There is not a specific formula for writing a "bestseller". Books reach the heights of bestseller lists for many reasons. The author might be an author who has reached celebrity status like Danielle Steel or Jackie Collins. Perhaps the book provides an escape from the regularity of everyday life. The book may have been promoted heavily or was riding the wake of a previous best seller by the same author. Whatever the reason, and there are many possibilities, some books do make it to the illustrious status of "bestseller", while others fall by the wayside. Judith Krantz's third novel, Mistral's Daughter, is a prime example of popular, escapist fiction, that despite its lack of literary merit successfully made it onto the top ten bestseller list for it's publication year. When we analyze the factors that contributed to this book's immense popularity, namely; the celebrity of the author, the author's use of a popular formula for writing escapist romance novels, the cultural environment of the decade in which the book was published and the popularity of the "trashy", romance novel, we see that this book successfully illustrates one formula by which many popular fiction novels of the 1980s and 1990s rose to become bestsellers.
The publication of Judith Krantz's romantic, exotic, glamorous novel, Mistral's Daughter, in 1982, could not have come at a better time. The decade that we affectionately call the "Eighties" was filled with a culture that adored success, money, celebrity and glamour. The public was infatuated with those that lead fantasy lives, as evident by the popularity of television shows like Dallas, The Love Boat and Dynasty, and the fascination that the western world had with the July 29, 1981 marriage of Prince Charles to Diana Spencer (inthe80s.com). Even President Reagan had been a star on the silver screen. People were becoming richer and thus more value seemed to be being placed upon image. The invention of MTV made the music world more image-conscious, making Madonna into a super star (The 80s: Music Video and Madonna by Todd Slaughter). Prices were rising, the average price of a house went from $86,159.00 in 1980 to $123,229.00 by 1984 and average income rose from $11,321.00 in 1980 to $13,129.00 in 1986 (inthe80s.com).
The novel Mistral's Daughter plays directly into this culture of glamour and luxury. It is filled with extraordinarily beautiful characters that leap off the page with their dynamic personalities and exotic lifestyles. The settings of Paris, New York, Rome and Provence all conjure up images of decadent lifestyles that only the lucky few come to have. The family at the center of Krantz's novel, Mistral's Daughter, is comprised of three illegitimate women, Maggy, Teddy and Fauve, however this tainted background does not hinder them from becoming famous and successful. On the one hand Krantz has made these women's lives charmed, but on the other hand, she has provided enough scandal in their lives to make them interesting to her audience. For instance, Maggy and her daughter Teddy fall in love with the same man, Julien Mistral, a famous French painter, and Teddy ends up having his child. In many ways Krantz's novels, Mistral's Daughter included, can be put into the same class as the scandalous newspaper the National Inquirer, because both the book and the newspaper rely on the public's fascination with sex and scandal.
In the "Eighties" the television shows, Dallas, The Love Boat and Dynasty reigned on the top ten charts. In the 1981-1982 year Dallas took the first two spots, with the humorous, romantic series Love Boat coming in at number seventeen on the "Top Twenty Television Programs" list (inthe80s.com). In 1982, the same year that Mistral's Daughter was published, Dallas was at number two, Dynasty was at number five and Love Boat came in at number ten. By the 1983-1984 season, Dallas was number one again, with Dynasty hot on its heals at number two and Love Boat was back down to number seventeen (inthe80s.com). The immense popularity of these shows illustrates the public's fascination with stories about wealth, love, scandal and glamour. Dallas became a phenomenon in the United States in the 1980s. In an article by David Martindale entitled, "The Summer of Who Shot JR" on the Dallas Online web-site, Linda Gray is quoted as saying, "I still hear stories from people I run into who tell me wonderful stories about their Friday evenings and how we entertained them for all those years." People were infatuated with this series in the same way that people today love television shows like 90210 and ER. These television dramas that allow us to enter a fantasy world for an hour or two entice us because we can escape into mindlessness for a moment when we watch them. People like to be entertained thus the invention of the novel, the theatre and consequently movies and television. We like to enter a fantasy world for a while and have a fascinating story told to us, this is precisely what books like Mistral's Daughter allow us to do. By reading them we drift off and enter the intoxicatingly beautiful, glamorous world of modeling that the Lunel women exist in. We get to join them on the journey of their lives that take them to Paris, New York and beyond, and in so doing we leave our own, perhaps ordinary lives for a while.
Mistral's Daughter is a prime example of the use of a formula to make a novel a best seller, Publisher's Weekly wrote in a 1982 review of the book that, "Krantz, no question is a master chef when it comes to blending the ingredients of popular fiction." Krantz knew the culture that she was writing for, specifically she knew that people wanted to be entertained, "What I do is entertainment" (Contemporary Authors), and she knew that they wanted to be entertained with stories about beautiful, glamorous, rich characters who live romantic lives. The desire for this kind of entertainment in the 1980s can been seen in the popularity of the television shows Dallas and Dynasty, which chronicle the lives of rich, stylish families who are involved with the oil business. This story line seemed to catch the viewers' attention and feed their desire to escape into a world of fantasy. "Soap Opera Digest" wrote about Dynasty, that it, "teaches about clothes, about horses, about champagne, caviar and cars. . . . Looking at Dynasty, you learn about style, even if it's not your style." (Lee Dynasty Page). We as people like to escape for a while into lives that are not our own, lives that are not ordinary in the least, glamorous lives, filled with scandal and beautiful people. Dynasty and Dallas offered this type of escape for the viewer in the same way that Mistral's Daughter offered it for the reader. The characters in the book, lead us through their lives, and from them we learn about modeling agencies in New York, the art world in France from the 1920s onward, the romantic country side landscape of Provence, as well as passionate love and of course sex. All of these elements that saturate books from authors like Judith Krantz, Danielle Steel and Jackie Collins only add to the book's eventual popularity.
Some of the books of Jackie Collins and Judith Krantz are often compared because of their content and adherence to one of the popular fiction formulas of writing a book about beauty, sex, scandle and glamour which can then be promoted heavily based upon the famous name of the author. Collins deals with the lives of beautiful people and like Krantz she often places her characters in the world of Hollywood (Database entry for Jackie Collins' Hollywood Wives). Even though Krantz varied the beauty, sex, Hollywood, formula slightly with Mistral's Daughter by changing the setting to Europe and New York, she still includes many of the items associated with this kind of romance novel. These popular ingredients seem to sell books and so these authors use them time and time again, often getting criticized by reviewers for doing so.
Readers like escapist fantasy and even though critics may criticize books in the escapist fantasy genre for being over the top, readers buy and enjoy these books over and over again. Anatole Broyard, who wrote a review of Mistral's Daughter for the New York Times in 1982 wrote, "I began to grumble to myself. Just how beautiful can a woman be? Why do popular novels strain so at beauty? . . . It's a dull kind of romanticism- or is it more like snobbery?" Broyard dislikes Krantz's excessive use of extremes in the novel to describe the Lunel women's beauty. "There were the hundred and fifty models in New York who were the pick of the loveliest girls in all of America . . . each a superb champion with her own special beauty, and then there was Teddy Lunel. He had never heard a better description of her than one he remembered reading in college, "O thou art fairer then the evening air, Clad in the beauty of a thousand stars," a line of Marlow's," (Mistral's Daughter, P. 245). It is for this portrayal of lives filled with excessive beauty and celebrity, however, that readers like the book. One reader reviewed the book on Amazon.com writing, "It is true that at points it was farfetched, but isn't that why we read? To have something that we have not yet experienced in the physical. . . ." (Reader review on Amazon.com). Judith Krantz writes a certain type of novel adhering to the same formula that has made her first two books bestsellers, ". . . all of Krantz's novels have stuck to the popular formula behind her first two novels." (Galenet.com database).
Judith Krantz writes a certain kind of novel, a sexy, glamorous, escapist fantasy, thus, when people buy her books they are buying a type. They are buying a reliable book that they know will resemble in some way the books that they have read, and enjoyed before. In modern culture there are a few writers that this is true of; Danielle Steel and Jackie Collins among them, to whose books readers turn when they want to be entertained reliably. There is no mystery, the reader knows what he or she is getting when they buy a book of this sort and therefore there is no risk involved. For this reason, time and time again we see these authors on the best seller lists even if the book that became a best seller was not thought of as being quite as good as the other books by the author. This is the case with Mistral's Daughter. Mistral's Daughteris an example of a book that made it to the bestseller list, but was widely forgotten just a few years after it's initial publication indicating that it was not as popular as Krantz's previous two books, Scruples and Princess Daisy. Tom Shales of the Washington Post wrote in 1984, just two years after the initial publication of Mistral's Daughter, that, "People have described the book ? one of those best sellers that have slipped everyone's mind ? as ?racy'". The fact that this book was considered by a critic to be widely forgotten, further illustrates the way in which a book written by a continuously popular novelist, which does not have as much entertainment or literary value as the author's previous books, will rise to become a bestseller partly because of its author. This phenomenon happens from time to time with most popular fiction novelists. Even such powerhouse producers of entertainment fiction as Danielle Steel and Steven King, are not immune to writing a novel that is not as good as their others. However, their books remain on the bestseller lists, just like Judith Krantz's Mistral's Daughter, because they are fueled by the celebrity and well known name of the author.
Mistral's Daughter teaches us much about bestsellers that fall under the heading of "escapist, romance novels". In part, the novel became so popular, because of Krantz's name, which is one way for a book to reach the heights of the best seller lists. However, Krantz also crafts a novel that includes many of the elements of entertainment, escapist fiction that make books in this genre so popular among readers. Mistral's Daughter is a story that the reader can get swept up in. While reading this book, the reader can turn off the academic side of their brain and enjoy the story simply to enjoy it. The story intrigues us with its scandal and it's love scenes. It warms our hearts with its stories of love and it takes our imaginations on a trip to the dramatic settings of Paris, Provence and New York. The popularity of this book illustrates the effectiveness of this combination of elements. This book, like others in this genre is written to entertain and thus it is well received by the public, not for its literary merit, but for its entertainment value. Mistral's Daughter also illustrates the way in which an author plays into the culture that they are writing for. This knowledge of the interests of the culture increases the author's ability to write a novel that will interest the people of that time. Judith Krantz had previously written for Cosmopolitan and had been involved in the fashion industry, therefore she had the ability and the knowledge to write effectively about the world of fashion. This novel illustrates for us the way in which a popular fiction novel of the escapist genre can mix together some important ingredients like the culture of the time, the author's name and the liberal use of glamour, beauty and interesting setting to propel a novel to bestseller status.
Mistral's Daughter by Judith Krantz
Help Documentation for Assignment Five
Beisswanger's Database entry on Hollywood Wives by Jackie Collins
Duvall's Database entry on Hollywood Husbands by Jackie Collins
Karnaszewki's Database entry on Wings by Danielle Steel
Galbavy's Database entry on Fine Things by Danielle Steel
Once Upon a Time in the 80s
Dublin City University Online
Dallas Episode Guide