Lesbian Novel: Another Kind of Love

January 9th, 2008

Last summer, I picked up a copy of Lesbian Pulp Fiction: The Sexually Intrepid World of Lesbian Paperback Novels 1950-1965, edited by Katherine V. Forrest, who herself is the author of many lesbian novels, notably the Kate Delafield detective series. (Looking back at a list of her works, I got a glimpse of my own youth during the years I read lesbian novels voraciously. It’s a bit cringe-making, really. Blessedly I have forgotten much of what I read. lol)

The book was a lot of fun, with excerpts from dozens of lesbian pulp fiction books. Forrest did a brilliant job of editing, so we could enjoy the “good bits” without the rest of the dreck.

BTW, “pulp” novels were so-called because of the cheap paper they were printed on. They were the mid 20th-century equivalent of turn of the century “penny dreadfuls” and anything printed by Ace in the late 60’s-70’s. ^_^ Because I don’t feel like going on at length about the history, here’s the wikipedia reference on Lesbian Pulp Fiction. I strongly recommend you read this entry. It says anything I might say better than I could say it.

After reading the above book of excerpts, I decided to buy a whole pile of pulp to take with me to Mexico. The trashier, the better. I wanted to be sitting on the beach drinking colorful drinks and reading mid-20th century smut, much of which has been reprinted by Kensington. These books were the voracious reading of the previous generation of lesbians. Reading these books allowed me to experience the fascinating feeling of reaching back in time to touch not only the lives of the women in the books, but also the women you know furtively bought and read these when they were young and trying to figure out who they were.

Another Kind of Love, is a collection of two novels by Paula Christian, Another Kind of Love and Love is Where You Find It.

There’s a fair amount of self-loathing and homosexuality bashing in pulp novels because of course being gay is unnatural and a disease. But despite the supposedly “moral” endings of pulp novels, there seemed to be a whole lot of hope for these women. At least one book ended with the girl getting another girl that did not suck at all. Oh, sure, they smile bitterly at one another and guess that they’ll be together for a while, then probably want to kill each other, or worse, share their unnatural lives together forever, but it’s all a matter of perspective. I can see Laura and Madeline growing old, watching the world change around them, until these days when they’re stepping out of their midtown apartment to walk down to a LGBTQ rights rally, holding hands, their gray-haired heads held high.

Paula Christian’s characters are often working women, in a world where it was still a little strange for women have a career. (These two novels were originally published in 1961.) Dee is a photographer, Laura a journalist. They work with men, and sometimes for them, but are not wrapped up in the world of men. Sure, both Dee and Laura have crappy taste in women, at least at first but, duh, who doesn’t? Girlfriends are like tattoos – you almost never like your first one. ^_^ (That doesn’t apply to you, honey.)

The one thing that really, truly impressed me about all of the novels by Christian was her use of “voice.” None of the protagonists sounded like one another from novel to novel, and the characters within any given novel all had unique voices. It’s my single favorite quality in a writer. Her characters have depth; they are not perfect – often they are really annoying, but they are always human and real. Laura is wishy-washy and becomes an alcoholic (but gets herself together before the end.) Dee starts off in an abusive situation, then hurts a nice kid out of self-protection and heads into the next relationship with a sense of futility. All the experiences Christian describes are entirely truthful, even if they are fiction. This is the kind of fiction that authors get letters about that read, “You must have lived through this, because no one who hasn’t could know how it feels.” Even when they haven’t.

Paula Christian is a good writer, and this is a fascinating piece of American lesbian history. If you’re looking for brainless reading that’s actually quite intelligent, this collection is a good choice.

Ratings – Another Kind of Love:

Story – 6
Characters – 7
Yuri – 10
Service (because pulp novels were ostensibly for the underground, the creeps and the like) – 8

Overall – 7

Ratings – Love is Where You Find It:

Story – 6
Characters – 6
Yuri – 10
Service – 7

Overall – 6

“Laura” was the “Natsuki” or “Yuriko” of its time. It seems that every third lesbian pulp protagonist was named Laura or Beth. (Or both, if you’ve read Ann Bannon’s stuff.)

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2 Responses

  1. HipsInc says:

    “(Looking back at a list of her works, I got a glimpse of my own youth during the years I read lesbian novels voraciously. It’s a bit cringe-making, really. Blessedly I have forgotten much of what I read. lol)” — OMG, I SO hear you! I’ve given this title the once-over several times…and you’ve confirmed why I could never bring myself to not wuss-out and just go ahead and buy the thing (if for purely historical value). Thanks for the review.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I wonder if the tradition of “Laura” goes back to Carmilla?

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