“Back then, people didn’t talk about not being a virgin … They didn’t talk about abortion. They didn’t talk about sexual harassment, which had no name in those days.” So explains Rona Jaffe in her foreword to the 2005 reissue of her 1958 novel about the careers and love lives of five young women working in publishing in New York City. Jaffe had interviewed 50 women to research her debut novel, and she noticed many similar threads in their collective experiences. The Best of Everything was groundbreaking for its candor in portraying the realities of being a “working girl” in the 1950s and gave readers a glimpse into a messy, unsavory world that felt easily identifiable even if they were unwilling (or afraid) to say so out loud. Sixty years later, Jaffe’s classic still strikes a chord, this time eerily prescient regarding so many of the circumstances surrounding sexual harassment that paved the way toward the #MeToo movement.
The Best of Everything was an instant best-seller, a cultural bombshell that would later be adapted to the 1959 film of the same name, starring Joan Crawford. According to Viv Groskop writing for the Telegraph, Jaffe “was mobbed at book signings by secretaries wanting their copies inscribed to 'All the girls on the 49th floor.'” Upon its rerelease in 2005, the novel had sold upward of 1 million copies, and it gained a renewed popularity when notorious office lothario Don Draper was seen reading a copy of the book in the first season of Mad Men. The novel was also often discussed as a more grounded contemporary of Valley of the Dolls, and as a seminal text for television shows from Sex and the City to Girls.
In some ways, The Best of Everything is a relic: the dialogue with its cadence of melodrama, the idea that you could be a spinster by age 25, that the girls portrayed in it are all undoubtedly straight and white and cisgender and middle class — broke, of course, but not so broke that they don’t have safety nets. The entitled, grabby executive is a character we know intimately and have seen depicted so many times in pop culture — from 9 to 5 to Mad Men — but most recently in news headlines as more and more victims of sexual violence and harassment have come forward and started naming names.