The novel Christy, written by Catherine Marshall in 1967, was popular in its day
and age because of the inspirational messages that it was filled with, along with the
simple fact that the novel was an exciting and fun adventure to read. Readers aspired to
share the same positive outlook on life that Christy, the main character showed and found
this heroine to be someone one could easily admire; readers also found comfort in the
good values that the novel instilled. However, if Christy were to be written in
this day and age, it would be safe to say that it would not be nearly as popular or widely
accepted. The audience who enjoyed Christy in 1967 is instead reading the
works of widely known contemporary romance authors such as Danielle Steel. Believe it
or not, Marshall and Steel share as many similarities as they do differences in their
novels, all of which help us account for the short lasting popularity of Christy and
illustrate the changes that constantly occur to redefine best-selling fiction.
Catherine Marshall was known for her many books about the Christian faith which
consequently led to her enormous popularity as an inspirational writer. She had been
married to the well known Christian minister and author, Peter Marshall, and it was his
death that sparked her own writing career. Her first work to be published was an edited
collection of Peter's sermons and then two years later she published her first bestseller, a
biography of her husband entitled A Man Called Peter: The Story of Peter
Marshall. By the time Christy, Marshall's first novel, hit the bestseller's list in
1967 Catherine Marshall was already well respected and had amassed a large following
of avid readers (New York Times Book Review, 70). Readers and the public in
general viewed Marshall as a strong and intelligent woman; after her husband's
unexpected death, Marshall somehow pulled all the pieces in her life together to fulfill
her life long dream of writing. Her writing clearly shows the characteristics of strength
and fortitude that Marshall herself demonstrated.
Marshall was able to write so convincingly and clearly about her faith because her stories
were real accounts; as Clarence Seidenspinner of the Chicago Sunday Tribune
commented on her writing, "the best stories are those that really happened." In an
interview with McCall's Marshall told of her own experience in writing,
"literature, if it is accurately to reflect life, must at times reach past the reader's intellect
to the emotional level. In order to achieve that, the writer has to feel something as he
writes" (McCall's, 45). Her audience was able to recognize this talent that she
had of being able to give real, emotional accounts and it was because of this that she
enjoyed such success. Critics praised how Marshall was able to leave readers feeling
inspired and peaceful, and stated that the novel was a real "affirmation of faith." Even
those who did not agree or accept the religious beliefs that Marshall imparted upon her
writing were able to recognize her talents as a writer critics alike found Christy to
be "a highly charming novel" (Best Sellers, 278).
Although Catherine Marshall remained well known for her convincing and inspirational
writing ability, the popularity of her novel Christy was short lived. As stated
before, readers admired the story for its good values and sought the novel as a means of
escape from normal, day to day life. The book was widely read in a small window of
time as it only stayed on the bestseller's list for about 10 months (Publisher's
Weekly, 49). It was read during carefree and happy times when the baby boomers
were still kids and before the public started distrusting the government.
People stopped reading Christy in the latter part of 1968 and early on in 1969;
right around the time that mass protests opposing the United States' involvement in the
Vietnam war were occurring and when Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy were
assassinated. During times like these people didn't want a form of escape, instead they
wanted to face the truth and force the government to do the same. Family values were
also changing with the times which might have also led to the decreased popularity of
Christy. There were recognizable problems in affluent suburbia; divorces, single
parent families and teen pregnancies were becoming more pronounced. Famous events
such as the Woodstock festival in New York and the United States' Apollo XI mission in
which Neil Armstrong walked on the moon all happened in 1969. All of these factors
added together took some of the spark out of reading a novel about religion, perfect
families and do-gooders and as a result, the novel Christy must have become
something of a joke; people stopped relating to the persona of Christy.
Times have continued to change significantly since the late 1960's and nowadays it is
difficult to find someone who has even heard of the novel Christy. It has become
harder still to relate to the story of a young girl who journeys to the Great Smokey
Mountains to educate the rugged mountain people. The audience that Catherine
Marshall catered to consisted mainly of women, especially housewives and their
daughters. This same audience exists today but instead they are reading romance,
adventure, and mystery novels by authors such as Danielle Steel, John Grisham, Tom
Clancey and Patricia Cornwell. Best-selling fiction during 1967 and 1968 centered
around themes not of modern romance novels, legal thrillers, or mystery stories but other
genres. For example, in 1967 the top seller was The Arrangement (a story of a
Beverly Hills personality), followed by suspense novels such as Topaz, Rosemary's
Baby, The Plot, and Gabriel Hounds. Historical novels such as The
Confessions of Nat Turner also made the best-selling list of 1967 and 1968 which
might have been due to the fact that in 1966 a history genre was prevalent; the top ten
non-fiction works outsold the top ten fiction works by as much as two to one
(Publisher's Weekly, 49). Whereas works of suspense, history and religion were
popular during the late sixties, romances, legal, and crime solving thrillers are prevalent
Among today's contemporary best-selling authors, the writing style of Danielle Steel
sticks out as the most comparable to Catherine Marshall. Danielle Steel's novels,
although heralded for being trashy romances, do contain a serious aspect about them
which one might term a social purpose. Steel brings up real issues such as single parent
families trying hard to raise children while having high powered careers; many people
can identify with topics such as this in some way or another. Steel's novels have a much
greater degree of applicability nowadays than Catherine Marshall's Christy
would. This notable change can be attributed to the changing morals of the American
public, increased numbers of women in the work force and the changing definition of the
"normal" American family. For these and many other reasons, "Ms. Steel excels at
pacing her narrative, which races forward, mirroring the frenetic lives... men and women
swept up in bewildering change, seeking solutions to problems never before faced"
(Nashville Banner, 67). If anything, Danielle Steel's audience is growing.
One of the similarities between Marshall and Steel's novels is the element of escapism.
Readers pick up these two authors' books and read them because the stories they find take
them away from real life; in this way, both authors become entertainers, and their job
involves catering to the public. Even though real issues are brought up and dealt with,
the sense of security and hope that results is false because both authors' works are more
performances than anything else. Readers expect the novels to end up happily ever after
and wish that their own lives could be like the characters they read about. However,
there is interchangibility of parts and characters and a certain seemlessness quality about
both author's works which makes one define novels such as Marshall's Christy
and Steel's Changes as nothing more than entertainment. Readers enjoy this
sense of escape that they feel but at the same time it is a false sense of contentment
which is more often than not short lived.
In order for one of their novels to be used as an escape mechanism, readers must be able
to identify with some aspect of the story. Marshall and Steel differ in how they are able
to create situations that readers will be able to identify with; readers are able to identify
with the adventurous spirit and natural human nature of Christy and with the
conflicts that develop within the family in Danielle Steel's Changes. These
differences are more than likely a reflection of the times. As times change, readers find
different situations to relate to.
There are a few fundamental things that don't seem to change between Marshall and
Steel's stories, however, such as the inevitable love interest between two main characters.
Marshall and Steel both manage to create a sticky love situation that seems impossible to
work out in the beginning which somehow ends up working out perfectly in the end.
This repeated theme attracts a huge audience; more so in the present day than in 1967 as
shown by Steel's immense popularity on the Bestseller's lists. She has published 45
romance novels, all of which have been bestsellers. As a critic stated, "America reads
Danielle Steel" (Los Angeles Times, 43). The love interest in Christy is
significantly different than one that might appear in the contemporary romance novels of
today. For one, it is saturated with religious innuendoes whereas Steel's writing includes
contemporary issues such as abortions, pre-marital sex and single parent families.
Family values have certainly changed since the sixties as illustrated through the best-
selling fiction of the times.
The role that religion plays in the novel Christy also says something about its
popularity. Reviewers praised this aspect of the book saying that it was a story of "faith
beyond measure and courage beyond belief" and that "for readers who look for strong
religious overtones, the novel would certainly prove to be a good read" (Publisher's
Weekly, 49). Religion was often all there was for the heroine to hold onto and of
course her strong faith was responsible for each and every triumph. It was said that
through reading Marshall's books, thousands of people were "led to experience God in a
new and exciting way." Marshall herself was known to be intensely religious; "known
for her intense desire for intimacy with Jesus Christ- whom she loved more than any
husband." The inspirational messages of Catherine Marshall united a large following
together which greatly increased the popularity of the novel. Just as it is rare to find
anyone nowadays who has heard of the novel Christy, it is rare to find bestsellers
filled with religious overtones. In this way, Catherine Marshall differs greatly from
contemporary best selling authors.
In 1967 readers were able to identify with the aspects of "family, faith and fortitude"
found in Catherine Marshall's Christy (Reader's Digest, 20). By the time
of Marshall's death in 1983, there were over 4 million copies in print; the story of
Christy had proven so popular that Word Publishing decided to launch the
Christy Juvenile Fiction Series in 1997, an adaptation of the original novel by C.
Archer. This series did not take off, however; by 1997 Marshall's audience had changed
significantly. No longer were readers looking for what Christy had to offer,
which was basically "The Waltons" except with more religion. Instead, readers are
engrossed with Danielle Steel romance novels. The explanation for this turn about
comes from the change in the times; as the times change, so does the public's taste in
reading material. A best-selling fictitious story rarely maintains its popularity,
Christy is just another example of this.