In 1928, Radclyffe Hall‘s The Well of Loneliness was seen as the first real scandalous lesbian novel, and an obscenity trial ensued. Although other lesbian themes, writers and characters were part of stories in the next 30 years, when Pamela Moore wrote Chocolates for Breakfast in 1956, it was still censored for its sapphic content, which was mild by most standards.
It wasn’t just that the 18-year-old author had her 16-year-old protagonist crushing on her teacher Miss Rosen, but also that she wrote about her virginity to a closeted gay actor, that she drank like a fish and had little supervision. Courtney Farrell was every mother’s worst nightmare, especially in the ’50s, but she was also a realistic portrait based on the author herself. Courtney faces depression and loneliness and the alcohol and sex are cures for her sorrows. Her relationship with Miss Rosen, although censored heavily in the original American publication, is the most positive one she had going. Together they discussed literature and Ms. Rosen offered helpful advice and care where the other adults in Courtney’s life did not. They were too busy with their own downfalls to notice Courtney needed to be picked up, too.
Chocolates for Breakfast has been out of print since 1967, 11 years after the author tragically shot herself while her nine-month old son was in the other room. But just this last month, Harper Perennial re-released the novel with a commentary from her son Kevin Kanrek, who provides the cut lesbian content as it appeared in the French version. Here’s what you won’t see in the American version that you would in French:
Other sections where Courtney discussed Miss Rosen with her friend Janet were cut, where Janet expressed concern that her friend was so interested in hanging out with the queer teacher, to which Courtney responds, “So what? You think of everything in terms of sex. I have a crush on her, everyone knows that, and like any teacher she loves to work with an intelligent student and feel that she’s developing a person.”
Pamela Moore was writing truthfully about feelings that girls (and boys, for that matter) were having (and still have) as teenagers. Was Courtney a lesbian? She was likely bisexual. She never seemed to have feelings or attractions to any other women besides Miss Rosen, but she also doesn’t seem to meet any others beside her boarding school friend Janet, and Janet is way too preoccupied with her own sex life and getting back at her parents for not giving her enough attention.
Chocolates for Breakfast was a moderate success, published in 11 languages and selling more than one million copies. The scandal surrounding it probably helped as much as it hurt it, but the sad truth is the manuscript published in America was slightly watered down and still shocked the sensitive sensibilities of so many. The very same year was when the Daughters of Bilitis began publishing The Ladder, the first ever national lesbian magazine, and it was just the beginning of what would be come the push for equality among those who were tired of being closeted and living a lie. (Interestingly, Pamela’s mother Isabel Moore published a lesbian-themed paperback called The Women of the Green Cafe in 1970.)
Pamela Moore was so young and unafraid of writing about taboo topics that were an undeniable part of her life, of many girls’ lives. She was speaking to a generation that benefitted from her frankness and her accessible style of writing. (Many reviews compare her writing to that of J.D. Salinger.) Pamela wrote reflectively, like she was much older and wiser than her protagonist even when that was not the case. She was ahead of her time, and we’re just now able to catch up.