Toxic Togetherness in a Postwar "Potboiler":
Grace Metalious's Peyton Place

Americana: The Journal of American Popular Culture (1900-present), Fall 2006, Volume 5, Issue 2
http://www.americanpopularculture.com/journal/articles/fall_2006/anderson.htm



Stacey Stanfield Anderson
California State University Channel Islands

If I'm a lousy writer, then a hell of a lot of people have got lousy taste.
-Grace Metalious

Perhaps the most crucial failing of postwar America’s obsession with family togetherness was the ease with which it concealed destructive family dynamics from the outside world. As Benita Eisler observes, children in particular were “pressed into service early as happy smiling fronts, emissaries of family normalcy, cheerful proof that ‘nothing was really wrong’ at the Joneses” (170). Moreover, in a culture that touted “a man’s home is his castle,” letting the mask of conformity slip offered little hope of outside intervention. Notes historian Jessica Weiss, “A focus on family to the exclusion of all else isolated couples, leaving spouses few outside resources when conflict erupted.” A battered wife, for instance, found that neighbors and teachers were all too willing to overlook her scars and bruises in order to preserve “the fiction of togetherness,” leaving the woman “stranded trying to make a ‘happy’ home and raise children in between the rage and beatings that she could neither prevent nor stop” (137).

This sweeping cultural denial of familial dysfunction was most pronounced when it came to incest and sexual abuse – so much that we will never know how widespread such cases were in the 1950s. What we do know, as historian Stephanie Coontz points out, is that female victims who reported abuse to therapists “were frequently told they were ‘fantasizing’ their unconscious oedipal desires.” When these reports were believed, they were increasingly attributed to “female ‘sex delinquency.’ By 1960, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, experts described incest as a ‘one-in-a-million occurrence.’” Only after the widely hailed “Golden Age” of family life had long passed could victims of sexual abuse and incest reveal narratives that would tarnish that image (Coontz 35).

Thus, only in retrospect can we grasp the extent to which the nuclear family structure, rather than sheltering 1950s children from the dangers of the outside world, offered a safe territory for those who sought to violate them. “Few would have guessed,” for instance, “that radiant Marilyn Van Derbur, crowned Miss America in 1958, had been sexually violated by her wealthy, respectable father from the time she was five until she was eighteen, when she moved away to college” (Coontz 34). It is difficult to overestimate the symbolic impact of this striking if anecdotal piece of evidence that the embodiment of 1950s femininity could be the silent victim of a so-called “one-in-a-million occurrence.”

Given this cultural context, it is quite telling that arguably the most influential “potboiler” of the postwar era – Grace Metalious’s Peyton Place (1956) – dared tread upon territory pervasively regarded as taboo. September 2006 marked the 50th anniversary of the novel’s publication, notes Leanard Cassuto in a recent appreciation, yet the book’s reputation remains as “one of the most notorious novels of its time,” not to mention a “best seller of precedent-setting proportions” (B11). Peyton Place spent seventy-six weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, including twenty-nine weeks at number one (Justice 218). It was the third most popular work of fiction of 1956 and the second most popular of 1957 (Hackett and Burke 169-171). In 1958, Peyton Place upset Gone with the Wind’s twenty-year record as the nation’s all-time bestseller, holding that position for almost a decade (Cameron xxvii). Nearly twenty years after its publication, Peyton Place still ranked as the fourth bestselling piece of paperback fiction of all time (Hackett and Burke 33).

With its knockout sales, Peyton Place “the book” soon became Peyton Place “the brand.” Like many 1950s bestsellers, the novel spawned a hit film just one year after its publication. This was followed by a sequel to the novel (1959), a sequel to the film (1961), a long running television series (1964-1969), a string of spin-off novels written by a lesser known author (1967-1970), and several subsequent efforts, one as recently as 1985, to bring the brand back to television. Most memorably, the novel’s title became an enduring fixture in the American vernacular, denoting the hotbed of immorality underlying the seemingly quaint façade of a small town. Over forty years after the novel’s publication, the 1998 impeachment hearings on President Bill Clinton’s affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky began with Republican Congressman Lindsey Graham imploring, “Is this Watergate or Peyton Place?” (qtd. in Toth 375). Notably, the legacy of her first book far exceeded the life of Grace Metalious, who at age 39 died of cirrhosis of the liver shortly before the TV series hit the airwaves in 1964.

Much of the novel’s legacy can be traced to its author’s eagerness to buck the literary and moral sensibilities of 1950s American culture, evidenced by her difficulty in securing a publisher. Deemed “too racy” by most houses, notes Emily Toth, the manuscript might never have made it into print had it not fallen into the hands of Kitty Messner, president of one of only two female-run publishing firms (86-87, 100-102). The challenge that Peyton Place presented to prospective publishers was echoed by subsequent censorship efforts. Many libraries refused to purchase the book, while several towns prohibited its sale. The state of Rhode Island and the author’s country of birth, Canada, also banned the novel. Not surprisingly, these reactions proved most effective in boosting sales (Toth 131-132). Evidently, many readers craved narratives that rebuked the domestic mandate of the Cold War era.

Though reviews of the novel were mixed, even the most generous critics felt obliged to register shock. The New York Times Book Review likened the author to Sinclair Lewis but recommended that Metalious “turn her emancipated talents to less lurid purposes” if she hoped to publish again (4). Time squirmed at the explicit love scenes yet found that when “Metalious is not all flustered by sex, she captures a real sense of the tempo, texture and tensions in the social anatomy of a small town” (100). Not surprisingly, The Catholic World dismissed the book as “sheer, unmitigated pornography” and “one of the cheapest, most blatant attempts in years to present the most noxiously commonplace in ideas and behavior in the loose and ill-worn guise of realistic art” (152). Both “packaged and received” as “lowbrow” fiction, as Ruth Pirsig Wood has shown, Peyton Place has come to exemplify the postwar “potboiler” that captivated a massive audience even as it offended the artistic sensibilities of literary critics (3). Cloaked in the lurid yet deceptively lightweight accoutrement of pulp fiction, the novel’s assault against the sanctified vision of the postwar nuclear family is rendered all the more potent in light of the vast number of readers it was able to reach.

While Peyton Place was groundbreaking in its exploration of taboo subjects like incest and sexual abuse, 1950s American culture was not unconcerned with sex crimes. Indeed, as historian Estelle Freedman observes, the years 1949 to 1955 witnessed the second of two “major sex crime panics” in the twentieth century, galvanized by the era’s “concerted efforts to reestablish traditional family life” in the wake of World War II (92, 96-97). Importantly, Ardis Cameron notes, these fears were directed at the “sex pervert” who lurked outside the family and “preyed upon the innocent. . . . [M]ost experts argued that incest was a one-in-a-million occurrence, a view reinforced by television sitcoms, such as Father Knows Best, and the rhetoric of cold war politicians” (xi). Eschewing such complacent assumptions, Metalious found in the dominant cultural narrative of family togetherness the potential for something far more toxic than anything that would have made its way onto Father Knows Best.

Though Peyton Place is set in the years preceding and during World War II, the reaction it evoked in postwar audiences indicates how closely it tapped into prevailing anxieties. In an era in which images of “the happy, middle-class, nuclear family” were “a key signifier of national identity,” argues Jane Hendler, Peyton Place “pierced these images with its depiction of family and marriage as a minefield rather than a road with some occasional ruts and bumps” (191-192). Within this minefield, sexuality becomes conflated with family togetherness in a disturbing and often destructive dynamic. Allison MacKenzie, whose mother’s prudishness belies her silent shame in having borne Allison out of wedlock, responds to her mother’s overprotection by nursing an unnatural affection for her deceased father. Norman Page is also the product of an overprotective mother, though it is she who fosters an abnormally intimate attachment to her son. Yet it is Selena Cross, her own mother too ineffectual to provide any protection, who must endure sexual assault at the hands of the only father she has ever known. For Allison, Norman, and Selena, the home is no shield from the dangers of the outside world, but a tightly sealed trap they must escape if they hope to survive into adulthood.

The suffocating nature of Allison’s home life is a product of the “respectable fiction” that her mother Constance and late grandmother Elizabeth have fashioned about her illegitimate birth. For both mother and grandmother, the constant paranoia generated by the need to maintain this fiction is as unbearable as the dreaded stigma:

From the day Allison was born, Elizabeth Standish lived with fear. She was afraid that she had not played her part well enough, that sooner or later someone would find out about the birth certificate that had been tampered with, or that some sharp-eyed individual would spot the fact that her granddaughter Allison was a year older than Constance said she was. But most of all, she was afraid for herself. In her worst nightmares she heard the voices of Peyton Place.

“There goes Elizabeth Standish. Her daughter got into trouble with some feller down to New York.”

“It’s all in the way you bring up a child, what they do when they’re grown.”

“Constance had a little girl.”

“Bastard.”

“That whore Constance and her dirty little bastard.” (16)

Importantly, public exposure is Elizabeth’s highest fear, the imagined voices signifying how citizens of Peyton Place have internalized the morally unambiguous narrative Constance has flouted. Such internalization is integral to the self-regulating function by which the private sphere of the home attunes itself to prevailing cultural expectations. When the safety net of self-regulation fails, the humiliation associated with public disclosure compels people like Elizabeth and Constance to fashion a “respectable fiction” that keeps the dominant narrative intact. That the stigma would be attached not just to the “whore” and her “little bastard” but also to the woman who raised the “whore” attests to the peculiar tapestry of sexuality and familialism lurking beneath the conformist façade of Peyton Place.

In this case, Constance becomes obsessively preoccupied with suppressing her own sexuality and monitoring that of her daughter. Nervous that an adolescent kissing game at Allison’s birthday party might go too far, Constance feels “the finger of fear which is always ready to prod at the minds of women who have made what they considered to be ‘A Mistake,’” dreading first that Allison will “get hurt,” then that she will “get in trouble,” and finally the biggest pitfall, that “SHE’LL GET HERSELF TALKED ABOUT!” Like her mother, Constance is primarily concerned that any moral slip-ups by her daughter would reflect poorly upon the parent: “After all I’ve done for her, she acts like a little tramp right under my nose, letting some pimply-faced boy paw her”(50).

As it turns out, Constance’s paranoid vigilance has infantilized Allison, whose interest in the opposite sex stretches no further than to the father she never knew. Early on, Allison wonders guiltily “what her life might have been like if it had been her mother who had died and her father who had lived.” While it is natural for a child to fantasize about an absent parent, Allison’s fixation borders on the unhealthy. While the very word “father” sounds foreign to Allison, imagining her father as a prince – her prince – lulls her into a peaceful reverie:

My prince, she said to herself, and immediately the image in her mind seemed to take on life, to breathe, and to smile kindly at her.

Allison fell asleep. (19-20)

“While Allison may hide the regressive and incestuous aspect of this transformation from herself,” observes Madonne M. Miner, “it is not hidden from a reader; Allison’s sleep here resembles, too closely, the drugged sleep of a princess heroine, caught in the arms of a fantasy man” (69).

This “fantasy man” becomes the yardstick by which Allison measures all others, and she finds it “inconceivable that a woman who had been married to him could ever think seriously of doing anything other than mourn his loss for the rest of her life” (212). Ironically, the parental sexual paranoia that helps foster Allison’s paternal obsession begets the remedy as well. Again harboring unfounded suspicions that Allison is venturing towards “trouble,” Constance fumes after discovering that her daughter has been on a picnic with Norman Page: “‘And after the way I’ve sweated and slaved to bring you up decently, you go off into the woods and act just like a goddamned MacKenzie. The bastard daughter of the biggest bastard of all!’” (237). Deflating her daughter’s fantasies, Constance unknowingly forces Allison out of the regressive pattern that has defined her adolescence and, eventually, out of the home that made these fantasies so appealing.

The unnatural intimacy that Allison nurses for her dead father is mirrored by the disquieting dependence that defines Norman Page’s relationship with his widowed mother. Acutely possessive, Evelyn Page flares with jealousy whenever her son’s attentions are directed at anyone else. Spotting the twelve-year old walking home from school with Allison, Evelyn acts like a jilted lover, bringing her quintessential “mama’s boy” to his knees while exacting a profession of singular devotion:

“I hate everybody in the whole world except you.”

“Do you love Mother, Norman?”

Norman’s sobs were dry and painful now, and he hiccuped wretchedly.

“Oh, yes, Mother, I love only you. I love you better than God, even. Say you’re not going to leave me.”

For a long time Mrs. Page stroked her son’s bowed head which rested now on her knees.

“I’ll never leave you, Norman,” she said at last. “Never.” (71-72)

The Page household vividly illustrates the suffocating potential of family togetherness, the home becoming a site for isolating insiders and repelling outsiders. Thwarting off external influences, Evelyn is an even more infantilizing parent than Constance. While both are preoccupied with maneuvering their children away from the opposite sex, Constance hopes to steer Allison towards a thoroughly conventional future that includes “‘college, then a good job for a while, then marriage to a successful man’” (182). In contrast, Evelyn is intent on grooming her son as a surrogate husband, rendering an even more unsettling hue on the interplay between sexuality and familialism that runs throughout the text. Unlike the secret at the heart of the MacKenzie household, Evelyn’s quasi-incestuous hold over Norman is common knowledge in Peyton Place. One of the town patriarchs, the kindly Doctor Matthew Swain, harbors an unlikely hope that Norman will free himself of his mother’s grasp: “I don’t think he’s strong enough to fight her. . . . She expects too much from him – love, admiration, eventual financial support, unquestioning loyalty, even sex.” As the doctor clarifies, “sex” in this case refers to Evelyn’s habit of giving her son so many enemas that he once suffered “the worst case of dehydration I ever saw. . . Sex, with a capital S-E-X” (136-137).

These sexualized invasions of the son’s body by the mother – from which he “always got a bittersweet sort of pleasure” (62) – become more masochistic as Norman gets older. After her son confesses to kissing Allison, Evelyn “whipped him and made him promise never to see Allison again.” While Norman acquiesces to his mother’s reassertion of dominance over his body – for “he had not minded being whipped, but he was very sorry now that he had made the promise about not seeing Allison” (249) – his resentment manifests itself in an equally masochistic, displaced reaction. Spying on an act of oral sex between a husband and his pregnant wife, the first-time voyeur strangles a cat and subsequently seeks comfort in the arms of one whose offer of an enema to soothe his “‘little tummy’” is met with distinct relief (253-256).

The warped togetherness that circumscribes the Page home stifles Norman through adulthood; while Allison escapes the confines of the home that had fed her paternal obsession, Norman cannot function in the outside world without his maternal leash. Hence, he is discharged from the military “on the grounds that he was mentally unfit to handle the duties of a soldier” – a shameful fact Evelyn conspires to obscure beneath a “little subterfuge” she constructs of Norman as an injured war hero. Like Constance MacKenzie and Elizabeth Standish, Evelyn Page is most concerned that exposure of her “respectable fiction” will shame her and her son: “Do you want to disgrace the both of us so that we can never hold up our heads again?” (307-308). Norman’s reluctant compliance with the fabrication leaves him feeling “as if he moved through an unreal world” – one in which his mother’s constricting grip manifests itself in a recurring dream that begins with sex with Allison and ends with Norman fleeing in panic for the comfort of his mother: “It was always at this moment, when he reached his mother, that Norman reached a climax in the excitement engendered by Allison. At such times, Norman awoke to warmth and wetness and a sense that his mother had saved him from a terrible danger” (309). Evelyn has effectively castrated her son, ensuring his indefinite confinement to his childhood home. The outward war injury that Norman fakes – a “stiff leg” – is a physical manifestation of the internal affliction contained within the impenetrable domestic space that is at once the site of assault as well as the sole source of consolation for the assaulted.

The sexual-familial dynamic that shapes the MacKenzie and Page households becomes exponentially more sinister in the home of Selena Cross, who is repeatedly raped and eventually impregnated by her stepfather, Lucas. In the eyes of Doc Swain, who performs an illegal abortion when Selena reveals her baby’s paternity, “Lucas Cross was guilty of a crime so close to incest that the borderline was invisible” (157). Shame compels Selena to preserve the shroud of domestic secrecy that first helped foster these assaults. At the same time, this shroud is kept intact by the community at large, which turns a blind eye towards the poverty and abuse in families like the Crosses by rationalizing, “They pay their bills and taxes and mind their own business. They don’t do any harm” (29). This cultural denial is equally complicit in Selena’s victimization, forcing her to contend with her stepfather’s assaults on her own. Not until resistance results in death does Peyton Place become invested in the girl’s fate, albeit to see Selena punished for killing a man who “provided for the child just as if she was his own” (335).

That Lucas has provided for Selena as if she were his own daughter only makes his violation more despicable. In contrast with Allison’s paternal fixation, Selena gives little thought to her biological father, who died in a lumbering accident before she was born. “Lucas Cross” – who married Selena’s mother, Nellie, when the girl was just six weeks old – “was the only father Selena knew.” Though she has good reason to disassociate herself from this abusive alcoholic, Selena makes not so much as a semantic distinction between Lucas and her “real” father, imagining, “If Allison were in my shoes . . . I bet she’d always be talking about half brothers and stepfathers and that kind of stuff” (37).

Even so, once Selena’s “Pa” realizes his fourteen-year old daughter has reached sexual maturity, he eyes her through a lens that is anything but fatherly. Continuing to invoke his paternal authority – “I been decent to you just as if you was my own. Kept a roof over your head and food in your belly” (57) – Lucas conveniently justifies his assaults by asserting that he is no blood relation. As he claims when Doc Swain forces a confession out of him, “Besides, it ain’t like she was my own. . . . She’s Nellie’s kid” (159). Exploiting his rights as a father and his unencumbered access to his victim, yet unfettered by the moral impediments that would designate his actions as “taboo,” Lucas becomes a sexual predator far more dangerous than anything Selena would encounter outside the home. Any arbitrary distinctions Lucas makes between himself and Selena’s “real” father do little to mitigate the damage he inflicts, as indicated when Doc Swain persuades Selena to reveal the paternity of her unborn child: “‘It’s my father’. . . . She raised her head and looked Matthew Swain straight in the eyes. ‘My stepfather,’ she said” (142).

As Madonne M. Miner affirms, Lucas inflicts on Selena “a violation so terrible that it can only be described in terms of its effect – such is the horror of actual incest” (69). The horrific narrative of incest is so unspeakable that Selena only reveals it once her body threatens to expose the truth. Haunted by the fear that “every window” in town “held a pair of eyes that stared at her and knew her secret at once,” Selena is paralyzed by the same apprehensions that plagued Constance MacKenzie: “A girl in trouble, said every pair of eyes. . . . Not a nice girl, a bad girl” (140-141). The veracity of Selena’s fears are underscored by Doc Swain, who reluctantly agrees to perform an abortion because he realizes the alternative “will ruin the rest of her life” even as it will “leave its mark on him for the rest of his life” (144). The doctor’s willingness to subvert the law and his own values speaks to the magnitude of Lucas’ transgression. Were Lucas Selena’s biological father, as Emily Toth points out, it would be easy to justify an abortion. Instead, “The doctor gives her an abortion for humanitarian reasons, not medical ones” (Toth 106). Driving Lucas out of town after exacting a confession, Doc Swain is unmoved by the brute’s protests that he has nowhere to go: “Selena had nowhere to go to get away from you. . . . Now the shoe is on the other foot, and if it pinches, that’s too bad” (161). Only outside the home can Selena locate a true father figure willing to place a priority on her welfare, even when that puts him at enormous personal and professional risk.

In contrast to mid-century images of convivial family togetherness, only by eradicating the oppressive, destructively intimate presence of the father can the Cross home reach any semblance of normalcy. Yet this victory is temporary. Selena’s mentally ill mother commits suicide upon overhearing the confession, ultimately presenting Lucas with the sordid opportunity to substitute the young, beautiful Selena for her older, slatternly mother. Like Evelyn Page, Lucas subscribes to a fluid notion of family relationships that blurs the boundary between child and spouse. “It ain’t like I was your real pa. . . . There ain’t nothing wrong in you bein’ good to me.” When Selena resists, she must defend her body and then her life from his unwanted advances. (296-297). Again left to her own resources, Selena brings a pair of fire tongs down on her attacker’s head in an instinctive, and fatal, bout for survival.

Though Selena’s act of self-defense is clearly justified, the isolation in which she has endured these assaults compels her to hide her stepfather’s body along with the ugly truth surrounding his demise. Reflecting on the fears that led to this evasive act, Selena probes the implications of the silent shame enforced by a culture that has no ear for such unpleasant narratives:

Shall I say that I killed Lucas because I was afraid he’d get me in trouble again? . . . No one would believe her. Why should they? Why had she kept silent for years and years? Why had she not gone to the police if Lucas was molesting her? Because a shack dweller never goes to the law, thought Selena wryly. A good shack dweller minds his business and binds up his own wounds. (337)

As Selena shrewdly deduces, the story that a town like Peyton Place tells about itself has no space for disturbing counter-narratives that define families like the Crosses. Indeed, the wholesome cultural narrative of family togetherness relies on girls like Selena to suffer in silence rather than risk public humiliation.

This narrative of denial absolves Lucas from accountability for his crimes while increasing Selena’s culpability once her own crime is discovered. “Lucas might have been a drunkard, a wife and child beater, the most irresponsible of fathers,” ruminates Selena’s ambitious boyfriend Ted, “but he had paid his bills and minded his own business. And the fact that he had not been Selena’s own father would hurt her in Peyton Place.” Rationalizing his decision to abandon Selena, who would now be a tremendous liability to his future legal career, Ted reiterates this last point ad nauseam: “She wasn’t even his own, Peyton Place would say. He married Nellie when Selena was just a newborn baby, but he provided for the child just as if she was his own” (335). The sense of commodification implied by the oft repeated colloquialism “his own” is indicative of the power structure that entraps Selena. In the vernacular of the day, Selena is owned by and thus obligated to a man who both is and is not her father. This lack of a biological link mitigates the gravity of Lucas’ crimes while making it more difficult to justify those of Doc Swain and Selena. Selena’s only defense lies in establishing a rhetorical rather than a biological construction of fatherhood, a feat that can only be accomplished by someone of Swain’s standing.

Risking his reputation, the doctor casts himself as the failed parent who should have reported Lucas to the authorities after performing the abortion, thus shielding Selena from the onus of defending herself. Notably, it is Doc Swain’s well-established reputation and not Selena’s inherent innocence that convinces judge and jury to declare her “not guilty,” for “the court looked no further than Matthew Swain for an excuse for the girl” (348). In significant ways, Selena is still at the mercy of the paternalistic infrastructure that first enabled her to become Lucas’ victim. The doctor is guilty of a crime akin to murder in the eyes of the law but will suffer no punishment. Selena may have escaped the court of law, but she cannot evade the court of public opinion. As Allison observes, “All the fine friends who didn’t want to see her hang for murder are hanging her themselves with their vicious talk” (351). While the novelty of her story will eventually wear off, Selena will always be pigeonholed by a community whose own “respectable fiction” has no room for a distasteful narrative of toxic togetherness and its consequences.

Most interestingly, however, had Peyton Place been published as Metalious had originally written it, Selena’s tale would have “cracked open a national fiction that even [the novel’s] publishers thought too rock-solid to confront” (Cameron xii). In the original manuscript, Lucas Cross is Selena’s biological father and thus “guilty of the crime of incest, a crime worse than child abuse between homosexuals, in the doctor’s mind” (Toth 105). Indeed, the incest storyline is the only one Metalious based on fact, derived from a case of patricide that had made local headlines some years earlier. In that instance, a young woman served time in prison rather than face a trial that would force her to reveal “the sordid details of an unhappy childhood” (Toth 81-84). This striking testament to the stigma so feared by incest victims was echoed by the publisher’s assertion “that incest/rape could not be published, not in 1956” (Toth 105).

Regardless of the myriad challenges that Peyton Place posed to the literary and sexual mores of the fifties, the notion of a father raping and impregnating his young daughter presented far too severe an assault against the wholesome cultural narrative of domesticity. Rather than revise the dominant narrative to reveal its shadier elements, Metalious reluctantly agreed to rewrite her own story by refashioning Lucas as a stepfather – a move, in the author’s own summation, that turned the novel into “trash rather than tragedy” since Selena’s abortion could no longer be justified medically (Cameron xii, Toth 106). In truth, Selena’s unwanted pregnancy is only the most tangible sign of the violation that takes place within the Cross home. Father or step/father, Lucas exploits the isolation of the nuclear family for the most insidious of purposes, and Selena’s narrative becomes all the more revealing in light of the cultural denial that so dramatically censured its telling.

The censorship that Peyton Place faced in the literary marketplace mimics the sweeping cultural denial that contained narratives of familial dysfunction within the home. Cutting across the proliferation of “respectable fictions” that enabled such violations to go unspoken, the novel registers the profound disconnect between public discourses of nuclear familial bliss and private discourses of familial dysfunction. That the most controversial “potboiler” of the 1950s appropriated the nuclear family to inscribe the unmentionable speaks to the broad-ranging discursive power of the Cold War togetherness ideology, which foregrounded an idealized narrative of domesticity while shoving private narratives of domestic disturbance into the margins. Working from those margins, Peyton Place unraveled a Cold War fiction as illusory as the metaphorical picture postcard Metalious famously used to articulate her assessment of small town life: “[I]f you go beneath that picture, it’s like turning over a rock with your foot – all kinds of strange things crawl out” (qtd. in Toth 123).


Works Cited

Baker, Carlos. “Small Town Peep Show.” Rev. of Peyton Place, by Grace Metalious. The New York Times Book Review 23 September 1956: 4.

Cameron, Ardis. “Open Secrets: Rereading Peyton Place.” Introduction. Peyton Place. By Grace Metalious. Boston: Northeastern UP, 1999: vii – xxx.

Cassuto, Leonard. “Beyond Peyton Place.” Chronicle of Higher Education 52: 49 (11 August 2006): B11.

Coontz, Stephanie. The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap. 2nd ed. New York: Basic Books, 2000.

Eisler, Benita. Private Lives: Men and Women of the Fifties. Danbury, CT: Franklin Watts, 1986.

Freedman, Estelle. “‘Uncontrolled Desires’: The Response to the Sexual Psychopath, 1920-1960.” Journal of American History 74:1 (1987): 83-106.

Hackett, Alice Payne and James Henry Burke. 80 Years of Best Sellers: 1895-1975. New York: R.R. Bowker Company, 1977.

Hendler, Jane. Best-Sellers and Their Film Adaptations in Postwar America. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2001.

Justice, Keith L. Bestseller Index: All Books, by Author, on the Lists of Publishers Weekly and The New York Times Through 1990. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 1998.

Metalious, Grace. Peyton Place. 1956. Introduction by Ardis Cameron. Boston:
Northeastern UP, 1999.

Miner, Madonne M. Insatiable Appetites: Twentieth Century American Women’s
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“Outsiders Don’t Know.” Rev. of Peyton Place, by Grace Metalious. Time 24
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“Peyton Place.” Rev. of Peyton Place, by Grace Metalious. The Catholic World
November 1956: 152.

Toth, Emily. Inside Peyton Place: The Life of Grace Metalious. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 2000.

Weiss, Jessica. To Have and to Hold: Marriage, the Baby Boom, and Social Change. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2000.

Wood, Ruth Pirsig. Lolita in Peyton Place: Highbrow, Lowbrow, and Middlebrow Novels of the 1950’s. New York: Garland Publishing, 1995.

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