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The career romance


Oh, wow! What a find!

These are the kinds of books I cut some of my literary teeth on, along with Nancy Drew and Wonder Woman. (What a shock "Anna Karenina" was after these.)

In Praise of the ‘Career Romance

By SADIE STEIN NOV. 30, 2017
 
For many years now, I’ve collected Career Romances, books published from the 1940s to the 1960s with titles like “Aerospace Nurse,” “Weddings by Gwen,” “Jinny Williams: Library Assistant” and “Hostess in the Sky.” Written for young women to educate them about different industries, they’re as entertaining as they are historically interesting — sociology lesson and soap opera..

There are two basic categories of career romance. The more sober variety from Julian Messner’s Career Romances for Young Moderns — “Toby Law: Stenographer,” “Lee Devins: Copywriter” — are conscientious and informative, often by serious writers.

Even the more traditionally feminine career paths are treated with seriousness. In “Patti Lewis: Home Economist,” from 1956, the heroine is forced to defend her career to a group of skeptical businessmen: “With dignity, and a trace of peppery temper, Patti Lewis explained why and how nutrition is as vital a field as nursing. Nurses — military, space, school, rural, E.R. — are practically their own genre, of which the protracted Cherry Ames series is merely the best-known example.

The career romances from the publishers Valentine and Avalon tend to focus on more glamorous careers: beauty, fashion, acting, owning pet shops. And in novels like “Dreams to Shatter” (pottery) or “A Measure of Love” (department-store modeling) the careers are mere backdrops to lurid and implausible romances, skeletons in closets and Nancy Drew-style investigations. One, about hotel management (“Welcome to Dunecrest”), contains an especially bizarre subplot about a wealthy family’s secret son, who turns out to have been hidden due to his dwarfism, and makes a dramatic 11th-hour appearance, “his face lined with dissipation.”

No matter the publisher, there’s a certain formula to these books: Young woman comes to the city, learns a career, vanquishes a rival, is attracted to a caddish smoothie and ends up with a good guy. Sometimes, especially in those books from the ’40s, she leaves her job to get married. In other cases (see: “Author’s Agent”) the heroine and Mr. Right go into business together.

The books are of their time, with all the prejudices and anachronisms that implies. But the range of careers described is eye-opening. Sure, our protagonists are sometimes confronted by scandalized old-timers (“Lady Lawyer,” “Lady Architect,” and “The Vet Is a Girl!” all spring to mind) but in every single case, she triumphs in her chosen career, impressing all naysayers. And as times changed, so too did the jobs. Fascination with aviation gave way to “Polly Perry: TV Cook,” while the 1960s brought us idealistic titles like “Ann Gordon of the Peace Corps,” “A Campaign for Pam” and “The Highest Dream,” in which the main character becomes a guide at the Kennedy-era United Nations.

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Last edited by Bellelettres, 12/2/2017, 1:41 pm
12/2/2017, 1:38 pm Link to this post PM Bellelettres
 
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Samples of career romances, with descriptions


The Career Romance Genre: A Starter Kit

“Designed by Stacey” by Marcia Miller (1967)

When beautiful Stacey Harrison goes to work for the San Francisco couturière Madame Ninon, intrigue, romance, and a stunning gown called “Dusk” ensue. Unabashedly ludicrous; worth reading for the apartment description alone.

“Lee Devins: Copywriter” by Mary Mannix (1956)

Welcome to the fast-paced world of department store ad copy! Yes, there’s a rather tedious subplot involving a jealous co-worker, but the writing is good, you get a real sense of the industry and the era. And Lee’s evenings with bohemian friends in 1950s Greenwich Village? To die.

“Marcia, Private Secretary” by Zillah Macdonald (1945)

I’d be remiss not to mention the one that started it all: the story of a government secretary who gets involved with a sinister workplace mystery. Love and watermarks ensue. Not what you’d call juicy, but solid and educational. Extra points for the rare D.C. setting.

“Laurie: Physical Therapist” by Lois Hobart (1957)

This is one of the really weird ones: intense, nonsensical, and featuring an incredibly unsympathetic — possibly psychopathic — heroine. Since this is a definite strain of career romance, it seemed only fair to include it in any sampling. The details of 1950s physical therapy, and the attitudes toward it, have a certain historical interest, too. But proceed with caution.

“Carol Stevens, Newspaper Girl” by Jane Campbell (1964)

Narrowly beating out the similarly themed “Front Page for Jennifer,” this is the story of an ambitious journalism student who rises through the ranks of The Gazette, all the while foiling an elaborate Cold War spy ring and helping an injured child learn to walk again. As one does.

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12/2/2017, 1:41 pm Link to this post PM Bellelettres
 


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