When I was younger I would stay, for only a few short weeks, with my grandparents in a small Texas town and from those times I have many memories: snow cones on a warm Sunday night, feeding the ducks at the local park, and playing with their many dogs. While I have many memories that will live on in my heart for the rest of my life, I have many memories, though oddly specific and so commonplace that they are almost a routine activity, was when my Nana would say, “I am going to go take a bath and read” She would then walk into her room and choose between a devotional or a novel. More often than not, that novel she would pick up would be a simple paperback with a lot of gold on the cover and “DS” on the spine; I knew Danielle Steel’s name before I knew what romance was. Though I would not read a Danielle Steel book until I was in high school, I always knew that my Great Grandmother, Nana, and Mom all read and loved Ms. Steel’s novels. Her books were a household decoration. Their spines were worn and bath water stains were fixtures upon the pages showing that each book, all first edition paperbacks, had lived just as much as the characters within the covers. Through four generations, my family and I are not the only ones to flip through Steel’s many works. With over a hundred books in print, Steel has been a reappearing name on bestseller lists. Despite her critics, her fans remain loyal, and the simple themes of domestication, love, hope, and a modern woman making her own choices, keeps her books on those lists—the very formulaic ways that she is criticized for, are what fuels her name on the bestseller lists. Steel’s book Mirror Image is a story that, even with its twists, gives her readers yet another body of work that stays true to the “Steel style” and is laced with same reoccurring themes of her previous books that will continue to keep her name on bestseller lists and her fans yearning for more works.
Danielle Steel is one of the “long-standing mega-authors” who’s name consistently appear on the bestseller lists (Archer & Jockers 8). As of 2018, out of her one-hundred-sixteen adult novels, Mirror Image was the forty-fifth novel that she released, meaning that, not only did she have forty-four novels before Mirror Image, she has released seventy-one novels since. With so many novels on bookshelves across the world and three to five books written per year (Mirror Image was one of four books written in 1998), it is no surprise that critics have come to call Steel’s romance novels formulaic and extremely similar to one another resulting in her books bleeding into one another. As a result, her negative critics find her books predictable, unrealistic, and repetitive. However, these negative critics are missing the fact that the major success of Danielle Steel is a direct consequence of that which they detest. In fact, Steel steers clear of her critics: “‘My feelings get very hurt when people say mean things about me. The trouble I find is that [critics] don't just criticize the book — they then get nasty personally. And so I stopped reading them’” (Today). Without listening to her critics, and despite the many who line up to throw distain toward Steel’s success, “ [Steel] is critic-proof, a Teflon one-woman publishing phenomenon. Steel is a leader of a genre that generated $1.37 billion in book sales in 2006, outselling every market category except religion/inspirational, according to the Romance Writers of America” (Today). Mirror Image is one of those many books that contribute to Steel’s success.
Danielle Steel’s Mirror Image is one of her many historical novels and is based during the World War I era. The book centers around two women, twenty–one years of age, who are identical twin sisters— barely to be told apart. Olivia is the picture perfect, early twentieth century, domestic woman while Victoria is free-spirited and only grounded by the cause of women’s suffrage. When Victoria gets caught up in a scandal that threatens to shame the Henderson family name as well as her ownname (getting pregnant by a married man), both girls’ lives are turned upside down. As one twin winds up in the French trenches of war (later dies) and the other is thrust into a marriage (falling madly in love), Danielle Steel provides another one of her signature tear jerking novels weaving heartbreak, twists, birthing, war, and death into a novel only Steel could imagine up.
Despite the fact that Mirror Image is “a tad more serious than her usual stories” and “doesn’t provide the typical happy ending,” (Kirkus) the book still falls right into that same formula Steel uses to write her other books: girl falls in love, domesticated life is discussed, something bad happens that threatens to break them apart, the two lovers end up together and money is never a problem. However, her formulaic ways and repetitive themes still keep her massive amounts of fans continually coming back for more. Steel is “known for [her] signature topic, and fans expect her to deliver it” (Archer & Jockers 60). In fact, one third of Steel’s books, according to The Bestseller Code, is the theme of domesticated life and the remaining two thirds of her books is where Steel exercises her ability to make each book different from the previous and the subsequent. In the case of Mirror Image, twin Olivia is a perfectly domesticated, early twentieth-century woman who keeps a pristine house and takes care of her family. After a trip to New York City, “Olivia had been relieved to return to her books, their home, her horses, her peaceful walks high on the cliff… she loved taking care of her father’s house for him and had since she was a very young girl” (Steel 5). She goes on to get married, though under a false identity (her sister’s), and becomes the perfect mother. Olivia embodies that one-third of a Steel book that deals with home life. Twin Victoria, however, is a modern woman who craves adventure, woman suffrage, and freedom. After the same trip to New York City, Vitoria finds herself restless: “Victoria had been chaffing at life ever since [their return], and all she ever seemed to talk about anymore was how incredibly boring life was on the Hudson. She wondered how any of them could stand it” (Steel 21). Victoria ends up dead by the end of the novel fulfilling those dreams of adventures. Victoria embodies half of the two-thirds that does not deal with domesticated life and the rest of that two thirds comes with Steels other plotlines of childbirth and war. With the added theme of childbirth and war and a main character so set on not being a model domesticated wife, Steel proves that “there must be a dominant topic to give glue to a novel, and that topics in the next highest proportion should suggest a direct conflict that might be quite threatening” (Archer& Jocker 62).
Furthermore, critics have also claimed that Steel’s novels are unrealistic. Christine, author of the blog “Bookishly Boisterous,” writes, “frequent flowers and weekends in France are rare, ladies, and seldom last past the first few months…Also, be careful if you are involved and for some reason choose to read one- your expectations… should not skyrocket just because you read about Preston renting out the penthouse suite and covering it in rose petals just ‘because it was Tuesday.’” Despite such cynical criticism, Steel’s books remain rooted in realism and Mirror Image is no exception. Mirror Image tells the story of two sisters who love each other with all their hearts. The characters get married and have children. There is conflict between child and parent and there is a yearning for adventure. The back drop or war and the plotline ending in death are also not so far out of the realm out of reality. While minute plot holes may be unrealistic, in Mirror Image it is when Charles does not realize that his wife is virginal again, the core of the book, and Steels larger body of other novels, is very real.
Additionally, Steel also teaches us that bestsellers, must be topical: “To sell a million copies, a book’s topical profile must have the potential to appeal to a mainstream audience” (Archer & Jockers 64). For Steel, her reoccurring use of modern women trying to navigate a modern world is where she keeps her books topical. In the case of Mirror Image, even though the book is set during World War I, remains topical even today. The character of Victoria embodies that of a modern woman who is dying to break free of what the women before her did: take care of home and family. She yearns to be part of the movement that proves women worthy of a life outside of the home and to have adventures of her own. The character of Olivia, is the picture perfect stay at home woman who is not demonized for believing that the home is her place. Steel writes, “[Olivia] kept an eye on everything, and she loved doing it, unlike Victoria, who detested all things domestic. Victoria was in every possible way, different from her sister” (5). As a result, these twins show the classic feminist view that women can choose who they wish to be without either female being cast in a bad light.
Finally, Steel offers one more reason why her name continues to appear on Bestseller list and her fans continue to reach for her books at the stores: Steel offers hope. In fact, Steel herself has even said that after continuously writing, she has found a reoccurring theme that is not love, but is hope: “‘I think the one recurring theme that I didn't used to be aware of is that I try to give people hope,’ she says. ‘I think that's so important. Love is wonderful, but hope is more important. Without hope you can't live’” (Today). In Mirror Image, after Victoria passes, Olivia must learn how to go on without her “mirror image.” The ending reads “It was going to be a different world for Olivia without her, and she knew that she would always feel part of her missing, but at the same time she knew she would always be there, in her head, and heart, and soul, and she could not forget her.” In this quote, readers find that despite absolute heartbreak, given in a way that only Steel could produce, hope still exists for a better future. That despite the loss of Victoria, her free spirit will truly never leave and will persist in the lives of those she loved, especially Olivia’s.
Mirror Image is a book that fits into Steel’s long list of bestsellers just like all her other works. They fit into a specific formula that allows readers to know that they will be getting a book that has a theme of domestic life, yet, they know they will get so much more. It could be war, abortion, divorce, infidelity, or any other realistic theme. Steel’s reader’s know that they will get romance and hope as well as shedding a few tears. As a result of Steel continuously following the same formula, Steel has continued to have her books appear on bestseller lists, thus, showing that repeat bestsellers do not rely on constantly varied plots, themes, and settings. Instead, repeat bestselling authors, give their readers the same predictable backbones as their previous works. And since Danielle Steel has said, “‘I'm driven from inside. A story will come to mind and it has to come out, like a frog with a bubble,’ she says. ‘I want to work forever. And try to get better forever’” (Today), her readers can rest assured that her future works will embody a domesticated life, love, hope, and the modern woman. The only question that remains is, “how many more generations of women will crave Danielle Steel’s novels?”