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Monday, July 24, 2017

"Dirty Dancing" is the first in a series of Bergstein stories

Eleanor Bergstein has published one novel and has written three screenplays that became movies. In chronological order of their publication or release, they were the following.

1) The novel Advancing Paul Newman (published in 1973)

The novel takes place in 1972, when the heroine is about 34 years old. In a previous post, I summarized the novel as follows:
The novel takes place in 1972 and portrays the long friendship of two young American women.

* Kitsy Frank (based on Bergstein) is a literary agent and is married to a poet.

* Ilia Rappaport is an unsuccessful free-lance writer, unmarried, with a varied love life.

... The married, established Kitsy envies Ilia's freedom and excitement, while single, struggling Ilia envies Kitsy's marriage and stability. ... The novel portrays the conflicts that many young women suffer in balancing family and career.

Assuming that Kitsy is based on Bergstein, this character about 34 years old in 1972. The two characters interact in 1972 while working to support the Presidential campaign of George McGovern.

At the end of the story, Kitsy gets an abortion.
2) The movie It's My Turn (released in 1980)

The story takes place sometime during the 1970s, when the heroine is about 35 years old (the actress's age). In a previous post, I summarized the movie as follows:
Kate Gunzinger is a super-serious mathematics professor who is never-married but living with a successful architect in Chicago. She travels to New York City for a few days to attend a job interview and her widowed father's wedding.

During her few days there, she falls in love and enjoys sex with her new brother-in-law (the son of her father's new wife) a professional baseball player who recently had to retire because of an injury.

Kate returns to Chicago but wants to continue her affair with Ben long-distance. He, because he is married, breaks off the affair.

Then Kate dumps her boyfriend Homer because he does not pay enough attention to her. The movie ends with her continuing to be single and to teach mathematics at her Chicago university.
3) The movie Dirty Dancing (released in 1987)

The story takes place in 1963, when the heroine is about 17 years old. She is about to enter her first year of college. The story involves an abortion.

4) The movie Let It Me Me (released in 1995)
The movie takes place in an unknown year, when the heroine is 29 years old. In a previous post, I summarized the movie as follows:

When the story begins, Emily and Gabriel have been acquainted for seven months. They love each other and live together and are planning their wedding.

The character Emily is 29 years old. Emily is keeping a secret from Gabriel. Twelve years previously, when she was 17 years old, she got pregnant from a high-school classmate named Bud (last name not mentioned). Emily and Bud were dancing partners in some program that is not explained in the dialogue. When Emily learned she was pregnant, she was not able to contact Bud, who was touring with a dance troupe. Therefore Emily had an abortion, and she had no contact with Bud for the following 12 years.

About a third of the way into the movie's story, Emily and Bud happen to meet again. Bud owns a dance studio where Emily's fiancé Gabriel ... has been taking dance lessons to prepare for the post-wedding party of Gabriel and Emily. Emily visits the studio to join Gabriel in his dance lessons, and there she meets Bud. Although 12 years have passed, Emily and Bud recognize each other immediately. They explain to Gabriel that they had known each other and danced together in high school.

When they meet each other again in Bud's dance studio, he still does not know about Emily's pregnancy and abortion. Emily does not tell Bud until much later in the story. ...

When the above works are arranged in order of the heroine's age and marriage status, then list is as follows:

1) The movie Dirty Dancing (the heroine is about 17 years old and never married)

2) The movie Let It Be Me (the heroine is 29 years old and about to cancel her wedding)

3) The movie It's My Turn (the heroine is in her mid-thirties and never has been married)

4) The novel Advancing Paul Newman (the heroine is in her mid-thirties and is married)

All four works involve pre-marital sex. The only one that does not involve an abortion is It's My Turn.


The movie Dirty Dancing is the only one of the four works that does not feature a woman's conflict between 1) pursuing a professional career and 2) getting married and raising a family.

The works express women's feelings that men are lucky because they do not have to deal with this conflict. Men can devote themselves entirely to their careers and still enjoy raising a family. In Dirty Dancing and in Let It Be Me, the heroine's father is a wise, successful and respected man, whereas the heroine's mother is, respectively, ineffectual or deceased. The heroine's role model is her father, not her mother.


The four works' characters are different, so this is not a sequel series. However, the series deals with the emotional conflicts of a woman who for career reasons postpones marriage until her mid-thirties. She fears that an accidental pregnancy would upset her career plans. Even after she marries and gives birth, she fears that an accidental pregnancy would prevent her return to her professional career.

She feels disadvantaged because raising children would impede her from matching the professional achievements of her father and of her husband/boyfriend.


As a 17-year-old ambitious young woman, Baby Houseman wants to succeed professionally like her father. Baby does not want to become personally and professionally stunted like her mother.

Because the mother hoped to return to a professional career, she nick-named her second daughter "Baby" so that this daughter would remain forever the baby of the family -- there would never be a third child. Now that Baby is going to college and thus leaving home, Marjorie should be free to work full time, but she has lost her ambition and drive. She can get a job, but she no longer can become professionally successful.

 Because the daughter does not want to end up stunted like her mother, the daughter postpones marriage to finish her higher education and to begin her career. Along the way, she becomes involved briefly with a few men who can please her physically but not intellectually. The men who would be good intellectual partners do not become her husband, for various reasons.

When she does finally marry in her mid-thirties, her professional career is developing a strong, forward momentum, but she has to drop out of her career to give birth and raise a family.

That is the overall story that Bergstein has told in her complete body of work.


Bergstein's primary envy is toward men, because they do not have to deal with this conflict between career and family.

Bergstein has also a secondary envy, though, toward the women who happily marry, give birth, support their husbands, help them to succeed -- and simply enjoy all the resulting financial comforts and family fun. Such women do not try to buck the patriarchical system -- rather, they cynically exploit the patriarchical system by happily becoming matriarchs themselves.

This is the cause of Baby's resentment toward her sister Lisa, who seems to be happy to follow their mother's example. Lisa will happily marry an intelligent medical student like Robbie Gould, become a doctor's wife, raise a family, live in financial comfort, play golf regularly, and enjoy her life. Baby foresees her own future struggles and Lisa's future luxury, and so Baby resents Lisa because it is not fair.

Baby's resentment toward her sister Lisa was the main conflict of the "Dirty Dancing" story that Bergstein originally conceived. However, this sister-resentment element of the story was greatly reduced by the time that the movie was completed. This I will explain in my following article of this blog.

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