Navigate to Arts & Letters section

Marjorie Morningstar, Herman Wouk (1955)

Nice girl dreams big, finishes last

Alana Newhouse
September 17, 2013

I should hate this book. We should all hate this book. Herman Wouk’s 1955 romantic opus about a young Jewish girl from Central Park West who dreams of becoming an actress ends with a message so reactionary that, when I first read it at 16, I actually ripped the last nine pages out of the book. But through the first 556, Wouk impressively evokes the inner life of a girl as she rebels against expectations and outgrows her past—her Bronx boyfriend, her Jewish surname, and her mother’s traditionalist messages about sex. As she matures, she shakes off emotional and intellectual baby fat, finding in their place the muscles to interact with the world on her own terms. Until the end, that is, when Wouk decides to suddenly cripple her growth—turning a glorious coming-of-age story into a noxious parable about the limits of what women should want out of life. New generations still read it—but only for, one hopes, the Marjorie who evokes the period when girls are still free to dream about their future. If I ever have a daughter, maybe I’ll just give her my lightly edited copy.

Alana Newhouse is the editor-in-chief of Tablet Magazine.