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by Vin Packer
Category: Gay Fiction
Description: There was a girl named Leda who was Queen of the campus. There was a girl called Mitch who desperately wanted to be loved. Suddenly, they belonged to each other. Not since The Well of Loneliness has there been such an honest, provocative novel on a theme too important to keep from the light.
This classic lesbian Pulp novel about the forbidden love between two college girls is often considered by many to have launched the lesbian pulp genre. Although Tereska Torres's Women's Barracks was the first pulp novel to feature lesbian characters, Spring Fire was the first to portray main characters in a lesbian relationship.
Susan Mitchell (Mitch) is a freshman student at Cranston University pledging to the Tri Epsilon sorority. Although shy, awkward, and not particularly "sorority girl" material, she is accepted into the sorority because of her father's wealth. Mitch is immediately drawn to the older Leda, the campus beauty queen, and they become roommates in the sorority house. Before long, they fall in love and begin an affair they must keep secret from their sorority sisters. In a dramatic and shocking conclusion, their relationship is discovered and both girls must come to grips with the consequences an unforgiving and prejudicial society thrust upon them.
About Lesbian Pulp Fiction
In the early 1950s new sub-genres of the vintage paperback pulp novel industry emerged--science fiction, juvenile delinquent, sleaze, and lesbian fiction, for instance--that would tantalize readers with gritty, realistic and lurid stories never seen before. Mysteries, thrillers and hardboiled detective pulps were already selling quite well. Publishers had come to realize, however, that sex would sell even more copies. 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 these sensational covers had completely taken over the paperback racks and cash registers. To this day, the "good girl art" (GGA) 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. For lesbians across the country, especially those living 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. We are excited to make these lesbian pulp novels available in ebook format to new generations of readers.
eBook Publisher: SRS Internet Publishing/Digital Vintage Pulps, 2010
eBookwise Release Date: January 2011
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [233 KB]
Reading time: 153-215 min.
It was two-thirty in the afternoon, late September, with the sun beating down the way it does then in the Midwest, and the dust in the streets. The girl, Susan Mitchell, was wearing a green linen suit that clung on her large body heavily, a round white straw hat from which short pieces of blonde hair hung limply, and brown and white shoes with low heels that made her long feet look longer. She was not pretty. She was not lovely and dainty and pretty, but there was a comeliness about her that suggested some inbred strength and grace. It was in her face. It was in the color of her eyes--deep blue like the ocean 'way out there, but quiet and still. It was in the structure of her cheekbones, high and firm coining down to pull her chin up. She walked that way, too. She walked easy and sure. She was following College Avenue down to where the main gate was, and the road that led through the gate to the campus of Cranston University. All around her there were signs in the windows of bookstores and drugstores and dress shops and bars and the signs said: "Welcome Back C. U."
The gate was open and the wide slate walks surrounding the immense green lawn were dotted with boys and girls, walking together in groups, sitting alone on benches, standing thoughtfully in doorways, and waiting wearily in long registration lines. Susan Mitchell had registered two weeks ago.
"You'll have enough to think about during rush week," her father had promised, "without worrying about getting yourself enrolled. We'll do it early. Then you can concentrate on impressing those sorority gals. Don't be nervous, either. Remember, your father still loves you, no matter what."
And so it was there again--his fear for her. His fear that she was not good enough. Because he had not been. He had worked hard, and not gone to college, and not had luxuries, and not learned not to say "ain't," and not anything. Until the war and the men came that day and looked at the factory and talked with him and signed papers and he was rich then. And then he was afraid.
He had driven her from Kansas City to register, and when she had finished, he had asked someone how to get to "Greek Town," and with him she had first seen it
"Greek Town," was the home of the sororities and fraternities and it was magic over there, close to the stadium, within walking distance of the campus, but not huddled up in narrow streets the way the dorms and boarding-houses were. It was magic, with street after street of grand houses--brick, stucco, stone, and fresh white wooden houses. Each one had a gold plaque with shining Greek letters, and nearly all of them had spacious yards, winding driveways, and huge white columns that stood impressively, symbols of magnificence. Then she too had felt a thin shiver of fear.
Tomorrow she would go to the sorority houses to be judged; but now as she walked on the campus she forgot about that momentarily, and smelled the grass that had been cut and watered, and it was good. The ivy, crawling up along the walls of the building, was massive and cooling, and the big trees made shade along the path. She sat for a while on the rock bench there where the breeze came along, and it was peaceful.
A group of laughing girls passed, arms entwined, faces glowing with excitement.
"...anyway," one of them was saying, "it turned out he was from St. Louis--Webster, in fact--and he knew loads of kids I knew."
"My God!" another shrieked. "Didn't you tell him I was from Webster?"
Later Susan Mitchell walked back toward the gate and the street leading to the hotel where she was staying. A convertible whizzed by and kicked up clouds of the dust that settled near the curb, and at the corner when it turned, the tires squealed nervously. In the doorway of a restaurant, a tall boy stood holding hands with a small, brown-eyed girl whose hair was flaxen. "God," he said, "all summer I had you on my mind, Annie. No bull ... thought about you all summer."
When Susan Mitchell reached the lobby of the hotel, the low leather couches and chairs were filled with girls, and several rows of luggage were lined up near the desk. She asked for her key, wary of the arrogant, crooked-nosed clerk who always yelled, as he did now. "Speak up, girlie," he said. "I ain't deaf and I can't read lips."
"Susan Mitchell," the girl said louder. "Four-o-one."
He handed her the metal key with the wooden tab attached and she hurried off to the waiting elevator.
"Good God," the uniformed pimple-faced boy said when she stepped into the small box. "You girls! Up and down all the damn day long! I never seen the likes of this bunch. The sororities are welcome to you!"
* * * *
"The next name, girls," Mother Nesselbush said, "is Susan Mitchell."
At her feet, sitting on the wide tan rug, the members of Tri Epsilon polished their nails, knitted, rubbed cold cream into their skin, and rolled their hair up on rags and into curlers and bobby pins. Mother Nesselbush thumbed through the papers on the card table in front of her. She was a fat woman with a nervous twitch in her jowls and short, squat legs. Twenty years ago she had been a slim coed with long golden hair, a gay young face, and a heart-shaped Tri Epsilon pin attached to her budding bosom. Five years ago, when J. Edman Nesselbush fell dead, she returned to the Cranston campus and took over the duties of the housemother at Epsilon Epsilon Epsilon. Now she was a wide dowager with wiry gray hair and a worn, wrinkled face. In place of the pin now, there was a gravy stain from the noon meal slopped onto her broad, lace-covered chest.
"Now," Mother Nessy began, "a little about this girl."
The information on Susan Mitchell had been obtained by Edith Wellard Boynton, '22. Mrs. Boynton relished the task. She was a superior sleuth, and she would often come from an assignment with copious notes on such intimate details as the estimated income of the candidate's father; the color of the guest towels in the candidate's bathroom and the condition of said bathroom; the morals of the candidate, the candidate's mother, father, brother, and sister; and ever important, the social prestige of the candidate's family in the community. Then she would type up her notes and send them special delivery. Susan Mitchell's report read:
An absolute must for Tri Epsilon. The Mitchell girl is 17. Her father is a widower and a millionaire. There are no other children. The Mitchell girl owns a brilliant red convertible, Buick, latest model. Edward Mitchell belongs to Rotary, Seedmore Country Club, Seedmore Business Club, and Seedmore P.T.A. Susan has been educated in the best private schools. She is not beautiful, but she is wholesome and a fine athlete. Every room in the Mitchell home has wall-to-wall carpeting. There are four bathrooms. No mortgages. Edward Mitchell's reputation is above reproach. They are definitely nouveaux riches, but their social prestige in Seedmore is tiptop. Susan has a fabulous wardrobe. Kansas City Alum Association puts a stamp of approval on this girl, and a definite "Yes! Yes! Yes!"
When Mother Nesselbush finished reading what Mrs. Boynton had written, there was a sudden minute of silence. Then Leda Taylor spoke up.
"What if she's a muscle-bound amazon? Do we have to pledge the girl just because her father is worth a mint?"
Leda Taylor did not have a father. Not a father she knew. Jan, her mother, had raised Leda singlehanded with the help of her job as a dress designer and a good stiff Martini. It had not been easy for Jan. As Leda grew older, Jan's age became more obvious to men and she always had to say, "I had my baby when I was a baby, really--I was just a baby when little Leda was born." Little Leda grew fast and fully and richly. She had long black hair that shone like new coal, round green eyes, a stubborn tilt to her chin, proud pear-shaped breasts that pointed through her size 36 sweater, and long, graceful legs. Jan had taught her never to say "Mother." Leda said
"Jan." She said, "Oh, God, Jan is getting higher than a kite!" when they were all out on parties like that--Leda and the men who clambered after Jan and Jan with her glass raised and her voice growing shrill. Leda said, "Jan, for the love of God, let me pick my own men. I don't want your castoffs," when she was home in the summer and Jan was always entertaining. Then in the fall, Leda said, "Take it easy, Jan. Stay sober," and the train moved away, toward Cranston and college and the house.
Mother Nesselbush sighed and answered Leda. "This is a pretty strong note, dear. You know our alums never make their requests quite so adamant."
Kitten Clark tapped her nails angrily on the top of the glass coffee table. She was the official social chairman for the sorority, the girl who was responsible for seeing that Tri Eps dated fraternity men. Her motto was pasted up over the mirror in the soft jade-green room where she and Marybell Van Casey lived: "If he's got a pin--he's in!"
Underneath these words, a penciled addition to the rule read blithely: "Like Flynn!"
"Nessy," Kitten said, "so far on our list we have four goon girls. Legacies. We have to take legacies, but we don't have to take Susan Mitchell! What did the K.C. alums ever do for us?"
Viola Nesselbush straightened herself, tugged harshly at her corset, and leaned forward intimately. She whispered in a rasping tone, one finger held forward significantly. "Now listen, girls. Remember that new set of silverware you all want for the house? The one with the Tri Epsilon crest on it? Well, girls, if we pledge this little girl, I think the K.C. alums will see to it that you get that silverware. In fact, girls," she added coyly, "I'll personally guarantee it."
A spontaneous round of applause rose from the gathering, and the faces of the Tri Eps grinned approval.
"She may be halfway attractive," Marybell Van Casey offered. "After all, just because she's a sweat-socks is no sign she's utterly repulsive."
Casey's voice was tinged with defiance. She was a major in physical education, and all of her classes, with the exception of English and vertebrate zo, took place in the arid surroundings of the gymnasium. Her build was heavy and muscular, but her face was attractive and she was pinned to a Delta Pi who played baseball.
The president of Tri Epsilon sorority rose gracefully and stood beside the piano facing the group. She wore a crisp pair of white shorts, a black halter, and a black velvet ribbon in her hair. Her name was Marsha Holmes, and there was a mild, poised quality about her that commanded respect and admiration from her sorority sisters. Whenever Marsha spoke, her gray eyes watched the individual faces of her audience carefully, and her low husky voice made her words sound wistful and honest. Marsha had learned much about people from her father, the Reverend Thomas Holmes, and the serenity she wore so easily had been practiced long years at church functions.
"I think everyone agrees," she said calmly, "that Susan Mitchell is excellent Tri Epsilon material. The purpose of a sorority is to help a girl grow, and if Susan needs our help, it will be our privilege to give it to her. Let's all make a special effort to show Susan that Tri Epsilon is a friendly house--the kind of house that she would be proud to live in."
For a moment there was a holy stillness. Leda blew a cloud of smoke up into the air in tiny rings. She said, "Amen!" She said, "Amen and hail the new Christ child!"
The following morning, a few minutes before the taxis arrived with the rushees, Mother Nesselbush gave the final instructions.
"Remember, girls, the phonograph is your signal to dance with one of the rushees. Don't, for heaven's sake, girls, don't leave a girl without a partner. You'll be able to tell a whole lot about a rushee by dancing with her. Notice how she dances, and in speaking to her, try your best to determine whether she would make a satisfactory Tri Ep. We know most of the facts on these girls, but it's up to you to verify them. And one more thing. In regard to the Mitchell girl--be patient. She may not look like a Tri Ep, but girls, I'm to the point where I'll insist that she be one. Now--go to it, and good luck!"
Susan Mitchell arrived in the first taxi along with four other rushees. Beside them she looked like a great hound dog that had been forced to romp with a select group of dachshunds, Pekinese, and toy poodles. Her manner was sprightly and buoyant, and she lacked the poised reserve of the others who walked with her up the long path to the marble steps, where Kitten Clark waited to greet them. She was smiling when her hand caught Kitten's, and her voice was too impetuous and ingenuous. "Hi" she said. "Hot, isn't it?"
Kitten glanced hastily at the name tag. She should have known. The dimples came in her cheeks, and her hand guided Susan lovingly toward Mother Nesselbush. "This is Susan Mitchell," Kitten said. "Mother Nessy will introduce you to the girls."
Mother Nesselbush's fat fingers reached for Susan's arm, and as she led her through the porch door to the living room she exclaimed, "What a lovely name! Susan! Or Sue? Which one do you like best?"
"Most folks call me Mitch," the girl answered, and Mother Nessy said, "That's a darling name! Mitch!"
Marsha Holmes interpreted Nessy's wink correctly. She rushed forward immediately and checked the name tag. Then she sat beside Susan Mitchell on the divan and she talked in that mellow, soft voice. She brought the girl cool mint punch and round jelly cookies, and she punctuated every sentence with "Mitch." Through the house she guided the girl, showing her the neat, pastel-colored rooms, the grand tile bathroom with the glass shower and tub stalls, the spotless white kitchen, the cellar with the washing machines and dryers and irons, and the closed-off section known as The Den, where Tri Eps brought their dates for ping-pong and Cokes. Soon Kitten Clark finished greeting the rushees and joined the entourage, and Marybell Van Casey followed along, and Jane Bell, the pert, efficient rush chairman, and they were all smiling and saying, "Do you like it, Mitch?", "Wait till you see this, Mitch," and "You are going to come back, Mitch?"