This year marks the 40th anniversary of Erica Jong's landmark novel Fear of Flying. Published at the height of the Women's Lib movement, the novel was the first to graphically articulate female sexual desire in all its lusty and, in the case of the protagonist Isadora Wing, neurotic glory.
Yet, as groundbreaking as the novel was for its depiction of female sexuality, the concept of a woman in her late twenties struggling with professional, personal, and romantic decisions also set a precedent for what would become the ChickLit genre.
Here are five novels that would not exist without Fear of Flying blazing a literary trail.
Forever by Judy Blume (1975)
While Jong was one of the first authors to portray a grown woman's sexual desires, beloved YA author Blume made waves just two years later with Forever, a story about a teenage girl learning to explore her sexuality. Though far more educational than erotic, especially when compared to Fear of Flying, the novel was meant to tell teenagers it was okay to have sex, in the face of all the contemporaneous literature that tried to scare them.
"Girls had no sexual feelings and boys had no feelings other than sexual," said Blume. "I wanted to tell another kind of story — one in which two seniors in high school fall in love, decide to have sex, and act responsibly." And before you think the book is too preachy, there's plenty of fun and awkwardness. Heck, there's a penis named Ralph.
Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews (1979)
Somehow, V.C. Andrews' Flowers in the Attic is considered YA fiction, even though the author dealt with very adult material…like a brother and sister having sex. Cathy and Chris Dollenganger, along with their twin siblings, are locked in an attic by their crazy, money-hungry mother, leaving them to find other ways to fill their days and explore their raging hormones.
Much like the graphic scenes of passion in Fear of Flying, Andrews' novel goes for corset-ripping lines like, "I had the strong dancer's legs, he had the biceps and greater weight...and he had much more determination than I to use something hot, swollen and demanding." However, fair warning, the book is far more cheesy, poorly written, and disturbing than Fear of Flying (did we mention it's a bother and sister going at it?).
Sex and the City by Candace Bushnell (1997)
It can be easy to forget that before a critically acclaimed HBO series and two cringe-inducing movies, Sex and the City was a book. The concept of single and independent women in New York openly embracing their sexuality, choosing their own adventures, and constantly dealing with their own self-doubt pretty much was a modern riff on Fear of Flying.
Yet, as racy as Sex and the City is, Fear of Flying still has more teeth. In the end of Sex and the City, the single heroine ends up shacked up safely with Big, but Fear of Flying ends with Isadora in an ambiguous personal position (in a bathtub, no less).
Good In Bed by Jennifer Weiner (2001)
Jennifer Weiner never hides the fact that Fear of Flying influenced her development as a writer and has even written the introduction for the 40th anniversary publication. While Weiner's novels are rarely as focused on sexuality as Fear of Flying, she considers Jong the forebear of the ChickLit genre that Good in Bed embodies: Smart single woman trying to figure out what they want professionally, romantically, and sexually.
Instead of Isadora Wing, Good in Bed centers on Cannie Shapiro, also a young Jewish writer trying to make sense of her professional, but especially her personal, life. If you're reading a novel for the dirty stuff go with Fear of Flying, but, in case you couldn't tell from the title, there's no shortage of sex scenes in Good in Bed either.
Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James (2011)
Sure, scenes involving metal marbles going no place they are ever meant to go are titillating, but it's hard to think there would have been a receptive audience to Fifty Shades of Grey if Jong hadn't knocked down the erotic barriers nearly 40 years earlier. Anastasia Steele would never have had her hands tied if Isadora Wing hadn't first fantasized about the "zipless fuck".
And in case you were wondering, Jong is not a fan of the bestselling BDSM novel. "It is so badly written that you can't even say it's written. I mean, nobody even bothered to copyedit it," she told New York. "Beyond that, it's a very old-fashioned book. Anastasia is courted by a rich older man. He asks her to be his personal slave. He starts giving her things. You start to get the notion that it's about women having sex for money."