Across the Page: Lesbian Pulp

The Case of the Good-For-Nothing Girlfriend weaves a complicated mystery. It is at once a campy representation of 1950s culture and a compelling examination of class, race and gender.

Maney is also known for her attention to detail, and The Case of the Good-For-Nothing Girlfriend is no exception. Solving the mystery is as important as the clothes they wear during the investigation: "the attractive girl, clad in a simple powder blue summer skirt and crisp white blouse with a Peter Pan collar that gave her a charmingly innocent air."

And the detectives don't keep their girlish figures by skipping supper: "yummy liver loaf sandwich, creamed spinach, and an extra side of gravy." Of course, when they do skip supper, it's for more important things like a stiff drink: "Who else would have thought of having a cocktail but Nancy? Golly, she was so sophisticated, she always knew the right thing to do!"

If you're interested in reading the entire series, finish off with the hilarious A Ghost in the Closet, in which the girls join forces with the Hardly Boys.

Odd Girl Out by Ann Bannon (Cleis Press)

When an editor at Gold Medal Books in the 1950s read the first draft of Odd Girl Out, he told Ann Bannon to "put this manuscript on a diet, and tell the story of the two girls." And so the pulp classic, the first in the Beebo Brinker Chronicles, became the story of sorority sisters Laura Landon and Beth Cullison.

Both women are deeply isolated — Laura is recovering from her parents' shameful divorce; Beth is an orphan on a "long, anxious search for love" — and they form an immediate bond as roommates in the Alpha Beta house. Shortly after the two find comfort in each other's arms, however, their romance is disrupted by the ingenuous Charlie Ayers.

Though in the past Beth has had a difficult time bonding with men, she finally feels the spark with Charlie after she and Laura become intimate. She wonders, "How had a simple girl like Laura been able to spring her emotions free of their trap?" She later realizes, "It took a woman, it took Laura, to teach me how to feel."

When Laura learns of Beth's affection for Charlie, she becomes a desperate "predator" determined to do whatever is necessary to keep her love. As it turns out, she doesn't have to do much. When Charlie accidentally gets an Alpha Beta sister kicked out of school, Beth returns to her initial distrust of men: "It makes me sick, the whole damn business — authority — stupid, stuffy, blind authority — men, deans, school, everything," she says after the incident. "I want to get out of here."

Laura, of course, couldn't be happier and quickly makes plans for the two to drop out of school and move to New York City. True to lesbian pulp at the time, however, the romance between the girls has to dissolve somehow, and the story narrowly escapes a happy ending.

Despite the book's facile characters and plot, one of its many achievements includes Laura's acceptance of her sexuality. In the beginning, she is in complete denial: "She thought that homosexual women were great strong creatures in slacks with brush cuts and deep voices; unhappy things, standouts in a crowd." Eventually, when she does face reality, she maintains her pride: "I know what I am, and I can be honest with myself now. I'll live my life as honestly as I can, without ruining it."

The Odd Girl Out was published before all the movements — civil rights, women's, gay — when homosexuality was considered a disorder, and an illegal one at that. Though it was the second best-selling paperback in 1957, it managed to escape censorship like many pulp novels at the time because, as Bannon explains in the introduction to the Cleis Press edition, "there was no public dialog about [lesbian pulp novels] in the media, either on their literary merits or their content, and that benign neglect provided a much-needed veil behind which we writers could work in peace."

The Beebo Brinker Chronicles were later celebrated in books like Jaye Zimet's Strange Sisters: The Art of Lesbian Pulp Fiction, 1949-1969, and included in Arno Press' Homosexuality: Lesbian and Gay Men in Society, History and Literature. For many readers, this recognition is belated and perhaps even superfluous. The novels held a profound place in their lives, if not their bookshelves, and allowed them to feel a little less alone.

For readers now, it is an interesting look back on our history — and, thankfully, a very different time and place.

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