December 3, 2012

What They’re Reading: Jennifer Bass

Book recommendations from experts in the fields of sexuality, gender, health, science and relationships.

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Jennifer Bass with Torres book

Jennifer Bass with Torres book

You can learn a lot by reading through the obituary section of the paper, and that’s one of my first destinations when perusing my local paper, and the NY Times.  I recently was taken in by the announcement of the death of Tereska Torres, who was known in some circles as a chronicler of lesbian life in World War II.   The obit describes Torres as  “a convent-educated French writer who quite by accident wrote America’s first lesbian pulp novel.”  I was hooked and had to check out the Kinsey Institute library to find her little paperback, which was, as I guessed, classified as “pulp fiction,”  and in perfect shape.

With its suggestive cover illustration, Women’s Barracks doesn’t quite live up to today’s expectation of desirous women seeking each other out for sex and pleasure.  On the other hand, I was drawn in by the almost sociological reporting of each of the characters, taken from the real life experience of Torres real-life observations in the barracks.  Yes, there was some woman-to-woman sexual attraction and love, but it struck me as more about young women thrown together in wartime, trying to find comfort and connection.

Though it was condemned by the House Select Committee on Current Pornographic Materials in 1952, there was no formal ban of Women’s Barracks in the US.  Its role in the evolution of lesbian fiction is a reminder of the cultural context of sex, and censorship.

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