Mildred Pierce: Female Fiction In 1941
Mildred Pierce: A Female Fictional Character
Mildred Pierce is an amazing fictional character set in the Great Depression. She rid herself of a lazy husband, and with pies to order, built a bakery business into a money making venture.
Three restaurants and a pie bakery enabled her to give her only child everything she wanted. The mother and the daughter plot is where the tension lies in this novel published in 1941 by James M. Cain.
Cain's success with "The Postman Always Rings Twice" and "Double Indemnity" in the Thirties earned him literary notoriety. Mildred Pierce is his third novel.
Twenty years of editorial writing did not make him famous but a skill for observation did. He moved to Los Angeles to write novels and try his luck as a script writer. His best selling novels are set in sprawling Southern California. How can you go wrong with mountains, beach, dessert, burbs, a big city and human nature.
As the title suggests we have a female protagonist, plus a good setting and last, a fast tight plot.
James M. Cain Writing Style
Cain wrote about the average man. His novels are not soft and mincing or have a intellectual view point. If a women is beautiful he will bring out her best figures, such as legs. Our character has shapely eye catching legs.
In this 1941 novel the bosom is the Dairy. That term used by the boorish, jobless, polo player male protagonist. His name is Monty. He lives in the very old and rich neighborhood of Pasadena, CA. His big arsenal for winning the ladies is his good looks.
Cain touches on unmentionable subjects in all his novels. A contemporary writer Raymond Chandler called him sleazy. Yet, Cain's characters are not skilled with guns or murder in this portrait. Average people, in real life, do not shot at each other.
It was Hollywood that changed the ending of the first "Mildred Pierce" film.
The author hits on high emotion in sparse scenes, with a reporter's to the point skill. Tension is why the 300 pages go so fast.
You will feel involved in Mildred's personal odyssey in the end. I will let you judge the daughter Veda yourself.
Cain Is A Artist With "The Setting"
"Mildred Pierce" is a novel about Southern California, as much as, it is about the main character.
In the first few pages of the book Cain writes of Mildred's house in Glendale, "...the standard living room sent out by department stores as suitable for a Spanish bungalow,..."
Another, "She raced over to the Broadway Hollywood and bought swimming things,....."
California was known for it's department stores. Cain did establish a few households in Southern California and knew the prevailing attitudes of California suburbia.
A list of other full scale department stores long gone from California.
Who is Mildred Pierce
Reading the novel in the nineties I marveled at the Glendale, Pasadena and Laguna Beach settings and descriptions. Knowing the cities heightened the enjoyment of the book.
The second reading, sparked my imagination again. This time the admiration is with the author's skill in character development.
Mildred is no angel. She kicks her husband out of their house, keeps the car and the children, and dabbles in an affair. Despite difficulties she makes a fortune through honest hard work. She finds a woman's physical assets are useful and exhilarating.
She has her principles, though, which her darling Veda does not.
Hard Work Leads to the End
Poor Mildred endures disappointment, anger, outrage, and sadness with the death of a young daughter. Financial straits, and social embarrassment follow as she builds her business in the food industry. In the end a devastating love loss and the true reality of her remaining daughter's character and moral fabric, ends the book. Not wanting to spoil everything that is all I am giving. It is for you to discover the details.
She declares as her last statement, "Yes! Let's get stinko." Not what a women would say today, but remember this was written in 1941 Southern California.
At the close of the book I did not feel sadness, but the fast pace, tension and ending left a very surprising physical heartache.
An Old Copy
The compilations are affordable and you get as many as 3 Cain novels.
I have been looking for old Cain novels since 1992 and titles were hard to find. After the miniseries all the old books are available online. It has been good shopping and I have a satisfying collection to keep in the bookshelf.
I enjoyed all three novels in this volume plus the foreword by Tom Wolfe. He writes, Cain "is in a class with Hemingway when it comes to immersing the reader in the secrets of various arcane arts, like short-order cooking, insurance investigation, operatic concerts, all sorts of things-and yet you get all this scenery and setting and atmosphere at a cool hundred miles an hour.."
Have You Read Mildred Pierce?
The Movie, The Miniseries, The Book - An Entertainment Bundle
Alex Theatre in Glendale screened the original 1945 movie a few years ago. It was an enjoyable viewing with a Mildred Pierce look-a -like contest. The theater is a 1925 movie house Cain may have visited to take in a movie.
The movie ending is not true to the novel. The miniseries followed the novel's plot almost exactly. The emotions a few words in Cain's writing produced did not work well in some of the series's scenes. The screenwriter, though, gives us plenty to reflect on in the very end and I for one hope Mildred can forget Veda.
Thinking back on the narrative of the book there is a reluctance to give up on the story. The ending is a cliff hanger. Will Mildred climb again to personal success without the daughter distracting her? Can the bonds break and the cycle end?
Have you read the novel Mildred Pierce?
© 2012 Sherry Venegas