Authors: Tereska Torres
By Tereska Torres
First published in 1950.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
A new revolution was underway at the start of the 1940s in America—a paperback revolution that would change the way publishers would produce and distribute books and how people would purchase and read them.
In 1939 a new publishing company—Pocket Books—stormed onto the scene with the publication of its first paperbound book. These books were cheaply produced and sold in numbers never before seen, in large part due to a bold and innovative distribution model that soon after made Pocket Books available in drugstores, newsstands, bus and train stations, and cigar shops. The American public could not get enough of them, and before long the publishing industry began to take notice of Pocket Book’s astonishing success.
Traditional publishers, salivating at the opportunity to cash in on the phenomenal success of the new paperback revolution, soon launched their own paperback ventures. Pocket Books was joined by Avon in 1941, Popular Library in 1942, and Dell in 1943. The popular genres reflected the tastes of Americans during World War II—mysteries, thrillers, and “hardboiled detective” stories were all the rage.
World War II proved to be a boon to the emerging paperback industry. During the war, a landmark agreement was reached with the government in which paperbound books would be produced at a very low price for distribution to service men and women overseas. These books were often passed from one soldier or sailor to another, being read and re-read over and over again until they literally fell apart. Their stories of home helped ease the servicemen’s loneliness and homesickness, and they could be easily carried in uniform pockets and read anywhere—in fox holes, barracks, transport planes, etc. Of course, once the war was over millions of veterans returned home with an insatiable appetite for reading. They were hooked, and their passion for reading these books helped launch a period of unprecedented growth in the paperback industry.
In the early 1950s new subgenres emerged—science fiction, lesbian fiction, juvenile delinquent and “sleaze”, for instance—that would tantalize readers with gritty, realistic and lurid stories never seen before. Publishers had come to realize that sex sells. In a competitive frenzy for readers, they tossed away their staid and straightforward cover images for alluring covers that frequently featured a sexy woman in some form of undress, along with a suggestive tag line that promised stories of sex and violence within the covers. Before long, books with sensational covers had completely taken over the paperback racks and cash registers. To this day, the cover art of these vintage paperback books are just as sought after as the books themselves were sixty years ago.
With the birth of the lesbian-themed pulp novel, women who loved women would finally see themselves—their experiences and their lives—represented within the pages of a book. They finally had a literature they could call their own. Of course, that’s not what the publishers of the day intended—these books were written primarily for men… indeed shamelessly packaged and published to titillate the male reading public.
Many of the books were written by men using female pseudonyms and were illustrated by cover artists who never read the content between the covers. However, a good percentage (primarily titles from Fawcett’s Gold Medal Books imprint) were written by women, most of whom were lesbians themselves. For lesbians across the country, especially those living isolated lives in small towns, these books provided a sense of community they never knew existed… a connection to women who experienced the same longings, feelings and fears as they did—the powerful knowledge that they were not alone.
We are excited to make these wonderful paperback stories available in ebook format to new generations of readers. We present them in their original form with very little modification so as to preserve the tone and atmosphere of the time period. In fact, much of the language—the slang, the colloquialisms, the lingo, even the spellings of some words—appear as they were written fifty or sixty years ago. The stories themselves reflect the time period in which they were written, reflecting the censorship, sensibilities and biases of the 1950s and early 1960s. Still, these lesbian pulp novels are a treasure in our collective literary history and we hope you will enjoy this nostalgic journey back in time.
While working in the newsroom of the Office of War Information in London during World War II, I met a young woman who was our liaison with the French information services. Tereska was a volunteer in the women's division of the Free French Forces, corresponding to our WACS. We became friends, and I visited her often in the ancient mansion on Down Street that had been turned into a barracks for these Frenchwomen. I came to know Tereska's circle.
Recently I met her again in Paris, happily married and the mother of two children. Tereska had just written a book about her companions in the Free French Forces, and she showed it to me. I recognized all the girls of the little circle in Down Street, and their stories, which I knew to be true.
It seemed to me that this book, with all its tenderness, was an important book because it told a story that had not yet been truly told, the story of women in war. This was the story of the effect of living together in military barracks upon a group of young girls, many of them utterly innocent when they entered the service, where they were to encounter jaded women who had lived through every type of experience. I recognized the authenticity of every line.
The problems brought forward here are problems that must be recognized wherever women have to live together without normal emotional outlets. What is told here should help to bring understanding of these special problems, for the story of Down Street reminds us that women must be women, even in war.
My husband tells me I ought to write my memoirs of the women's army in which I spent five years during World War II. It's very difficult. I don't know where to begin or how to tell it. My husband tells me laughingly that it will make a sensational book, and I really don't see myself as a writer of sensational books. But, he insists, the story will be interesting to Americans because we were a barracksful of Frenchwomen in exile, and it seems that Frenchwomen have a great deal of allure abroad.
"You know I don't like to talk about myself," I protest.
"Well, then write about the others." And he adds jokingly, "They're more interesting, anyway. Besides"—and he becomes serious—"it will be useful, it will help people understand."
It's raining. It's been raining since we arrived at the seashore. It seems that it rains a great deal in Brittany. And the rain reminds me of the summers in England when the rain fell ceaselessly.
I can still see, in every dismal detail, the big house on Down Street as it looked on those wet, cheerless days. Down Street, for all those who lived there, will always remain that big house of blackened brick in the narrow gray street, that cold and somber house bracketed between high brick walls. The dirty windows penetrated by yellowish light, the dim corridors, the large glacial assembly room, the dismal dormitories, the dining rooms with their bare tables—all had a prison-like aspect. Down Street—for me the name evokes the list of infractions and punishments posted in the entrance hallway; stairways to be swept, potatoes to be peeled, floors to be scrubbed on our knees. It evokes the little switchboard room, which someone dubbed the "Bordello," with its high walls and high grilled window. I can't count the times I stood before that window, seeking a bit of sky;'but always facing us, standing there in front of the hotel across the street, was the one we called "the Ambassador of Peru," holding himself erect, tall, thin, with painted cheeks, forever watching our barracks with his strange demonic smile. He seemed to me to be an angel of evil guarding our house.
But more than all these, Down Street evokes the women with whom I lived in that house. The truth is, I'm one of those people who live a great deal in the lives of others. Perhaps that's why people seem to feel easy in telling me things about themselves. I like to listen.
Sometimes at the barracks I wondered why so many of the girls in our little group chose me as their confidante, and poured out their most intimate feelings to me, their secret thoughts, while I didn't offer mine in return. I even asked this once of little Ursula. "Perhaps it's just because it is not an exchange," she said. "When I talk to you, I feel it's not a bargain in which I leave you my troubles and you leave me yours. You take mine, and that's all."
I never felt I was taking anyone's troubles, though there were times when I terribly wished I could help my friends in some way. I felt it was wonderful to have people trust me and let me into their lives. And I will try to write of their lives, telling not only what I saw, but of the feelings and thoughts that they revealed to me, and of some of the things I divined.
Naturally I was not present myself during all of the incidents that I am about to relate. Yet I know that these things happened, and I know well the women to whom they happened. These episodes are important, because they are significant of the pressures and tensions that all of us felt, and that all women must inevitably feel when they are isolated from normal living, caught in the strange turmoil of war. And so, since I am so well acquainted with the women who experienced these things —with their characters as well as their outward lives—I shall from time to time pretend, like a novelist, that I was an invisible witness to the private moments of my comrades.
When the war began, I was in my last year of school at the convent of St. Celestine. I was seventeen and unobtrusive, though not really plain. I had never even gone out with a boy. I had been raised in the warm family seclusion that is characteristic of respectable French families. My mother's parents lived with us in our small house near Orleans.
My father was a sculptor, and most of the friends of our family were, I suppose, middle-class people—university professors, some minor government officials, writers, and other artists. My own school friends were a rather serious-minded set of little girls. Though we did our share of giggling, we discussed such grave problems as the emancipation of the Frenchwoman; for at that time, women in France still did not have the vote. And though we knew nothing of men, we had long discussions about the number of children we would have. I was an only child, and was therefore ambitious to become the mother of a large brood.
Then the war was upon us. Papa enlisted. During the long winter of the "phony war" we felt secure. Then the war began in earnest. Papa was at the front, and we were sure France would win.
When the Germans reached Liege, Mother said we would have to leave Paris. I said she was out of her mind. I said the Germans would never get as close to Paris as they did in the last war. A week later the Germans were at the Meuse, and my mother and my grandparents insisted that we should prepare to leave.
And so one day in May I took off the navy-blue uniform dress of my convent school, and with my mother and my grandparents I left Paris. We were in danger, my mother said, because of our origins—her parents, who had come from Poland, were Jewish.
We had heard nothing from my father for several weeks. Then there was the news of the disaster at Dunkirk. Perhaps my father was there, helping the English.
Everyone was leaving Paris—all the prominent people, and all the people in government circles, including some of our friends, and everyone who had a car. We had no car. We left on a train that was crowded like a subway. We were going to St. Jean de Luz, where we could stay with my father's cousins.
We were certain we would be back soon; so certain that my mother left the family silver and all our other possessions unlocked in the house, simply telling the concierge to keep an eye on things. And I left my Teddy bear sitting on my bed. He was just exactly my own age, and he had slept with me all his life. It was for him that I wept when I thought of the Germans taking possession of our house.
After three almost unbearable days of crowding and confusion, of trains that stopped running and trains that changed destination, we all arrived at St. Jean de Luz, where the sun shone, and there was a beautiful beach, and there was the sea. The war seemed very far away.
I was sent back to my studies, to prepare for my graduation examination, which I should have taken that year in Paris. I passed it at last, at Bayonne, and was qualified to enter college. The day of my graduation was the day when France signed her armistice of defeat.