“…She recognized her danger. She was on the brink of total perversion.”*

* from back cover of Strange Sisters.

Dear blog readers:
I was asked to lead a book group and of course I said, YES!  (Vermont readers, please consider joining the discussion this coming Monday at the Kellog Hubbard Library in Montpelier at 6:30. details below!)

Little did I know the subject matter would be so perfect for Spring Fever! Lesbian pulp fiction is a genre from WWII train station and drug store book shelves. Lesbians wrote much of it but the script was determined by the publishers.

“What’re you standing there for?” Carol asked. “Get to bed, sleepyhead.”
         “Carol, I love you.”

Carol straightened up. Therese stared at her with intense, sleepy eyes.

Then Carol finished taking her pajamas from the suitcase and pulled the lid down. She came to Therese and put her hands on her shoulders. She squeezed her shoulders hard, as if she were exacting a promise from her, or perhaps searching her to see if what she had said were real. Then she kissed Therese on the lips, as if they had kissed a thousand times before.

“Don’t you know I love you?” Carol said.[1]

This Sapphic love scene appears, finally, after one hundred forty-five pages of leisurely literary foreplay in Patricia Highsmith’s[2] The Price of Salt. It was published in 1952 under the pseudonym, Claire Morgan, to cover her shame and her true authorial identity. It would be thirty-eight years before Highsmith would claim this fairly autobiographical novel as her own.

Carol wanted her with her, and whatever happened they would meet it without running. How was it possible to be afraid and in love, Therese thought. The two things did not go together. How was it possible to be afraid, when the two of them grew stronger together every day? And every night. Every night was different, and every morning. Together they possessed a miracle.[3]

In the world of lesbian pulp fiction, The Price of Salt stands out for defying the codes of the era. Neither Carol, the older woman with a five year old daughter at stake in a custody battle, or Therese, younger set designer, go insane; go back to husband or get married; or die a gruesome death by the end. The rationale of the times was that a realistic storyline of love and happiness had to be interrupted because the post office might seize the book as obscene. These were the Fifties. Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap had fought the post office in their attempt to get James Joyce’s Ulysses imported to the United States from 1918-1921 through serialization in their magazine, The Little Review. The obscenity laws then were based on the premise that the officials would know what obscenity looked like when they saw it. Thus, for society’s safety, the only good lesbian was rushed to the alter, locked in an insane asylum, or dead by her own hand or some tragic incident. Readers had to know the code and revitalize the endings for their own sanity.

 That night, talking over the road map about their route tomorrow, talking as matter of factly as a couple of strangers, Therese thought surely tonight would not be like last night. But when they kissed good night in bed, Theresa felt their sudden release, that leap of response in both of them, as if their bodies were of some materials, which put together inevitably created desire.[4]

What “materials” could create such a spark? Two women! The McCarthy Era dominated the political and social scene at the time of publication. Paranoia was rampant as blacklisting by McCarthy’s extremism ruined lives. Homophobia was as contagious and dangerous as Communism, despite Roy Cohen at McCarthy’s shoulder and Herbert Hoover at the FBI: both gay men at helms of authority. The House of Representatives appointed the Select Committee on Current Pornography Materials[5], just as Carol and Therese were on their escapade traveling across country.

Thelma and Louise find their fate in a canyon river as late as 1991 and they never even kissed! Carol and Therese deny the devastating end.

 

Vermont readers:  Come join the discussion —Monday, March 23th at 6:30. Bring your favorite tattered copies of The Twisted Ones, Strange Sisters, Beebo Brinker, The Well of Loneliness….

Dress for the Fifties if you like.

ALL WELCOME! It is not a prerequisite to be LGBTAQI to attend. Respect is required.

Kellogg-Hubbard Library in Montpelier, Vermont presents: LGBTQ Reading Series. THE PRICE OF SALT, by Patricia Highsmith

 

 

[1] Reprint The Price of Salt. Made in the USA Lexington, KY 15 November 2014. P. 145.

 

[2] American mystery writer, born 1921. Biographer, Joan Shenkar declares Highsmith would have been a serial killer if she hadn’t been a writer. Stunning beauty until her diet of alcohol and cigarettes caught up with her. Embarrassed about being a lesbian, published The Price of Salt in 1952 under the pseudonym Claire Morgan. The novel is surreptitiously autobiographical. Copyright has never been renewed but did disclose her authorship in 1990. Patricia Highsmith died alone in 1995.

 

[3] Reprint. Page 163.

 

[4] Reprint. Page 171.

 

[5] The year being 1952. Jaye Zimet, Strange Sisters: The Art of Lesbian Pulp Fiction 1949-1969. New York: Viking Studio, p. 19.

 

 

Posted on March 18, 2015, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I haven’t read The Price of Salt yet, but I enjoy her writing I did recently read her dated but well written book Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction. At the time, I looked up her bio on Wikipedia and was amused by this:

    “”She was a mean, hard, cruel, unlovable, unloving person”, said acquaintance Otto Penzler. “I could never penetrate how any human being could be that relentlessly ugly.”[12] Other friends and acquaintances were less caustic in their criticism, however; Gary Fisketjon, who published her later novels through Knopf, said that “she was rough, very difficult… but she was also plainspoken, dryly funny, and great fun to be around.”” —http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patricia_Highsmith

  2. Shelley…I enjoyed this post very much!!! Helene and I have read these amazing books–so wish I lived closer!!!! ox
    p

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