Thursday, December 10, 2015

What is the price of salt?

This is a review of the book, The Price of Salt, which has now been made into a movie, Carol.


The Price of Salt, published in 1952, is considered the first book—and the only one for a very long time afterwards—to depict a lesbian relationship with a happy ending. Having just reread it, what strikes me now is how anyone, even lesbians, especially lesbians, could have thought that losing custody of your child with no visitation rights and being publicly humiliated in court and in the newspapers constituted a happy ending.

But we said, “At least neither of them died or went to jail or was committed to a mental institution or gave up her beloved to live a ‘normal’ life married to a man.” Because that was what happened to lesbian lovers in pulp fiction. And pulp fiction was the only place you could find stories about lesbian lovers.

When I puzzled over the title, The Price of Salt, what first occurred to me was a quote from the book of Matthew in the New Testament:
… if the salt should lose its savour, wherewith shall it be salted?
I later learned from a biography of Patricia Highsmith that that is indeed where the title came from. In asking the price of salt, she is asking what price a person must pay to live an authentic life. In those days it was a high price, if it was possible at all.

At the end of the book Carol and Therese have a future together, and for us that was enough. So The Price of Salt does not have a happy ending, but it does have a hopeful one. And I am hopeful that the release of the movie will herald a time when no one, no matter how ‘different’, must settle for a life unsalted, without savour.