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The Stepford Wives: Classic novel review

Updated on June 10, 2015
The Stepford Wives
The Stepford Wives | Source
The Stepford Wives
The Stepford Wives | Source

Ira Levin's often misunderstood novel

There are those who would argue the word 'classic' to describe this book but I stand by it. As well as being a thoroughly spellbinding story, it is a classic of its time. And, reading current reviews, I believe that this 1972 book is largely misunderstood, especially today.

The role of women

The book tells the story of a young married couple with kids who move from New York City to a 'pleasantville' in the suburbs. The important thing to note is that the book was released in 1972 so the action is probably based in the 1960s - a time of no little social upheaval in the United States.

Historical context

A film was made based on this book in 1975. There was a 'remake' (which differed a great deal) in 2003. The latter is very different to the book; the earlier film is more accurate but still not completely so.

A gender-based plot

Joanna, the young mother, is pleased to have recently made the move to the suburban town of Stepford but she quickly realizes that there is something odd about the other women in the town who are incredibly domesticated hausfraus whose aims are to please their children and their husbands whilst at the same time looking extraordinarily attractive.

They are all content with their humdrum lives - apart from two other women who are also newcomers to the area. Is this domesticity the difference between New York and the sleepy suburbs or is the answer more sinister?

The men's club

The men of the town spend great deal of time at the rather sinister men's club. Are they all together in a plot to change their wives from real women with imperfections and character into the perfect domestic drones that all the other women seem to be?


The three women who are new to the area start by being amused by the robot-like housewives. Then they are baffled. Then,one of the three, the one who has lived in the town a little longer than the others, goes away for a weekend with her husband. When they return, she too has become the perfect housewife with the perfect figure and subservient attitude.

And then there were two

Joanna and her friend Bobbie are no longer amused, or baffled,they are alarmed. They notice that the women change after four months of residency. Bobbie is approaching that deadline.

She tells Joanna that she is going away with her husband for the weekend. History repeats itself. Joanna is no longer alarmed,she is terrified - will it (whatever on earth it is) happen to her too?


I never give spoilers. (And when you buy this book if you do not know the outcome DO NOT read the introduction). But what many reviewers don't seem to realize is that this is a work of satire. The novel begs the following questions:

  • Men, do you really want vapid and yet beautiful women rather than women with their own minds, warts and all?
  • If so, what lengths will you go to in order to achieve it?
  • Do submissive women really make men happy?
  • Do you really feel so threatened by women that you'd prefer a glorified Barbie doll?
  • Are big boobs really SO important to you?

From the 1975 film

This was far more accurate than the later version (although not 100% faithful to the book, especially at the end).

In the scene you see below, Joanna and her friend Bobbie are driving past their friend Charmaine's house. They are the only three women in Stepford who aren't housework-loving, glamour girls.

Charmaine lives to play tennis and her pride and joy is her own tennis court.

But she has just been away for a weekend with her husband...

More by the same author

Rosemary's Baby
Rosemary's Baby

As far as I can remember,I read this book before The Stepford Wives and this is when I realized that the author has a way of taking absolutely normal situations and turning them into the most horrific scenarios.

Once again we have a successful young couple with everything going just right for them and then... I highly recommend this book - although pregnant women will probably be better off not reading it.

A Kiss Before Dying: A Novel (Pegasus Classics)
A Kiss Before Dying: A Novel (Pegasus Classics)

I'm not sure which of Ira's Levin's books I'd nominate to be the most horrific but this would definitely be in the running.

We meet another young couple, this time they are engaged. Her life is marred by the fact that one of her sisters died recently, a supposed suicide. Then another sister was murdered. She is the sole heir to her father's fortune.

The reader knows the truth but she doesn't. Will she find out?


By the same author

But something rather different - or is it?

The Boys from Brazil: A Novel (Pegasus Classics)
The Boys from Brazil: A Novel (Pegasus Classics)

Or is this his best? We have no young couple this time. In this book we have 94 married couples, yes 94, and at the time this book was set (1974) orders have been placed for all 94 husbands to be murdered.


All these men are harmless civil servants. They all have married younger women, in fact, women 23 years younger than they are. Furthermore, they all have young sons who are about the same age...


© 2013 Jackie Jackson


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    • BritFlorida profile imageAUTHOR

      Jackie Jackson 

      5 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @Tom Maybrier: That shows the effect, doesn't it? The book asks so many questions about relationships and yet it's highly entertaining too - enjoy!

    • Tom Maybrier profile image

      Tom Maybrier 

      5 years ago

      I'm definitely going to have to read this. I've never seen any of the films but it's clearly an important novel, considering how the term e"stepford wife" has entered the contemporary parlance.


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