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The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith is a seminal 20th century lesbian text famous for its suspenseful tone, slow burn romance, and narrow escape from the entrappings of the literary modes of mid-century lesbian pulp fiction. The novel provides its reader with a case study in the ways our dominant culture and narratives influence us and how we can push back against them, for it rejects the tendency held by much of English literature written prior to the last quarter of the twentieth century to punish the lesbian at the conclusion of her story for her deviance from the social status quo, lest the reader walk away with the impression that queerness has been endorsed rather than condemned. Catharine Stimpson discusses this phenomenon in “Zero Degree Deviancy: The Lesbian Novel in English,” describing how “as if making an implicit, perhaps unconscious pact with her culture, the lesbian writer who rejects both silence and excessive coding can claim the right to write for the public in exchange for adopting the narrative of damnation” (247). This formulaic “narrative of damnation” that is so often applied to the conclusions of lesbian literature borrows its structure from a perhaps unexpected influence: the Gothic. The Price of Salt, first published in 1952, serves as a prime example of this Queer Gothic phenomenon, exhibiting the genre’s role in constructing the damnation narrative in lesbian fiction and experimenting with the fallouts of that narrative’s appearance in queer literature.


Undergraduate Research Awards - 2022 Winner, Junior/Senior category

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