The past meets the present in our Friday File series, where we delve through artifacts housed at the UO Libraries and let them talk.
Before The Price of Salt, books featuring gay and lesbian relationships usually ended in repentance or tragedy.
But Patricia Highsmith’s second novel didn’t. That’s one key reason it was adapted into last year’s film Carol, and one reason Carol is up for six Academy Awards this Sunday, including Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay).
But The Price of Salt probably wouldn’t be a movie today if the book weren’t rediscovered in 1984. This week’s Friday File highlights an artifact of that rediscovery that lives at University of Oregon’s Special Collections and University Archives.
When Highsmith originally published The Price of Salt in 1952, it enjoyed wide circulation as a pulp lesbian fiction book. It provided a “happy ending” that had rarely been told in lesbian fiction up to that point, because homosexuality was so taboo in American society.
That really affected readers all over North America who were questioning their sexuality, according to Joanne E. Passet, author of upcoming biography Indomitable: The Life of Barbara Grier.
“As [Highsmith] later recalled, ‘girls and boys too, the young and the middle-aged, but mostly the young and painfully shy’ wrote ‘from somewhere in Canada, from towns I never heard of in North Dakota, from New York, even Australia’ to thank her for giving them a book about same-sex lovers who not only survived but also had the promise of a happy future together,” Passet writes in Indomitable.
One of those readers influenced by The Price of Salt was Barbara Grier of Naiad Press, one of the first publishing companies dedicated to lesbian literature, and the subject of Passet’s book Indomitable.
In 1982, 30 years after The Price of Salt was first published, Grier set out to get it back in print. Grier wrote Highsmith in Paris, asking her to let The Price of Salt be published again. She asked Highsmith to think of women “who deserve to have the right to find that book I first read so many years ago,” Passet quoted in Indomitable.
After some persuasion and flattery, the reclusive Highsmith said yes. Grier felt like “turning cartwheels in the street,” Passet writes, as she set about putting together the reprint.
This was where Tee Corinne entered the picture. Corinne was an artist, writer and lesbian activist who came to the forefront of lesbian art because of her portrayals of sexuality. Corinne had been working with Grier since the two met in 1976.
In 1983, when Grier acquired the rights to republish The Price of Salt, Corinne photographed the new cover—a simple photo of an open saltshaker.
That same saltshaker is now housed at the University of Oregon Libraries’ Special Collections and University Archives. It’s part of the Tee Corinne papers, which include around 30 years’ worth of Corinne’s manuscripts, correspondence, photographs and original artwork.
This saltshaker is an important artifact in lesbian literature: With this saltshaker on its cover, The Price of Salt reentered the world to inspire and comfort a new generation of readers and, 30 years later, become an Oscar-nominated film.
Information for this article was collected from the following source:
- Saltshaker, Tee A. Corinne Papers, Coll 263, Special Collections & University Archives, University of Oregon, Eugene, Or.
Student Editorial Assistant