October 16, 2011 by clownyprincess
I got inspired by that Harley & Ivy pulp-fictionesque art piece and thought I’d post a few covers from actual novels of that era.
There’s an absolutely amazing gallery of dozens of the things here - they’re really worth checking out! And bless whoever created it… it’s wonderful!
Obviously they are hugely problematic in being blatantly homophobic and misogynistic & the stories usually did not end well for the queer women in their pages.
But they are also so antiquated in their stereotypes and melodrama that they send me off into peal of laughters.
And even still, the artwork is generally GORGEOUS.
All of that aside, from their unintentional hilarity to their sensationalist prejudice, to the pretty pretty pictures - these books were actually a lifeline for queer women of the times. They were written primarily as titillation for men (although their contents were actually very tame) or as cautionary tales reinforcing the status-quo (women left without men are bound to be seduced by each other and the whole world will fall apart!!!) - but large numbers of queer women would devotedly buy them - for many, it was their only access into a lesbian world for many years. Before the 60s brought about more and more sensationlist and explicit covers where the contents were in no doubt, women would have to interpret the cover coding, done in such a way to get past censors of the time. Pulp fictions were a huge industry and covered many racy topics so queer women looking for lesbian-themed books would watch for indictators such as, fairly obviously, two women on the cover - particularly if they looked distressed, a man looking agonised in the background was another sure clue, if he was in shadows even better - women at different levels - a petite blonde positioned lower in relation to a tomboyish-looking brunette was popular - women in states of undress in pairs or in a group, or a sole woman looking tortured and distressed, often turned away from the ‘viewer’, women in the military, boarding schools or prisons, and titles with the words like ‘twilight’, ‘lavender’, ‘sisters’ and ‘odd’ or ‘warped’ in them.
Some of these books were even written by actual lesbians, often writing under a male pen name. Although as far as we know she was not a lesbian, Marion Zimmer Bradley (of ‘Avalan’ fame) also wrote several under a few different pen names.
They had their hey-day between 1955-1965. Despite often suggestive covers the stories inside attempted in the most schlocky way to actually be a story. It was in the 60s they succumbed to soft-corn pornography and the cover art lost the mystique, artistry and sensuality of the earlier books, although often still skillfully executed.