Peyton Place (novel)
|Publisher||Julian Messner, Inc.|
|September 24, 1956|
|Media type||Print, e-book|
|Followed by||Return to Peyton Place|
Peyton Place is a 1956 novel by Grace Metalious. The novel describes how three women are forced to come to terms with their identity, both as women and as sexual beings, in a small, conservative, gossipy New England town, with recurring themes of hypocrisy, social inequities and class privilege in a tale that includes incest, abortion, adultery, lust and murder. 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.
The novel spawned a franchise that would run through four decades. Twentieth Century-Fox adapted it as a motion picture in 1957, and Metalious wrote a follow-up novel that was published in 1959, called Return to Peyton Place, which was also filmed in 1961 using the same title. The original 1956 novel was adapted again in 1964, in what became a wildly successful prime time television series for 20th Century Fox Television that ran until 1969, and the term "Peyton Place" – an allusion to any small town or group that holds scandalous secrets – entered into the American lexicon.
The story starts in 1937 and continues through the years following World War II. While never mentioned explicitly by name, the novel does make several references that suggest Peyton Place is located within the state of New Hampshire: Vermont can be seen from across the Connecticut River;:189, 191 Lake Winnipesaukee is a short drive from the town;:146 a nearby New England town is called White River:189, 197 a character is spoken of as attending the New Hampton School for Boys;:196 and several mentions are made of a lake called Silver Lake,:199, 200 of which there are four located in New England, three in the state of New Hampshire, in the cities of Harrisville, Hollis and Madison.
The fictional Peyton Place also appears to be a composite of several real New Hampshire towns: Metalious' hometown of Gilmanton, as well as Gilford, Laconia, Manchester and Plymouth, where at least some of the work was written at the Plymouth Inn on Main Street (the inn has since been torn down).
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." 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. Constance becomes pregnant with MacKenzie's child. MacKenzie dies a few years after his daughter, also named Allison, is born. Constance and her daughter adopt Allison's last name before returning to Peyton Place as a "widow" and child, and Constance alters her daughter's birthdate to make her appear legitimate.
In Peyton Place, Nellie marries Lucas Cross shortly after their daughter Selena's birth, although Selena is not Lucas's child. Paul, Lucas's son and Selena's stepbrother, left Peyton Place after accusing 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.
- "Books Published Today". The New York Times: 25. September 24, 1956.
- Haralovich, Mary Beth (1999). Television, History and American Culture. Duke University Press. p. 77. ISBN 978-0-8223-2394-5.
- Metalious, Grace (1956). Peyton Place. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 9784871876162.
- 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" Archived 2010-12-09 at the Wayback Machine
- Callahan, Michael. "Peyton Place's Real Victim", Vanity Fair (March 2006) p. 332
- Cameron, Ardis. Unbuttoning America: A Biography of "Peyton Place" (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2015) ISBN 9780801456091. 240 pages. Also available at JSTOR.