Peyton Place (novel)
First edition cover
|Publisher||Julian Messner, Inc.|
|Followed by||Return to Peyton Place|
Peyton Place is a 1956 novel by Grace Metalious. It sold 60,000 copies within the first ten days of its release and remained on the New York Times best seller list for 59 weeks. It was adapted as both a 1957 film and a 1964–69 television series.
The fictional Peyton Place is a composite of several real New Hampshire towns: Gilmanton, Gilford, Laconia and Manchester. Grace Metalious and her husband George first considered Potter Place (the name of a real community near Andover, New Hampshire). Realizing their town should have a fictional name, they looked through an atlas and found Payton (the name of a real town in Texas). They combined that with Place and changed the "a" to an "e". Thus, Peyton Place was created, prompting her comment, "Wonderful—that's it, George. Peyton Place. Peyton Place, New Hampshire. Peyton Place, New England. Peyton Place, USA. Truly a composite of all small towns where ugliness rears its head, and where the people try to hide all the skeletons in their closets."
Characters and story
The main plot follows the lives of three women—lonely and repressed Constance MacKenzie; her illegitimate daughter Allison; and her employee Selena Cross, a girl from across the tracks, or "from the shacks." The novel describes how they come to terms with their identity as women and sexual beings in a small New England town. Hypocrisy, social inequities and class privilege are recurring themes in a tale that includes incest, abortion, adultery, lust and murder. The term "Peyton Place" became a generic label for any community whose inhabitants have sordid secrets.
Several characters and events were drawn from events in nearby towns and people Metalious actually knew. Selena Cross was based on Barbara Roberts, a 16-year-old girl from the village of Gilmanton Ironworks, who murdered her father Sylvester after years of sexual abuse and buried his body under a sheep pen. In the novel, Selena kills her stepfather, since incest was considered too taboo for readers at the time. Metalious' editor Kitty Messner made the change, much to the author's dismay and disapproval.
Constance leaves Peyton Place for New York City at a young age and meets a man in the publishing business named Allison MacKenzie, who is already married with children. (In the film adaptation, her father is named Angus, and in the television series, he became a New York City businessman named James.) Constance becomes pregnant with Allison's child, but Allison dies a few years after his daughter Allison is born. Both Constance and her daughter adopt Allison's last name before the two return to Peyton Place as a "widow" and child, and Constance alters her daughter's birth date to make her appear legitimate.
In Peyton Place, Nellie marries Lucas Cross shortly after their daughter Selena's birth, although Selena is not Lucas' child. Paul, Lucas's son and Selena's stepbrother, left Peyton Place after he accused Lucas of stealing his money. Nellie and Lucas later had a child together—Joey—who lives with the couple and Selena in "the shacks," a poor section of town. When Selena turned 14 years old, Lucas began to abuse her, impregnating her and leaving the local doctor in a troublesome situation in which he decided to perform an abortion. The doctor made Lucas leave town, and after she discovered this, Nellie committed suicide by hanging. Leslie Harrington, the richest man in town, was shattered when he lost his only son, Rodney, in a car accident.
Novelist Barbara Delinsky, author of the fictional Looking for Peyton Place (2006), summarized the storyline of Peyton Place on her website:
Peyton Place opens in 1937. With the introduction of the small New Hampshire town and its characters, the social strata are clearly defined. Most noted among the well-to-do are Leslie Harrington, owner of the mill, and his spoiled son Rodney, the good-hearted doctor Matthew Swain and upstanding Seth Buswell, owner of the newspaper. The town's middle class is represented by the book's two main characters, Constance MacKenzie and her daughter Allison. The impoverished of the town are represented by Selena Cross and her family. The town is a character itself, a seductively beautiful facade that hides a plethora of ills... Constance, who gave birth to Allison in New York after an affair with a married man and then returned to Peyton Place pretending to be a widow, lives in fear that the truth of Allison's illegitimacy will come out. Allison, who has few friends, dreams alternately about her wonderful father and about being a famous writer. Meanwhile, Peyton Place's power elite gather to discuss ways of manipulating zoning laws to rid the town of tar-paper shacks. And Lucas Cross, owner of one such shack, is abusive toward his stepdaughter Selena. Allison, who is desperate for a friend, grows close to Selena, who is equally desperate to escape Lucas and poverty. But the two girls have many differences. While Allison wants Selena to share her love of bucolic little spots like Road's End, Selena wants only to spend time at Allison's mother's dress shop and, increasingly, to talk with boys. Moreover, when Allison finally gets a look inside the shack where Selena lives, she is horrified by the squalor and the violence she sees in Lucas. Eventually, Allison and Selena grow distant because of Selena's closeness with Ted Carter. At the same time, a new high school principal arrives to catch the eye of Allison's mother, Constance, and to dredge up forbidden thoughts.
Another controversial character was school principal Tomas Makris, who bore the name and physical description of a Laconia resident and co-worker of Metalious' schoolteacher husband. In editions available in the United Kingdom, this character's name was Michael Kyros. Makris sued for libel, and settled out-of-court for $60,000. It later was revealed that Metalious had forged Makris' name on a release form, and the character was renamed Michael Rossi for the paperback, film version, television adaptation and her 1959 novel, Return to Peyton Place. Although the sequel sold well, its success did not approach that of the original.
Some citizens of the Lakes Region took umbrage at the notoriety that was quickly thrust upon the area, and they directed their resentment at Metalious. Vicious rumors began circulating about the author, some true (Metalious had an affair) and some preposterous (she bought groceries while wearing a fur coat and nothing underneath). Metalious later attempted to profit on her success when she invested in a motel on Lake Winnipesaukee that was re-christened the Peyton Place Motel, but it was an unsuccessful venture.
Despite the controversy, Metalious insisted that Peyton Place was a work of fiction. When John Michael Hayes, the screenwriter for the film adaptation, asked her if the novel was her autobiography, Metalious told him to repeat the question and then spilled her drink on him. Metalious wrote very accurately about New Englanders and many in her hometown still remember the scandal caused by the book. She was almost barred from being buried in the church cemetery, but the church and townsfolk in Gilmanton finally relented.
- Metalious, George and O'Shea, June. The Girl from Peyton Place, Dell, 1965.
- Farrell, Joelle. "'Pandora in blue jeans' lives on", Concord Monitor, March 26, 2006.
- Delinsky, Barbara. "Peyton Place Primer"
- AP: "50 Years Later, Peyton Memories Remain"
- Callahan, Michael. "Peyton Place's Real Victim" Vanity Fair (March 2006), p. 332.