18 Classics of LGBTQ Literature

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American Writer Patricia Highsmith in Front of Fountain (Photo by © Alex Gotfryd/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

2. The Price of Salt

Later published as Carol, this 1952 novel relates a tale with a then-rare happy ending for a lesbian couple. It was written by Patricia Highsmith (The Talented Mr. Ripley, Strangers on a Train), though she first published it under the pseudonym “Claire Morgan”.

Highsmith was already well-known as a suspense writer. She and her publishers were both concerned that her association with an overtly lesbian novel would ruin her reputation. The 1950s were not just a highly conservative, anti-communist time in the United States; they were also, unsurprisingly, fairly homophobic.

However, The Price of Salt was still published, and soon become a classic of lesbian literature. It was even made into a film in 2016, Carol, starring Cate Blanchette and Rooney Mara. Highsmith, by the way, primarily had relationships with women, though her sometimes misogynistic work presents a complicated portrait of the author herself. In describing an affair she had with a man, Highsmith said that it felt like “steel wool in the face”.

The novel follows Therese, a young woman working in a department store while she struggles to start her career as a set designer. While working in the store, she is intrigued by a Carol, an elegant, attractive woman. Soon enough, their relationship blossoms. However, Carol’s husband becomes suspicious and eventually initiates a divorce.

Many gay and lesbian-themed novels of the time were saddled with downer endings. Someone, apparently, had to die or end their lives in sadness and misery to be deemed acceptable for publishing. However, The Price of Salt presented a then-groundbreaking solution: what if lesbians could actually be, you know, happy? Though divorced, Carol is still able to see her young daughter and it’s implied that she continues her relationship with Therese.