“Spring fire“ is the first lesbian paperback novel that first appeared in 1952 and sold an amazing 1.5 million copies. It launched the genre of lesbian novels and the career of Vin Packer, pseudonym for prolific author Marijane Meaker.
Being the first lesbian novel pulp fiction of the genre, it made me kind of sad that the author couldn’t actually choose the destiny of the characters and that was also forced to put two very beautiful and almost naked women on the cover as it would sell and also, no happy ending, do not promote lesbianism and one of them should decide she is no lesbian and the other is supposed to be sick or crazy.
In the new introduction of the book, the author remembers how this book was published and which conditions she was asked by the publisher :
“You might have a good story there“, Dick said, “but you`d have to do two things. The girls would have to be in college, not boarding school. And, you cannot make homosexuality attractive. No happy ending“
“In other words, my heroine has to decide she’s really not queer“
“That’s it. And the one she’s involved with is sick or crazy.“
And the title is chosen to create confusion and sell better.
“I want to call it Spring Fire, Dick said.
What? What does that even mean?
It means there’s a big seller by James Michener called The Fires Of Spring, and we might pick up a few readers who confuse the titles.“
“Spring fire“ is the typical sorority love story, but this time between two girls : Susan Mitchel (“Mitch“), the butch style freshman, and Leda Taylor , the queen of Tri Ep sorority. They are supposed to date fraternity guys and Leda does date Jake.
Mitch is accepted by the sorority only because her father is rich and she will bring the sorority sisters fame and the so much desired silvery, yet in Leda’s eyes there is so much more, and it’s actually Leda who corrupts Mitch and the foolish girl falls in love with her, yet Leda cannot accept the term nor the life as a lesbian couple.
“ “Don’t,” Leda said, her arm catching the girl’s waist. Mitch turned on her side, facing Leda, feeling the hand rub her back. It was quiet and warm. Leda moved her hand forward and ran her fingers lightly over the buttons on Mitch’s pajama top. Then, gently, she slipped the round, plastic buttons from their loops, leaving the coat open. Almost as if Mitch knew what would follow, she held the top of the sheet back while Leda moved down and lightly kissed Mitch’s breasts. A soft sigh broke free from Mitch’s throat and evolved into a plaintive cry. Leda pulled herself up and her lips found Mitch’s and crushed them, burning and moist.
“Mitch,” Leda whispered, and they held each other fast and hard. “Mitch.”
Leda was not a man, and yet, when she had awakened her, Mitch turned to her and they were not friends then, but lovers. Mitch became separate as a person at last. She was not separate from Leda, but individual and one. She was wanted and she wanted, and it was not a want striped with fear and hurt It was a fragile want to be nurtured and cared for, as Leda had then in bed.
“I never kissed a girl,” Leda had said afterward. “I’m sorry I did it to you, kid.”
There was something wrong and ill in the two of them then like that, Mitch knew, but what? When she was a child, near the dam where she had gone with her father, on the worn lead pipe there were words written and she had said, “What do they mean?” They were bad words, he explained, and there was that about his explanation that made her feel guilty, as though she had taken the white chalk and put the words there. Leda was sorry, so she knew what was wrong.
Like you’ve been doing, Mitch. I couldn’t love you if you were a Lesbian.”
“I’m not,” Mitch said, wondering what the word meant “I’m not. I—I just haven’t met a man yet who makes me feel the way you do.”
“Maybe you don’t give them a chance,” Leda answered. “Come on now. Let’s go to bed. God, it’s three-thirty.”
They tiptoed up the back steps and down the quiet, dimly lighted hall to their room. Leda pulled the covers back and fell into her bed. She murmured a tired good night, and her eyes closed and her breathing came heavily. Mitch did not sleep. She lay tossing about on her bed across from Leda, her mind running through the incidents of the evening to review them and examine them. There was only a fragmentary edge left to the sensuous memory of her loving Leda, and looming now in a sick foreground there was this word.
Slowly Mitch got up and went to the bookshelf, taking from it the blue book, and leafing through it, holding it near the flash that Leda had left on the desk.
Les’bian (lezTrian) adj. 1. Of or pertaining to Lesbos (now Mytilene), one of the Aegean Islands. 2. Erotic;—in allusion to the reputed sensuality of the people of Lesbos.
Mitch closed the book and stood staring at the bare light of the street lamp in front of Epsilon Epsilon Epsilon. She could hear Leda’s breath coming slower now and more evenly, in deep sleep, and the dictionary had told her nothing.
“The female homosexual, the Lesbian, often preys on girls who are not true homosexuals. Such girls may enjoy men, and be capable of normal heterosexual life if they do not become involved with a genuine Lesbian type, whose technique is often more skillful than that of many of her young men suitors.”
Men come first with me.
Maybe it was natural.
“A normal man finds sex with this type of woman extremely difficult if not impossible.”
No, I just can’t!
“Many times, under the proper circumstances, a female homosexual may learn to control, if not eliminate, her active homosexual tendencies once she is removed from an environment where the temptation is great In the case of…”“
Mitch has encounters with Jake’s fraternity brother Bud, yet she doesn’t go further with him and she has an incident, because the big guy feels hurt in his ego by her rejection and creates a whole mess and a little scandal to force Mitch to at least date him, yet Mitch loves Leda, declares it to her and even writes her a letter that will be her doom.
This letter is for you alone. Please tear it up when you are through.
More than anything else I want you to understand what I’m going to say here, and why I’m saying it. I want to leave the sorority and become an independent.
Maybe it’ll be the best thing for me, and maybe it’ll be just another defeat, but I have to do it. Leda, darling, you know that I love you. You know it, even though I haven’t shown it in the past few days. I’ve been worried and afraid, and now I know for sure what’s wrong with me. I suppose I should go to a doctor, but I don’t have the nerve, and I’m going to try to help myself as best I can.
Lesbian is an ugly word and I hate it. But that’s what I am, Leda, and my feelings toward you are homosexual. I had no business to ask you to stop seeing Jake, to try to turn you into what I am, but please believe me, I didn’t know myself what I was doing. I guess I’m young and stupid and naive about life, and I know that you warned me about the direction my life was taking when you told me to get to know men. I tried, Leda. But it was awful. Even Charlie knows what I am now. I think that if I go to an independent house, away from you, the only person I love, I’ll be able to forget some of the temptation. If I stay in the sorority, I’ll only make you unhappy and hurt you. I love you too much to do that
Please announce that I am leaving during the chapter meeting tonight Don’t tell them why, please, because I want to straighten myself out and I don’t want people to know. Tell them that I thank them for all they’ve done, but that I’d rather live somewhere else because I don’t fit in here.
I know how you’ll feel about me after reading this. I’ll try to stay out of your way. Tonight I am going to eat dinner downtown, and then during chapter meeting I’ll pack most of my things and move to the hotel until I get a room at the dorm. Robin Maurer is going to help me.
There’s nothing else to say but good-by, I’m sorry, and I do love you, Leda.
She will meet other great guys that are not fraternity affiliates, Charlie and Lucifer, yet she cannot physically nor mentally love them, she understands her attraction for women and her love for Leda. Their lovemaking, their jealousy are normal states of mind and couple, yet back then they seemed surreal.
Leda continues a loveless life dating sorority guy until the accident where she’s badly injured and in that trauma she speaks words she shouldn’t have and her sorority sisters understand that she is the one that corrupted Mitch into lesbianism, as they couldn’t conceive the fact that it can be consented and, as they have caught Mitch and Leda together and Mitch was the attacker and Leda was considered the victim as she betrayed Mitch, by showing everyone Mitch’s love letter to her.
“”Maybe I’m trying to prove something to myself. Part of me is trying to say that I’m not what I am. That’s the part of me that everyone knows—the alluring Leda, the queen, Jan’s daughter, an apple never falls far from the tree. Out with Jake every damn day to keep myself away from what I really am. Want to know what sex with him is like? It’s like dry bread, that’s what it’s like. Like dry bread!”
Leda got up from the bed and reached for her cigarettes on the desk. She felt relieved, cleansed, as though her mind had been emptied and she was free. She walked over to the suitcase on Mitch’s bed and picked up the clothing, taking it in her arms to the drawer. “You want this all put back, don’t you?” she said to Mitch. “You won’t leave me?”
“No,” Mitch said. “I’m going. Robin arranged everything, and—oh, Leda!” They stood in the center of the room holding one another, their lips fastened hard, their arms strong around each other. Leda’s hand reached for the buttons on Mitch’s blouse.
“Just stand still,” she said. “Just let me take everything off and look at you. I want to look at you.”
The skirt fell to the floor, and the blouse. Mitch stepped out of her shoes and stood before Leda.
“I want to love you,” Leda said.
Her hands stroked Mitch’s body gently. She leaned over to kiss her lips and her forehead and the closed eyelids. She said her name and held her, feeling the fast beat in her pulse and knowing that she had almost lost her.
The blood beat furiously in Mitch’s throat and she could feel a mounting strength in her legs and arms. With the arrogance of a master, Mitch’s nails dug into Leda’s flesh as she began to pull the sweater and the thin blouse from her shoulders.
Leda’s gasp was one of pleasure and desire and it moved Mitch to more violence, pinning Leda’s wrists behind her back and jerking at her skirt.
Neither of them heard the door open.
Marsha leaned in the window. Leda’s lips were parted, and the blood had run down by her nose. Her eyes were closed. She kept mumbling. They were able to make the mumbling out gradually as it became clearer. “Mitch,” she was saying. “Mitch, honey. Oh, God, Mitch, honey, what did I do to you?”
“She feels bad about Susan Mitchell,” Kitten said.
They listened to Leda as she said more. “I want you, Mitch. Kiss me! It’s going to be all right again. God, Mitch, love me.”
Marsha and Kitten looked at each other with horror-stricken faces.
Kitten said, “Did you hear what I heard?” and the mumbling kept on.“
Now, she’s considered sick and crazy and Mitch needs to heal and gets out of the sorority with Robin’s help, her new independent bedroom colleague.
In the end, the whole love story was a mistake and Mitch realizes she has never loved Leda, just as the publisher has asked.
“ “You’re right,” Dr. Peters agreed. “It’s a big job, too. I don’t know, Ruth. Today I wondered if all our youth hadn’t suddenly turned shallow and callous—after the girls left the hospital and I watched them walk away laughing and chatting like magpies. I wondered where the dignity of youth was nowadays. Well, at any rate, it looks like Susan will have a chance. Leda is another matter. She wants to see Susan—and that’s what I came over about. I’d like to arrange a meeting between the two of them tonight.”
“Is that wise, Ted?”
“I’ve talked to Susan, and I think I know her well enough now to be sure that it’ll be very wise in her case. It’s cruel to ask her to witness the fallen Leda, and yet, perhaps it’s the only way to prove to her once and for all how very sick Leda is and was. The mental sickness is becoming more pronounced than the physical. That wreck didn’t really injure Leda. It awoke her. The neuroses that was growing in her subconscious mind suddenly came to grips with the conscious mind at the time of the wreck. The impact of that meeting is what she can’t bridge. She knows her two selves now, and she can’t assimilate them. It’s very serious, Ruth, and I’m counting on her seeing Susan to help.”
The phone was on the desk, and Dean Paterson reached for it, hesitating a moment before she remembered the number of the dorm where Susan Mitchell was living.
* * *
Mitch finished hanging up the last dress and turned to look at the room in Main Dorm where she had moved. The boxes were empty, and the suitcase had been shoved under the bed by the wall. Robin sat limp in the chair near the desk, her short legs relaxed in front of her, her arms hanging down at the side. “Finally!” she sighed. “I thought we’d never finish.”
“You were wonderful to help, Robin.” “I’d help anyone out of that kind of hell. You should have done it months ago.”
“I guess so,” Mitch agreed. She sat on the bed and flicked the radio on, waiting for it to warm up.
“You know,” Robin said, “Monday night after you didn’t show up here, I thought you’d weakened and changed your mind.”
Mitch got a station that was playing waltz music. She fixed the tone so it was not too loud, and didn’t answer Robin. The Dean had warned her that it would be hard. People would want to know why she had moved out of the sorority.
“Anything new on Leda?”
The question jarred Mitch. She had heard from Dr. Peters that Leda had called for her at the wreck, that she had said all those things about her, crying out her love before she came to in the hospital. Half of Mitch remembered Leda with the raven-colored hair and the keen, delicate hands, the jade eyes and the soft words, but even in that half there was a tinge of bitter irony in Mitch’s memory, flowing into the other half of the remembered Leda. The half that had betrayed her.
“I know you must be worried,” Robin continued. “I never trusted her, myself. There was something about her. But I know you like her.”
“You have to know her,” Mitch said, hoping the dull edge on her words was not obvious to Robin.“
“She knew that if it had been any other way—if Leda Taylor could have been helped, and could have at that moment walked there too and known the peace in the twilight and the first hints of frost on the grass and bushes surrounding Cranston—Mitch would have wanted that. Because it was true what she had told Leda yesterday. She didn’t hate her. She didn’t hate her at all, and she knew then that she had never really loved her.
And the whole picture of the Era :
“ In the early 1950s new subgenres emerged—science fiction, lesbian fiction, juvenile delinquent and “sleaze”, for instance—that would tantalize readers with gritty, realistic and lurid stories never seen before. Publishers had come to realize that sex sells. In a competitive frenzy for readers, they tossed away their staid and straightforward cover images for alluring covers that frequently featured a sexy woman in some form of undress, along with a suggestive tag line that promised stories of sex and violence within the covers. Before long, books with sensational covers had completely taken over the paperback racks and cash registers. To this day, the cover art of these vintage paperback books are just as sought after as the books themselves were sixty years ago.
With the birth of the lesbian-themed pulp novel, women who loved women would finally see themselves—their experiences and their lives—represented within the pages of a book. They finally had a literature they could call their own. Of course, that’s not what the publishers of the day intended – these books were written primarily for men… indeed shamelessly packaged and published to titillate the male reading public.
Many of the books were written by men using female pseudonyms and were illustrated by cover artists who never read the content between the covers. However, a good percentage (primarily titles from Fawcett’s Gold Medal Books imprint) were written by women, most of whom were lesbians themselves. For lesbians across the country, especially those living isolated lives in small towns, these books provided a sense of community they never knew existed… a connection to women who experienced the same longings, feelings and fears as they did—the powerful knowledge that they were not alone.“
“Focul de primăvară” este primul roman tipărit de lesbiene care a apărut pentru prima dată în 1952 și a vândut un uimitor 1,5 milioane de exemplare. A lansat genul de romane lesbiene și cariera lui Vin Packer, pseudonim pentru prolificul autor Marijane Meaker.
Fiind prima ficțiune de gen pentru genul de lesbiene, mi-a fost cam trist faptul că autorul nu a putut să aleagă destinul personajelor și că a fost forțat să pună pe copertă două femei foarte frumoase și aproape goale Vinde și, de asemenea, nici un sfârșit fericit, nu promovează lesbianismul și unul dintre ei ar trebui să decidă că nu este lesbiană, iar cealaltă ar trebui să fie bolnavă sau nebună.
În noua introducere a cărții, autorul își amintește cum a fost publicată această carte și în ce condiții ea a fost solicitată de către editor:
Mitch se întâlnește cu fratele fraternității Bud al lui Jake, totuși nu merge mai departe cu el și are un incident, pentru că tipul cel mare se simte rănit în ego-ul său prin respingerea ei și creează o mizerie întreagă și un mic scandal pentru a forța pe Mitch să Cel puțin să-l întâlnească, dar Mitch îl iubește pe Leda, o declară la ea și chiar îi scrie o scrisoare care va fi disprețul ei.
Se va întâlni cu alți tipi grozavi care nu sunt afiliați ai fraternității, Charlie și Lucifer, dar nu le poate iubi fizic și mental, înțelege atracția pentru femei și dragostea ei pentru Leda. Iubirea lor, gelozia lor sunt stări normale ale minții și cuplului, dar de atunci păreau suprarealiste.
Leda continuă o viață fără iubire in care se întâlnește cu tipul de sororitate până la accidentul în care este rănită grav, iar în trauma respectivă vorbește cuvinte pe care ea nu ar trebui să le spună și surorile ei de sororire înțeleg că ea este cea care a corupt-o pe Mitch în lesbianism, iar faptul că poate fi iubire consimțită și că le-au prins-o pe Mitch și Leda împreună, iar Mitch a fost atacatorul, iar Leda a fost considerată victima atunci când a trădat-o pe Mitch, arătându-i fiecărei scrisori de dragoste lui Mitch.
Marsha se aplecă pe fereastră. Buzele Leda erau despărțite și sângele îi fugise de nas. Ochii ei erau închise. Continuă să mormăie. Ei au reușit să facă mișcarea treptat, pe măsură ce devine mai clară. – Mitch, spunea ea. – Mitch, dragă … Oh, Doamne, Mitch, dragă, ce ți-am făcut?
– Se simte rău în legătură cu Susan Mitchell, spuse Kitten.
Ele au ascultat-o pe Leda, când a spus mai mult. “Te vreau, Mitch, sărută-mă, va fi din nou în regulă, Dumnezeule, Mitch, iubește- mă”.
Marsha și Kitten se priveau una pe celălaltă cu chipuri groaznice.
Kitten spuse: – Ai auzit ce am auzit? Și mormăitul a continuat
Acum, ea este considerată bolnavă și nebună și Mitch trebuie să se vindece și să iasă din sororitate cu ajutorul lui Robin, noua sa colegă din dormitoroarele independente.
În cele din urmă, întreaga poveste de dragoste a fost o greșeală și Mitch realizează că nu a iubit-o niciodată pe Leda, așa cum a cerut editorul.