- Redemption through the Rural:The Teen Novels of Rosamond Du Jardin
Rosamond Du Jardin's teen novels are almost invariably, and often disdainfully, mentioned on any short list of popular 1950s teen fiction.1 They have been cited as a leading example of the most formulaic of "formula fiction for teenagers" (Martinec 342); the "best-known examples of [a] narcissistic type" of teenage literature of the forties and fifties (Radner 791); "practically the epitome of the innocent genre" of mid-century teen romances (Litton 179); and the most "depressing" to reread of any fifties teen romance series: "so silly, relentlessly coy, and downright dull, that I could hardly bring myself to keep turning the pages" (Thompson 375). Even upon their initial publication, the books received mixed reviews. A starred review of Double Date in Virginia Kirkus was followed by lukewarm reviews for the later titles in the series; Double Feature was "one dimensional" according to Virginia Kirkus and rated "unimportant" by Library Journal, while Kirkus dismissed Showboat Summer as "milk toast." Young readers apparently felt differently; no critical sneers prevented Du Jardin from becoming J. B. Lippincott's best-selling author, publishing her teen novels at the rate of one every eight months, with larger first print runs than any other writer on the Lippincott list (Cordray 4).
In this essay I reexamine Du Jardin's novels, focusing particularly on the least discussed—but, I believe, most rewarding—of her three series, the Pam and Penny Howard books: Double Date (1951), Double Feature (1953), Showboat Summer (1955), and Double Wedding (1959), with the aim of examining their presentation of the redemptive powers of the rural.2 Whatever their value as lasting literature (and I did find these books, upon rereading, not at all silly, coy, or dull), they are illuminating as cultural documents, revealing how the values of their decade were transmitted to young readers via the vehicle of story. [End Page 48] Noting the many discrepancies between the world of postwar girls' teen fiction and the much more complex reality of the actual historical time period, Anne Scott MacLeod claims that "Postwar literature . . . demonstrates with particular clarity the ambiguity of children's literature as cultural documentation" (50). It is precisely this ambiguity regarding cultural attitudes toward rural life that I hope to excavate here. I concentrate in particular on Du Jardin's presentation of rural life as a site of redemptive virtue in opposition to the shallow, conformist, materialist values that are frequently claimed to have dominated popular culture during the decade of the 1950s, values that Du Jardin explicitly criticizes within the series. I argue that Du Jardin offers a revealing example of the way in which portrayals of rural life continued to play a symbolic and expressive role in mid-century children's literature, even as rural life itself inexorably and irreversibly continued to decline.
The decade of the 1950s has been as much maligned as the teen novels that it produced, spawning a spate of social criticism of the values at its core. Even during the decade itself, works appeared such as David Riesman, et al.'s sociological study The Lonely Crowd (1950) and Sloan Wilson's best-selling novel, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1955), offering criticism of the "docile conformist character ideally suited for corporate America" (Miller and Nowak 128). The Lonely Crowd argues that the American "social character" was shifting from an "inner-directed" character profile to an "outer-directed" one, suited for participation in an era of corporate bureaucratization and peer-driven consumerism. Its authors write that "While all people want and need to be liked by some of the people some of the time, it is only the modern other-directed types who make this their chief source of direction and chief area of sensitivity" (22). In a poignant extract from an interview with a twelve-year-old girl on her favorite superheroes, the child answers the question, "Would you like to be able to fly?" with the response, "I would like to be able to fly if everyone else did, but otherwise it would be kind of conspicuous" (83). Calling for a move...