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“Two Mothers United”: Interclass Female Friendship in Stella Dallas

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KRISTI BRANHAM (2015). “Two Mothers United”: Interclass Female Friendship in Stella Dallas. Journal of American Studies, 49, pp 125-142

doi:10.1017/ S0021875814001285


Much has been made of Olive Higgins Prouty's character Stella Dallas, who appeared first in serial form in 1922 followed by a best-selling novel in 1923. Like other Prouty novels, Stella Dallas was adapted into film only two years later in 1925 and again in 1937. Directed by King Vidor and starring Barbara Stanwyck, the 1937 adaptation garnered Oscar nominations for Stanwyck, inspired a long-running radio show, and attracted much scholarly attention. In this essay, I argue that the story of Prouty's titular character can be in large part attributed to its overarching narrative of mother love as sacrifice. Yet this narrative includes a subtext of interclass female collusion that drives the plot and has mass appeal. Stella and Helen collude to exploit their class differences both as women and as maternal figures in the making and maintenance of the early twentieth-century status quo of motherhood and of womanhood, but also of interclass white female relations.


American Film Studies | American Literature | American Studies | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Social History