Published by The Feminist Press on October 1, 2004
“Don’t let’s ask for the moon! We have the stars!” The film that concludes with Bette Davis’s famous words, reaffirmed Davis’s own stardom and changed the way Americans smoked cigarettes. But few contemporary fans of this story of a woman’s self-realization know its source. Olive Higgins Prouty’s 1941 novel Now, Voyager provides an even richer, deeper portrait of the inner life of its protagonist and the society she inhabits. Viewed from a distance of more than 60 years, it also offers fresh and quietly radical takes on psychiatric treatment, traditional family life, female desire, and women’s agency.
Boston blueblood Charlotte Vale has led an unhappy, sheltered life. Lonely, dowdy, repressed, and pushing 40, Charlotte finds salvation at a sanitarium, where she undergoes an emotional and physical transformation. After her extreme makeover, the new Charlotte tests her mettle by embarking on a cruise—and finds herself in a torrid love affair with a married man which ends at the conclusion of the voyage. But only then can the real journey begin, as Charlotte is forced to navigate a new life for herself. While Now, Voyager is a tear-jerking romance, it is at the same time the empowering story of a woman who finds the strength to chart her own course in life; who discovers love, sex, and even motherhood outside of marriage; and who learns that men are, ultimately, dispensable in the quest for happiness and fulfillment.
Now, Voyager is a classic novel which was later popularized by the 1942 film starring Bette Davis. I first became antiquated with the novel through the cinema due to my favorite actress being Bette Davis. Therefore, I knew the story going into it but this did not tarnish the novel. The film followed the novel to a tee and while one could easily have pictured Bette Davis in the role of Charlotte Vale (like Daniel Radcliff to Harry Potter) she was described in such detail that the reader was able to picture their own version of the character. So as not to give too much away, I will just add a few more thoughts on particular main characters, Charlotte’s mother is like Cinderella’s Wicked Step-Mother, a selfish creature who holds her daughter hostage until her dying day. Jerry Durrance, her lover is considerate aware that he is ruining his lover’s chances of happiness but is still torn between doing the right thing. In short, Jerry is an adulterer that I loved and routed for. His daughter Tina, is the knot that ties the two lovers together, a younger version of Charlotte before she broke free of her uni-brow. She is the reason that her father and guardian ask for the moon, as they have the stars.