Vintage lesbians with a happy ending: Carol
In short, Carol is a story about vintage lesbians who actually get a happy ending.
Previously titled The Price of Salt, Carol was originally published in 1952 by Patricia Highsmith, and in 2015, a film adaption of the book was released.
Carol avoids the typical lesbian media tropes, which often use death as a plot point, but isn’t unrealistic. The novel follows Therese Belivet, a young set designer living on her own in Manhattan, and her first steps in her relationship with Carol. Carol Aird, “a woman with a child and a husband, with freckles on her hands and a habit of cursing, of growing melancholy at unexpected moments, with a bad habit of indulging [Therese’s] will.” The two women are both forced to make sacrifices that ultimately puts stress on their relationship while simultaneously drawing them together. The characterization of the two women is complex. It showcases not only the societal obstacles that prevent them from being open about who and what they are to each other, but as well as their personal struggles. Therese learns how to grow up and find herself outside of her relationships. Both with Carol, and with Richard, who she is in a relationship with at the beginning of the book, but doesn’t love him back. Carol is faced with trying to keep her divorce as clean as possible while still having Therese in her life.
When consequences from a trip Therese and Carol take together across the United States arise and call Carol home, it doesn’t feel like the reader is being pressured to pick a side. Instead Highsmith let’s the reader understand why they each reacted how they did.
The way the Carol is written matches the narrative; it has moments of being subtle that parallel how Carol and Therese have to act about their love. Some events are implied instead of outright stated, and conversations are laced with double meanings. This creates a narrative that demands your full attention, lest you miss a cue and don’t realize what is being discussed is actually very gay. This can lead to rereading a page or two (or three) at times because you feel like you’ve missed something. Despite that, it’s a clever look into the motivations and feelings of the two women.
Carol is a blatant, unashamed love story about two women in the 1950’s; which was actually inspired by a meeting similar to Therese and Carol’s that Highsmith had herself. It is not an easy journey for Therese and Carol from their meeting to their happy ending, but the undoubted affection they have for one another makes it a worthwhile read.