Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Those immoral, sinful, perverse, lucky lesbians

From How to be a Retronaut: Lesbian Pulp Fiction, 1935-1958

The description at the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library site reads:
Included here are twenty-five illustrated front and back covers from pulp fiction novels dating between 1935-1958. This small collection of novels is part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library's growing collection of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer materials representing the fields of history, literature, cultural studies, popular culture, the arts, and design. These novels, named after the inexpensive wood pulp paper on which they were printed, could be found at magazine and newspaper stands, drugstores, and bus terminals. Publishers included mainstream companies such as Bantam, Viking, and Fawcett as well as smaller houses specializing in erotica like Bedside Books and Nightstand Books. Several established authors wrote pulp novels under pseudonyms, including Mists of Avalon author Marion Zimmer Bradley (as Lee Chapman, Miriam Gardner, Morgan Ives) and the mystery writer Lawrence Block (Jill Emerson, Sheldon Ward, Andrew Shaw).
Not all of them condemn same-sex relationships right there on the front cover-- I just picked the worst offenders. I'd be interested to know what the readership of these novels was like...the proportion of straight men to self-hating lesbians. Or maybe not self-hating, but willing to ignore the blatant attempts at guilt-tripping accompanying the titillation.

Gotta go now...Mom says I have to take a nap with my 35-year-old twin. I hope Bill, who might well be our brother and is pushing 40 himself, isn't too jealous.


  1. I vaguely recall hearing that these novels were targeted toward lesbian readers and that the moralizing was a way to avoid obscenity charges. But I can't remember where I heard or read that, so I wouldn't swear to it.

    Obviously, the moralizing also fed shame and guilt that readers felt.

    Willi Peters??? ugh

  2. I'll bet there are a lot of guys who would read these as well. Hell, the cover art even makes ME "bi-curious".

  3. Your last sentence shows you were fighting the same question I was.

    "What is the deal with that family's composition?"

  4. Some of those old 'pulps' were surprisingly well-written. My all time favourite is 'the Dark Side of Venus'- also published as 'The Other Side of Venus'. Its one of my compulsive - and therefore guilty re-reads - and of course everyone knows that Ann Bannon was a college professor with a doctorate in linguistics. Though they don't fall into the category of 'pulps'Jane Rule's 'Desert of the Heart' and Patricia Highsmith's 'The Price of Salt' are among my favourite period pieces; and then one must not forget Marijane Meaker....


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