The Price of Salt
|The Price of Salt|
1st edition cover
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|Pages||288 pp (paperback edition)|
|ISBN||ISBN 0-393-32599-7 (paperback edition)|
|Preceded by||Strangers on a Train|
|Followed by||The Blunderer|
The Price of Salt (sometimes published under the title Carol) is a 1952 romance novel by Patricia Highsmith, written under the pseudonym Claire Morgan. The author – known as a suspense writer following the publication of her previous book, Strangers on a Train – became notorious due to the story's lesbian content and happy ending, the latter having been unprecedented in gay fiction.
In an afterword written many years later as part of the re-release by Naiad Press, Highsmith recalled that the novel was inspired by a mysterious woman who came to shop at a store where she was working. That night she began work on the story. The next day she became sick with chickenpox, but worked through her illness, even claiming the fever helped her to write.
The novel's two main characters are Therese Belivet, a lonely young woman, and Carol Aird, an elegant stranger Therese encounters one day at her temporary job in a New York department store. Therese is just starting out her adult life in Manhattan and looking for her chance to break through into her dream job as a theater set designer. Therese was semi-abandoned as a small girl by her widowed mother, who sent Therese to an Episcopalian boarding school. She is dating a young man, Richard, whom she does not love and does not want to have sex with.
On a long and monotonous day working in the toy department of the department store, Therese is struck by an elegant and beautiful woman in her early thirties, whom she serves. The woman, Carol, gives her address to Therese in order to have her purchases delivered. On an impulse, Therese sends Carol a Christmas card to her home address. Carol, who is going through a difficult separation and divorce and is herself quite lonely, unexpectedly responds, and the two begin to spend time together. Therese develops a strong attachment to Carol, but she is unsure how to understand her feelings. Therese's boyfriend accuses Therese of having a "schoolgirl crush" but Therese knows it is more than that: she is in love with Carol.
Carol's husband, Harge, is suspicious of Carol's relationship with Therese, whom he meets briefly when Therese stays over at Carol's house. Carol had previously admitted to Harge that she had a short-lived homosexual relationship with her best friend, Abby. Harge is furious, and he takes the couple's daughter to live with him, pending the final divorce proceedings. To escape from the tension in New York, Carol and Therese take a road trip West, over the course of which it becomes clear that the feelings the women have for each other are romantic and sexual. They become physically as well as emotionally intimate and declare their love for each other.
The women are unaware that Carol's husband has hired a private investigator to follow them and collect any evidence that would incriminate Carol as homosexual in the upcoming custody hearings. The investigator bugs the room in which Carol and Therese first have sex. Carol stops him on the road and demands that he hand over any evidence against her. The investigator sells Carol some tapes, at a high price, but then tells her that he has already sent several tapes and other evidence to Harge in New York. Carol knows that she will lose custody and most visitation rights to her daughter if she continues her relationship with Therese. Carol leaves Therese out West and heads back to New York to fight for her daughter. She tells Therese that she cannot continue their relationship. Therese is heartbroken, but her strength of character allows her to try to rebuild her life in New York.
In New York, the evidence for Carol's homosexuality is so strong that her case for custody would stand no chance in court, and she capitulates to Harge in the end, submitting to an agreement which gives him full custody of their child and leaves Carol with rare supervised visits. However, the book's ending is unusually optimistic compared to those of lesbian pulp novels, as it suggests that Carol and Therese may stay together and be happy after all.
Literary significance and criticism
Because of the happy ending (or at least an ending with the possibility of happiness) that defied the lesbian pulp formula and because of the unconventional characters that defied stereotypes about homosexuality, The Price of Salt was popular among lesbians in the 1950s. The book fell out of print but was re-issued by Naiad Press and a number of other feminist and lesbian presses.
On 23 May 2013, it was announced that a film adaptation titled Carol, directed by Todd Haynes and starring Cate Blanchett and Mia Wasikowska, is in development. The film will be produced by Elizabeth Karlsen and Stephen Woolley of Number 9 Films and distributed in the United States by The Weinstein Company. On 31 August 2013, it was announced that Wasikowska was replaced by Rooney Mara.
- Wiseman, Andreas (May 22, 2013). "Todd Haynes to direct Carol". Screen Daily. Retrieved May 22, 2013.
- Fleming Jr., Mike (May 28, 2013). "CANNES TOLDJA! The Weinstein Company Acquires U.S. Rights To Todd Haynes-Helmed ‘Carol’". Deadline.com. Retrieved May 28, 2013.
- "Rooney Mara to romance Cate Blanchett in new lesbian drama". WENN. MSN Entertainment. August 31, 2013. Retrieved September 1, 2013.
- Terry Castle, "Pulp Valentine: Patricia Highsmith's Erotic Lesbian Thriller"
- The Price of Salt at ChooseYourHighsmith.com