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Lesbian & Gay Pulp Fiction

Selected Lesbian Pulp Titles

Most of our lesbian pulp fictions can be found through searching for the "Lesbian Pulp Fiction" subject heading in our library catalog. This list of selected titles highlights a few important titles and themes. 
  • Adlon, Arthur. Strange Nurse. 1962.
    Will Eleanor steal the luscious, promiscuous Evelyn away from Lew, the nice young intern? Lew's a momma's boy, and he wants to wait-but Evelyn doesn't. And with Eleanor around, why should she?
  • Arden, Val. The Twilight Lust. 1965.
    Easily the worst of these books; the story line makes leaps that indicate pages, if not chapters, might have been left out-the major editorial failing, next to the lack of proofreading. Janice came to NYC from a farm (of course), and feels that men constantly take advantage of her physically-beginning with the neighbor boy, when she was a child. But, gosh, she's so easily overcome by her body's desires...and for a while, she transfers those desires to Janet. Ultimately, Janice marries the man she felt most abused by. The bulk of the book is taken up by sexual scenes.

Anne Bannon is probably the best-known of the lesbian pulp authors; her Beebo Brinker is a legendary butch. The lives of her major characters intertwine and carry over from one novel to the next. The novels definitely contribute to one "umbrella" story about Beebo, Laura, and the other inhabitants of Greenwich Village, but weren't written in order. The "chronological" order of the novels in regard to the story (which spans-approximately-a decade) is: Beebo Brinker; Odd Girl Out; I Am a Woman; Women in the Shadows; and Journey to a Woman. Bannon creates fully-developed characters and real story lines, rather than the more sensationalist pulps that often used flimsy stories as bare framework upon which to hang sexual exploits (which is not to say that Bannon's books aren't sexy!). Once Bannon's characters find the Village, they never want to leave.

  • Bannon, Ann. Beebo Brinker. 1986, c1962.
    Beebo arrives in the Village fresh from the small town where people always looked at her oddly. Luckily, the first one to notice her is Jack, who takes her under his wing and introduces her to the Village scene-and to her own desire for women. Beebo ends up going to Hollywood and back before figuring out which woman is her true love.
  • Bannon, Ann. I Am a Woman. 1983, c1959.
    Laura is running: from college and a failed love affair; from her cold, abusive father and his lavish Chicago lifestyle. She's also running from her NYC roommate, whom she can't bear to see in the arms of a man. But once she meets Beebo Brinker and sees all that Greenwich Village has to offer, she stops to face her fears and catch her breath.
  • Bannon, Ann. Journey to a Woman. 1986, c1960.
    Whatever happened to Beth, Laura's first love? She married the man she chose over Laura, has two children, and finds herself bored to tears with her husband and her life. Following a series of dreams about Laura, Beth leaves her family and tracks Laura down in NYC, certain that Laura's love is what she needs. Nina Spicer, writer of lesbian fiction, shows Beth around the Village, and naturally Beth runs into Beebo, who leads her to Laura. Interesting subplot involving Beth's vengeful lover from back home.
  • Bannon, Ann. Odd Girl Out. 1983, c1957.
    Bannon, Ann. Odd Girl Out: An Original Gold Medal Novel. 1960, 1957.
    The predecessor to I Am a Woman, this novel introduces Laura and chronicles the love affair that drives her from college. Beth takes sorority sister Laura as her roommate-and more-then betrays Laura with a man. Laura ultimately thanks Beth for showing her "who she really is."
  • Bannon, Ann. Women in the Shadows. 1983, c1959.
    Laura is tired of Beebo, and she's cheating on her. When Beebo finds her diary, the gig is up for the two of them. Laura runs to Jack, who's on the wagon and, thanks to a grueling breakup, off men "for good." Jack proposes to Laura; he wants a "normal" life, and children. Laura is torn between a need for security and her desire for women; security wins out, but only after a spirited tug-of-war on all sides.
  • Bishop, Leonard. Creep into Thy Narrow Bed. 1956, c1954.
    "Adam could survive sadistic beatings, but he could not bear the thought of what would happen to his inverted sister if he tried to escape the racket." The focus is mainly on Adam, who recruits patients for an abortion "racket", but there is some emphasis on his "inverted" sister, Petey.
  • Brock, Lilyan. Queer Patterns. [1953?], 1935.
    "A powerful novel of a little-known menace." Aspiring actress Sheila has always known she wasn't like the other girls...Nicoli, Sheila's director in a new stage production, quickly "typecasts" her, leading this ingenue down the "path of corruption."
  • Campbell, Bea. Orgy of the Dolls. 1967.
    "This is an extravagant, factual, easy to understand report about the most incredible sexual female known to man...the nympho lesbian." This "shocking, vital and true" volume is a collection of "case histories" (which offer quite a bit of detail and dialogue) from the files of a psychiatrist, and goes so far as to include a bibliography. Hits all of the major stereotypes. "It seemed suspicious to the doctor that a pretty young girl, even one who admitted to being a lesbian, would be so interested in success in the business world."
  • Cassill, R. V. (Ronald Verlin). Dormitory Women. 1959, c1954.
    If Millie wants to fit in at Blackhawk University, she'll need to overcome her problems before her deep need for revenge overcomes her with tragic consequences. This novel has many of the hallmarks of the genre: orphans, rape, molestation, institutionalization, murder, promiscuity, and women in group living situations.
  • Cassill, R. V. (Ronald Verlin). Nurses' Quarters. 1961.
    The first-person narrator is male; the story revolves around his experiences of a military barracks on a South Seas island, where the nurses are running a prostitution ring. He falls for one of the nurses and tries to extricate her from the web of vice; she has a couple of lesbian encounters, but lesbians aren't the focus of the book. Reads like a hard-boiled detective story.
  • Christian, Paula. Amanda: A New Novel. c1965.
    Ev writes "les books", but she's not a lesbian; she simply puts a woman in the man's "traditional" place. When a young writer sends her a manuscript, she gives encouragement, and suddenly Amanda's in NYC & Ev can't resist the temptation to learn about Lesbianism. Amanda leaves Ev to spiral down into alcoholism, but she also meets some new people, like Cynthia and Edie, who help Ev come to terms with her new orientation.
  • Christian, Paula. Another Kind of Love. 1961.
    Hollywood can be full of surprises, even for a veteran like Laura, a writer for a fan magazine. Out on assignment to interview a Norma Desmond-like star, she meets Ginny, the star's "protege", and Laura's slow in figuring the truth of their relationship and the reason behind Ginny's interest in her. Laura moves to NYC, eventually gets over Ginny, and falls in love with Madeline. Written in a first-person, sarcastic style; ends happily.
  • Christian, Paula. This Side of Love. 1963.
    "How could a bitch-kitten like Toni hold Val in thrall?" Animation artist Val is returning to her hometown, L.A., but she's brought along Toni, the woman who "turned her gay" three years before. Val has problems accepting her identity and dealing with Toni, ultimately resulting in a nervous breakdown. Her psychiatrist offers much Freudian reasoning for her "condition". The writing gets heated: "The curdled milk of passion sat inside her breast like an infested, running sore."
  • Draper, Jess. One Step More. c1963.
    Stash has known Carol since high school, and she's the only thing he's ever wanted. Unfortunately for Stash, Carol only wanted women then, and that's all she wants now. Stash will try to make her a "real woman" using any means necessary, including, for some reason, bedding her girlfriend (a dancer Carol "keeps" in the city).
  • Evans, John. Halo in Brass. 1950, c1949.
    Combines the best of two pulp worlds: lesbian and detective. Hired by an old Nebraskan couple to locate their daughter, private dick Paul Pine stumbles upon a trail of murdered lesbians, including a few living as men. The police detective comments, at the end of the novel, that at least the people that died "didn't matter", and Pine gives the guy a bit of flack over that. No sex to speak of.
  • Johanet, Yvonne. I, Lesbian. c1964.
    "The FIRST book based on actual CASE HISTORIES that dares to SPELL OUT the shocking FACTS about the strange world of lesbians." This volume is written in a more journalistic style than others purporting to be scientific studies-i.e., it lacks a huge dose of explicit sex. Learn about different facets Lesbian life, such as how they dress; Lesbian marriage rituals; "disguised orgy parties"; and the "Madison Avenue Group". Read about a woman whose body actually becomes more masculine-complete with shrinking breasts. Nice line illustrations of dykes in suits having good times.
  • Marr, Reed. Women without Men. 1957.Another "true story", this time about women behind bars in Kennetank prison. The excellent cover copy describes the evil Queen who spins her web to trap the other hapless inmates. Then Mary shows up to take the crown and control of the prison-with a gentler hand.
  • Morgan, Claire (Patricia Highsmith). The Price of Salt. 1953, 1952. 
    Therese leaves the safety of the orphanage to forge an acting career in NYC. She settles for a job in the toy department of a large department store, and meets Carol on the opposite side of the counter. A few doll sales and a thank-you card later, Therese ends up at Carol's country house, under the wing of the rich, older woman. One of the few lesbian pulps with an upbeat ending.
  • Morrell, Lee. Nurses' Quarters. 1960.
    The pediatrics ward at Mercy Hospital is a hotbed of sexual activity-among the nurses. New girl Claire has a choice to make: she can stay with Birdie, who runs the ward and the women on it, but runs hot-and-cold toward Claire. Or she can forsake Birdie and reach "emotional maturity" as a heterosexual (with one of the young doctors, naturally).
  • Packer, Vin. The Evil Friendship. 1958.
    Mary and Martha go to a girls' school (complete with lesbian gym teacher), and are accused of carrying on a "significant relationship". The story barely fictionalizes the 1954 Parker-Hulme murder case in New Zealand, which was the basis of the 1994 film Heavenly Creatures. The girls dally in Druidic rites and use their "Druid stone" for matricide; their diaries are used for evidence in the trial. The inside cover of the book proclaims the case's similarity to the sensationalized Leopold and Loeb trial. Packer also wrote under the names Ann Aldrich, Marijane Meaker, Mary James, and M.E. Kerr.
  • Salem, Randy. Sex in the Shadows. 1965.
    "There are no heroines in the world of demi-sex...This novel is honest. It dares to picture...those outcasts of society-the Lesbians!" Stephie grew up without a mother. She moved to NYC to learn to be a civil engineer, just like her father. A pretty basic story about a love quartet, written in a light style with a first-person narrator, with lots of sex throughout and a happy ending.
  • Spain, Vicki. To Drown Our Lusts. 1965.
    Nick wants Sylvie, but she wants Marianne, who wants it all. Sylvie and Marianne like a little pain with their pleasure-and what a pleasure it is. It's short on plot, but chock-full of sex of every description-including a Parisian orgy.
  • Starr, Leda. All at Once. 1967.
    Coral Valdez, a self-professed "creature of pleasure", escapes from a small town to NYC, prostituting herself to men and women alike along the way. She falls for Tessa, a madame for lesbian hookers, and works for her once she gets to the city. Coral meets Bunny in a bar, but doesn't take their relationship seriously, and uses Bunny as an outlet for her personal degradations-until Bunny kills her in a fit of jealousy, just before Coral can marry this old man she met "on the job". The sex is degrading and sometimes violent. The story is told in flashbacks during Coral's dying moments.
  • Stevens, Gus. The Gay Tease. 1965.
    Intrigue at the newspaper! The paper's librarian is a chic, predatory lesbian; there's some lesbian content, but the focus is the heterosexual relationships between other coworkers. The dialogue is straight-up Rat Pack, and there's copious sexual content-including illustrations. These antics surround the story of the new girl's attempt to prove herself more than a secretary; she wants to be one of the reporters, and pulls a dangerous stunt to prove herself.
  • Taylor, Valerie. The Girls in 3-B. 1959.
    Three girls from small-town Iowa move to Chicago. Two find men and promiscuity, and the third finds an older woman at the store where she works. Another rare happy ending-the girl gets the girl. There are overtones of incest in Barby's relationship with her father.

The books in the "Erika Frohmann Series" were not published in an order matched to the story's timeline. Return to Lesbos takes place within a year of World without Men, and gives the impression that Kate had died in a serious accident, which is odd since Kate was quite healthy at the end of her hospital stay in World. Stranger on Lesbos (1960) comes between World and Return yet it was the first volume to see publication.

  • Taylor, Valerie. Journey to Fulfillment. 1964.
    After WWII, Erika is sent from a concentration camp to a resettlement camp, then adopted by an American couple. Erika doesn't have words for what she finds in the small Midwestern town, but she knows she wants it. Her new sister's best friend "brings her out", then Erika falls prey to the despotic sexual whims of sister Judy. Finally, she finds peace with an older woman in the community-a teacher at her school. Introduces the term "kiki" to describe a woman who will go butch or femme.
  • Taylor, Valerie. Return to Lesbos. 1963.
    Frances is stuck in a classic Feminine Mystique-type dilemma: she's been hustled out to the suburbs by her husband of 21 years, in an attempt to leave her lover and the surrounding scandal behind. Bored to tears in her big house and unwilling to socialize with the "Wives", she sees Erika in a bookstore and, recognizing a kindred spirit, falls in love. Erika's too busy recovering from Kate's death to want anything to do with Frances, but with the help of the bookstore owner, she comes around and Erika and Frances eventually come together.
  • Taylor, Valerie. A World without Men. 1963.
    Twelve years after Journey to Fulfillment, we find Erika working as a music teacher in a small town, where she befriends Kate, a fellow tenant at her boarding house. Kate is alcoholic and struggling with the side effects of repressed memories from her childhood (severe physical abuse, incest); she finally comes to terms with her past after a disastrous date (not rape) and a severe accident. Kate visits her shrink for the last time and walks into the sunset with Erika.
  • Torres, Tereska. Women's Barracks. 1950.
    Another time-honored tale of women who can't keep their hands to themselves while together. This time, the women are in the French army, and the book is their "true stories" as told to the author. Expect all of the conventions of the genre with this one-especially innocent girls and experienced, predatory women. The first page declares "Women's Barracks wins court test!" Apparently, a traveling salesman was arrested in St. Paul for peddling obscenity; the court decided that the book didn't have the power to corrupt the innocent in 1953. Shocking!
  • Van Dyke, Kris. Part-Time Lez. 1967.
    "A part-time Lesbian. A full-time nympho. And a dyed-in-the-wool rebel!" Kris is the daughter of the Middleton's bank president, and expects to marry Adam, a young lawyer, in the near future. For the moment, Adam isn't giving her enough, so she's still experimenting-with Jack, a hitchhiker she picked up, and Judy, her best friend. Adam dumps Kris for being oversexed; Jack and Judy marry, and have a tryst with Kris mere hours after their wedding. Kris also harbours some really strong feelings for her father. There's plenty of sex in this book, but it's clear that the lesbianism is just an "experiment".
  • Verel, Shirley. The Dark Side of Venus. 1962, 1960.
    "A frank and probing (ahem!) novel" that takes place amongst the English upper crust, with a Fitzgeraldian flair to it. Julian doesn't understand why Judith won't marry him; how can Judith explain that she loves another-woman?

Women in the Shadows: An Introduction

"Come here, Laura." She looked unearthly as she spoke, with her black hair tumbled, her cheeks crimson. ...They stood motionless, so close that they touched. ...Laura shook all over. She couldn't talk except to repeat the other girl's name over and over, as if she were in a trance...Neither of them heard the phone ring, felt the chill of the rainy night, knew of anything except each other.

So reads a passage from Ann Bannon's I Am a Woman, one of scores of pulp novels about lesbian love and sex published during the paperback industry's most sensational era. In 1950, twelve years after Pocket Books published the first mass-market paperback, Fawcett began to feature the twilight world of women-loving women with its successful Gold Medal imprint series. Other publishers followed suit; soon the genre was so firmly established that readers could choose among several formulas or subgenres of lesbian pulp fiction: lesbians in institutions, love triangles, lesbians "saved" by straight men, etc. With their camp cover art and lurid prose, many of these books appealed to readers across lines of gender and sexuality, desires and tastes; although the narratives undoubtedly satisfied the prurient interests of many straight readers, they also catered to an entire generation of lesbian readers, who were anxious to find a reflection-albeit distorted and often cruel-of their own lives in a work of fiction.

Lesbian pulps were titled and pictured in "codes" that helped lesbians pick them out from amongst a drugstore rack filled with similar, often lurid, titles: a cover with a brunette towering over a reclining blonde, often with a man in the far background; titles with "strange", "odd" or "shadows" in them. The pulps gave some women a glimpse into a world that wasn't easy to access outside of large cities. The popularity of the pulps made them available to women across the country, providing some sense of comfort and inclusion. However, lesbian characters rarely fared well in these novels, their potential for happiness ruined by censure typical of the period: a woman engaged in illicit pleasures of one kind or another had to suffer a downfall to balance out the licentiousness of her actions. This "moral lesson" redeemed lesbian pulps from the ranks of mere pornography under the pretense of providing a public service. In addition, these stories sent a not-so-subtle message to lesbians about their place in society. "Frank" (code for "sexually explicit") stories warned readers about: the predatory older lesbian; the dangers of a poor father-daughter relationship; the susceptibility of orphans; the perils of the big city; the "immaturity" of lesbian sex; and the general misery of a lesbian existence.

"Scientific research" was another popular premise around which to base these novels. Kinsey's Sexual Behavior of the Human Female came out in 1953, and Masters and Johnson's Human Sexual Response was published in 1966. Although these books were not intended to be prurient, the case studies apparently sparked the imaginations of pulp authors. Once again, pornography could be disguised as something socially acceptable, and the books had the added lure of being "based on a true story." Bea Campbell's Orgy of the Dolls, for example, claims to be comprised of "actual case histories", and offers a bibliography. However, "Orgy of the Dolls" is not a particularly scientific title, and the "case histories" are filled with an incredible amount of detail for something sprung from a therapist's notes. One of the "patients" even refers to Kinsey's book in regard to her "condition." Group living situations-or female-oriented workplaces, such as department stores or hospitals-were a popular setting for lesbian pulps; apparently, prolonged proximity among women inevitably results in a hotbed of lesbianism.

These novels give us the flavor of the times (1950-1968) with regard to sexual mores and public attitudes toward lesbian sexuality-which, judging from the popularity of the books, amounted to a love-hate relationship. Although the 1950's and early 1960's have been portrayed in the media as a desexualized time (i.e., "Happy Days"), that image betrayed by these books, which paint a Hugh Hefneresque, hedonistic lifestyle. They are also a lesson in unintended consequences: during a period when pulps in book and magazine form flourished in many genres (detective stories, science fiction, horror, westerns, and gay male pulps), what publisher could have expected that these books, initially written by and for men, would strike such a cord with women?

Many well-known authors wrote pulps under other names, including Mists of Avalon author Marion Zimmer Bradley (as Lee Chapman, Miriam Gardner, Morgan Ives) and popular and prolific mystery writer Lawrence Block (Jill Emerson, Sheldon Ward, Andrew Shaw). Lesbian pulps began to disappear by the 1960s, but the strengthening gay and lesbian rights movement prompted at least two lesbian publishing houses to reissue titles in the 1970s, signaling a critical reappropriation and recontextualization of these works. In order to facilitate study of this unique and complex genre, the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library of Duke University now offers a growing collection of lesbian pulp novels. The collection includes several literary antecedents to the lesbian pulp genre (see Radclyffe Hall and Gale Wilhelm, under Secondary Sources); and many books in their original pulp format, as well as several pulps later reprinted in paperback by Naiad Press, Inc.

This bibliography of texts and sources was compiled by Maureen McClarnon, 2000.

First edition compiled by Diane McRay, 1995.