Assistant Professor of English Anna Creadick has published an essay, “The Erasure of Grace: Reconnecting Peyton Place to its Author” in Mosaic: A Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature. Mosaic is a quarterly scholarly journal that publishes work from scholars around the world and is distributed in 34 countries.
Creadick’s article, according to her abstract, “reconnects the 1956 blockbuster Peyton Place to its largely forgotten author, Grace Metalious. Reading the novel alongside its early publicity shows how Metalious’s public persona powerfully shaped her text’s original reception. Both author and text launched a lasting critique of mid-century America’s ‘bourgeois pretensions.'”
Joining the English Department in 2001, Creadick teaches a variety of courses such as Southern Fictions, American Literature from Crane, Post-WWII American Novel, Sexuality and American Literature, Cultural Theory, and Popular Fiction. She earned her undergraduate degree in English and Education from Appalachian State University, her master’s degree in American Studies from Boston College and her Ph.D. in English/American Studies from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She brings an interdisciplinary and historic approach to the study of literary texts. Her current research areas are 20th century U.S. literature and culture, Post World War II period (1940s-1960s), Southern and Appalachian Studies, and Gender and Sexuality. Creadick has had multiple articles published on a variety of topics.
The introduction to the article as it appears in Mosaic follows. The journal can be found online.
Mosaic : A Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature
The Erasure of Grace: Reconnecting Peyton Place to its Author
Anna G. Creadick • December 1, 2009
This essay reconnects the 1956 blockbuster Peyton Place to its largely forgotten author, Grace Metalious. Reading the novel alongside its early publicity shows how Metalious’s public persona powerfully shaped her text’s original reception. Both author and text launched a lasting critique of mid-century America’s “bourgeois pretensions.”
In 1958, less than two years after the publication of her novel Peyton Place, Grace Metalious was photographed for a LOOK magazine feature. Wearing slacks, a man’s sweater, a ponytail, and no makeup-holding a highball in one hand and a cigarette in another-she looked hard into the lens, eyebrows raised. This bold image was emblematic of many choices she made as a woman, in public, in the mid-1950s. Her novel’s critique of the “false fronts and bourgeois pretensions” of post-war society was palpable to her readers (Baker 4), but this critique was further corroborated, amplified, and politicized by the public body of Grace Metalious herself. In this paper, I recover the “cultural work” of Peyton Place by reconnecting it to its forgotten author: a working-class New Hampshire housewife who wrote the bestselling novel of its time1 not only because her family needed the money, but because she had something to say.
Peyton Place is the novel everyone has heard of, by the author no one has heard of. In the late 1950s, however, Grace Metalious’s identity was central to the way Peyton Place was read and received. The sheer volume of publicity surrounding the novelist and her work is worth noting: roughly five dozen local and regional newspaper clippings are collected in the Laconia, New Hampshire, library file alone. The national coverage was even more striking: for the decade from 1955 to 1965, the New York Times indexes “Grace Metalious” ninety times, and “Peyton Place” some three hundred and fifty times, reflecting its steady presence in news features, reviews, and advertisements. Furthermore, Grace Metalious was the focus of radio and television interviews as well as major features in Cosmopolitan in 1957, Look in 1958, American Weekly in 1958, and posthumously, Ladies Home Journal in 1965. Fearlessly, Metalious-in image, word, and deed-manipulated this publicity storm to call mid-century America on its hypocrisies by giving it nothing but candour. Her strategy was three-fold. First, her novel’s trio of heroines was mirrored in her public self-portrayal as the protagonist of her own scandalous “plot.” Second, as object, and sometime author, of mass-media interviews, editorials, and features, Metalious offered frank opinions and launched “class” actions that extended the moral critiques of her fiction. And finally, Metalious used her own body to circulate an alternative figure of womanhood, an image that would affect changes she herself would not live to see. As we have “erased Grace,” I propose, we have lost sight of the politics, or the heft, of her fiction. Grace Metalious and Peyton Place worked inextricably together to launch a powerful and lasting indictment of the post-war American middle class.
Both Peyton Place and its author still inhabit an uncomfortable space, one circumscribed by gender, sexual, and class ideologies. For example, when Emily Toth received a grant to complete her 1981 study of Metalious, Inside Peyton Place, one English Department colleague reportedly scoffed, “Congratulations on getting money for trash” (qtd. in Secor B61). Since Toth was writing a biography, it was not only the novel but Metalious herself who was seen as “trash.” Such attitudes have helped keep this indisputably important novel at the margins. While new scholarship is gradually emerging in the wake of the novel’s 1999 republication in a scholarly edition (as well as a second edition of Toth’s biography in 2000), most scholars, with the formidable exceptions of Toth and Ardis Cameron, continue to dwell upon either the novel’s popularity or its sexual themes, sidestepping Metalious herself: Evan Brier addresses the gendered subtext of the novel’s production history and commodification; Cinda Gault aligns Peyton Place with the sentimental genre; Stacey Stanfield Anderson interprets the “toxic” family and sexual plotlines; and John A. McDermott considers the Norman/Evelyn Page subplot as a source for Robert Bloch’s Psycho. Exaggerating the pop and pulp elements of Peyton Place both feminizes the novel and recasts it as lower class, perpetually deferring its “seat at the literary table” (Secor B60). This phenomenon is also, however, linked to the erasure of its author: if Peyton Place is seen as pop culture, not as “literature,” then Grace Metalious cannot be seen as an “author.” Even now, as the text experiences a tentative entre into academic discourse, some still feel compelled to ask, “But is Peyton Place any good?” (Secor B60). Grace Metalious had a response for such questions: “If I’m a lousy writer, then an awful lot of people have got lousy taste” (qtd. in Friedrich 160).
In an age when the average novel sold two thousand copies, Peyton Place sold sixty thousand within the first ten days of its official release on 24 September 1956. After seventeen months, and in spite of censorship battles and “chilly reviews,” one out of every twenty-nine Americans had purchased the book (Cameron viii).2 By January 1958, following the release of a major motion picture version, Peyton Place had sold nearly ten million copies, more than Gone With the Wind (Hackett 202). In September of 1964, well before the long-running and very dissimilar television serial debuted, and for another decade afterward, Peyton Place ranked as the bestselling novel in the United States’ history. In this way, as Ardis Cameron argues, “Grace Metalious not only struck a chord with the modern reading public, she helped to create it” (ix). While post-war readers saw themselves in her characters, author Metalious in many ways embodied them.
For a fee, the complete article can be found online at Mosaic.