To kick off the new year, we’re going to jump into the past and revive some lesbian classics. There are truly more lesbian classics than an outsider might think, so these three only begin to delve into our rich literary history.
The Price of Salt, Patricia Highsmith
Highsmith was a ridiculously prolific and successful lesbian author known for psychological thrillers, many of which were made into high profile films such as Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley. (Read a lovely profile of her cinematic legacy by Trish Bendix here.) While knowledge of her personal life is sometimes not-that-flattering, such as the reality of her anti-semitism, there seems to be no disagreement that the lesbian romance of The Price of Salt, first published in 1952 under a pseudonymous name, remains legendary and still appreciated. Particularly, it departed from the mold as (spoiler alert!) it actually contains a happy ending, something practically unheard of in lesbian tales of the day.
The plot of the novel revolves around the love between Therese and Carol, who meet as Carol shops at the New York department store Therese has just begun working at. Both women are either in unsatisfying relationships with men or going through messy divorces with them, and they suddenly find themselves enraptured with each other. Like any pair that wants to find out if their love is true, they embark on a cross country road trip together. But meanwhile, that pesky ex-husband that Carol has just left behind is not so thrilled (shockingly!) and threatens to ruin it all. Men!
Rubyfruit Jungle, Rita Mae Brown
Published in 1973 to critical acclaim that hasn’t diminished since, Rubyfruit Jungle tells the semi-autobiographical tale of Brown herself disguised as Molly Bolt, a sassy character who seems like the sort of gal I want to know. It follows her childhood as a “bastard” raised by adoptive parents in the South, through her lesbian romps with a cheerleader in high school, to getting kicked out of college for being unapologetically herself, to moving to New York to “make it” as a filmmaker. Like any good coming of age novel, the triumphs and failures of the feisty Molly are reported to make people laugh out loud on one page and cry on the next. Emotional rollercoasters: my favorite! Added bonus: just saying the title of this book sounds dirty, because it is.
The Well of Loneliness, Radclyffe Hall
A groundbreaking work, The Well of Loneliness was published in 1928 (twenty-eight!). Its plot concerns Stephen Gordon, a high class English lady who knew she was a dyke from the start, who falls in love with Mary Llewellyn while working as an ambulance driver in World War I. Some believe that Stephen should actually be considered a trans character, as she also pushes the boundaries of gender, while others think she’s simply butch. Obviously, the book was labeled obscene and banned upon its release in both Britain and America, surviving many legal battles which only served to increase its fame (and the visibility of lesbians in general). Stephen and Mary cannot be as free spirited as, say, Molly Bolt, resulting in the criticism that it can be more of an isolated-from-society type of lesbian downer. It also lacks real sexy bits that later novels could include. And it packs a punch at over 400 pages. Still, it stands in history as breaking the silence and speaking against oppression, and I feel it deserves our respect and interest in honor of Hall, who had the cajones to publish it in 1928. And who doesn’t love a World War I love story?
So which decade will we choose from—the 20s, the 50s, or the 70s?
I’ll leave the poll open through next Thursday, December 28, so I can post the winner on Friday. I’ll also have the discussion post for The Last Nude ready by the end of next week, so we have time to discuss before dashing off to our New Years Eve plans. Until then, if you’re celebrating the holidays, I hope your presents include lots of great books!