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Mildred Pierce: Female Fiction Circa 1941

Updated on January 29, 2017
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Ms. Venegas believes reading is essential for understanding the rapidly changing world. She enjoys sharing books with others.

Mildred Pierce: Female Fictional Character

Mildred Pierce is an amazing fictional character. She rid herself of a lazy husband during the Depression, and starting with pies to order, built Mildred Pierce, Inc. 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 is where the tension lies in this novel published in 1941 by James M Cain.

Mildred's character could have been about a hard working Southern California woman baking and cooking her way to success and money, but Cain being the writer he was, having become noted with the release of the "Postman Always Rings Twice", and later, "Double Indemnity", the mother and daughter were not going to have a quiet suburban relationship.

If only Veda could appreciate her mother's hard work and love Mildred as Mildred loved her.

As the title suggests we have a female protagonist, and I will add, a tight fast plot.

Photo Credit:Erik Holmén, Nordiska museet, flickr 30's fashion hat

Mildred Pierce (Movie Tie-in Edition) (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard)
Mildred Pierce (Movie Tie-in Edition) (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard)

Personally, I would like one of the older editions from eBay. Before the miniseries last year, starring Kate Winslet, as Mildred, everyone in the U.S. had their Cain books hidden somewhere. Since last year the old books have come out in the droves.


James M Cain's Style

Cain is noted for his average man style. His novels are not soft and mincing. If a women is beautiful he will bring out her best figures, such as legs. Mildred is noted for her shapely eyecatching legs. In this 1941 novel the bosom is mentioned as the Dairy by the not too gentlemanly, jobless, polo player male protagonist. His name is Monty. He lives in the very old rich Pasadena, CA.

The author hits on high emotion in sparse scenes, with a reporter's to the point skill. This is why the 300 pages go so fast. Also why this book can easily be read in three or four sittings.

You will feel like you know Mildred in the end, though, and pretty much think Veda is a conniving, heartless, self absorbed, double crossing, ah, I will say, woman.

Cain touches on unmentionable subjects in all his novels and Chandler called him a sleazy writer, but mayhem is not present. No guns flaring. It was Hollywood that changed the ending of the first Mildred Pierce film.

Used Car lot by pixelnaiad on flickr
Used Car lot by pixelnaiad on flickr

Who is Mildred Pierce

I first read Mildred Pierce in the nineties and came away amazed of how Glendale, Pasadena and Laguna were depicted accurately in the novel. I enjoyed the descriptions of 1930s LA and how the areas Cain lead the reader through were so like they are in the 1990s.

My second reading this week, again, sparked the imagination, but this time with the author's skill in character writing.

Mildred is no angel. She kicks her filandering husband out of their house, keeps the car and the children, goes her way, and has an affair almost immediately. With some difficulties she makes a fortune through honest hard work. She finds a woman's physical assets are useful and wantonly exhilarating.

She has her principles, though, which her darling Veda does not.

Photo: 1930s Cars

Cain Mentions Department Stores

1930's Streamline Department store (wikimedia)
1930's Streamline Department store (wikimedia)

In the first few pages of the book Cain writes of Mildred's house in Glendale, "...the standard living room sent out by departments stores as suitable for a Spanish bungalow,..."

Another, "She [Mildred] raced over to the Broadway Hollywood and bought swimming things,....."

California until the late 80's was known for it's department stores. This one was a May Company built in the 30's.

A list of other full scale department stores long gone from California.

The Broadway


JW Robinsons



Butler Brothers

I. Magnin





May Co.


Pictures of

Old American Department Stores los angeles

Mildred Pierce is a novel about Southern California, as much as, it is about the character of Mildred.

The Colorado Street Bridge (wikimedia)
The Colorado Street Bridge (wikimedia)

Hard Work Leads to the End

Poor Mildred endures disappointment, anger, outrage, and sadness with the death of one daughter, financial straits, and social embarrassment. In the end a devastating love loss and other downfalls end the book. I do not want to spoil everything so that is all I am saying.

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.

As I closed the book I did not feel sadness emotionally or intelligently, but the fast pace and ending left a very surprising physical heartache.

Photo: Colorado St. Bridge that Mildred drives from Glendale to Pasadena. Just on the other side of the hotel is Orange Grove Blvd. where Monty's house is.

Buy the Book Mildred Pierce

The compilations are affordable and you get as many as 3 Cain novels.

Cain X 3: The Postman Always Rings Twice, Mildred Pierce, and Double Indemnity
Cain X 3: The Postman Always Rings Twice, Mildred Pierce, and Double Indemnity

I enjoyed all three novels in this volume plus the foreword by Thomas Wolfe.


Have You Read Mildred Pierce?

I have had the most enjoyment with the novel. A few years ago I saw the original 1941 movie on a big scene. The ending is not true to the novel. The miniseries I took in all in one night. The miniseries failed to convey the high emotion of the book, but it followed the story almost exactly.

Have you read the novel Mildred Pierce? Poll comments are open for your experience with this novel.

See results

eBay Has More Than 50 Mildred Pierce Book Offerings

Get a 1941 movie tie-in, compilations, paperbacks, books with tattered jackets, posters. I am in heaven looking at theses. Below is a link to author "james m cain." When in eBay choose category books then search Mildred Pierce Cain.

© 2012 Sherry Venegas

Reader comments on the book or movies of Mildred Pierce

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    • Blonde Blythe profile image

      Blonde Blythe 2 years ago

      I haven't read the book, but I LOVE the movie!

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      sybil watson 3 years ago

      I've seen the movie but haven't read the book, but I'll definitely be on the lookout for it now.. I had no idea that James Cain wrote so many great books. I grew up in Southern California too, born in Huntington Beach.

    • Flora Crew profile image

      Flora Crew 3 years ago from Evanston, Illinois

      That sounds like an interesting book. That is about the era my mother grew up in.

    • profile image

      Sue-DN 4 years ago

      I've always loved this era in literature and will put 'Mildred' on my to-read list

    • profile image

      getmoreinfo 4 years ago

      Thanks for the review of the book of Mildred Pierce.

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