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Women's Barracks by Tereska Torres

Women's Barracks (1950)

by Tereska Torres

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  1. 00
    The Girls of Slender Means by Muriel Spark (mambo_taxi)
    mambo_taxi: Like Women's Barracks, The Girls of Slender Means centers around women housed together in Pre/Post-War London. Whereas Women's Barracks tends to be more reflective, The Girls of Slender means tends to be witty. Neither book is salacious (like you might expect Women's Barracks to be), and both books are delightfully lesbionic (though much less so in The Girls of Slender Means).… (more)

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this wasn't well written - although it wasn't terrible either - but i wasn't all that interested in what she was writing about. and it was offensive the way she wrote about lesbians as not "real" women and not "normal." to be fair, this was 1950, about a period of time 10 or so years before. i'm just not sure what value there is in reading this now, except that this book launched the lesbian pulp genre, which had a positive effect and i'm sure served lesbians well in the 50's and 60's. from a purely story-based perspective, i felt like the author included the minutiae that were of no interest while leaving out all the possible really interesting stories.

this wasn't awful but it wasn't really for me.

from the translator's preface, by george cummings:
"The problems brought forward here are problems that must be recognized wherever women have to live together without normal emotional outlets." perhaps he's not referring to the lesbianism, but i'm not convinced.

as if lesbians can't have true or longterm relationships: "...most intensely she had known that exhausting love which dies of its own sterility between brief flashes of passion. It was a love that circled on itself, like a cat chasing its own tail."

an example of the language: "At Down Street there was never any question of a true Lesbian pursuing a normal woman."

and, ugh, the perpetuation of rape culture, as if kissing someone is consent for sex: "She wanted to cry and ask his forgiveness. He was so gentle and nice, and she was probably behaving very badly, letting him kiss her and then refusing to go further, like those frightful teasers..."

this made me laugh, though: "They all gasped. They didn't cry out, for they were after all British..."

it's the time period again, but i didn't like the way she referred to abortion: "...the doctor bending over her with the chloroform, she had realized that she was about to kill her child, and it was too late."

[what happened between ann and petit] "seemed to me the saddest of all the things I had heard about the unnatural lives of these women." ( )
  elisa.saphier | Jul 31, 2016 |
This book was definitely not as scandalous as I was expecting, but I'm sure it was shocking for the times. It's a story about love and war, and it did leave me a bit sad at the end. I enjoyed the author interview as it shed a lot of light into the characters. ( )
  lemontwist | Jun 12, 2010 |
Ah, the pulp art cover featuring women in uniform (you know there will be lesbians!). Oh, the suggestive title that tells you that the women are going to be in close proximity (you know there will be action!). This is lesbian pulp fiction at its best. In fact, the only thing that Women's Barracks is missing in order to make it a quintessential lesbian pulp novel is, oddly enough, the pulp.

Though marketed as 25 cent throw-away drugstore literature, Women's Barracks is actually a well-written semi-autobiographical account of life in the Free French Army in London during World War II. Where you might expect to find bald-faced gratuity you instead get a thoughtful coming of age memoir peppered with women loving men and women loving each other. It's an account of women who arrive hopeful while some will leave with jaded feelings toward adulthood and humanity in general. In terms of literary quality it's only a few steps down from Francoise Mallet-Joris' The Illusionist and (on the other side of the Channel) Dorothy Strachey's Olivia. And it's quite a few steps above Colette. The only thing that makes this book lesbian pulp is the presence of an oddly unobtrusive narrator who only pokes her head out in order to pass pitying, moralizing reflections upon the lesbian characters.

This is good literature where you wouldn't expect to find it. Also be sure to check out the Joan Schenkar's interview with Torres included at the end of the novel. ( )
1 vote mambo_taxi | May 25, 2008 |
This was a surprisingly good read. Naturally, I was attracted by the title and the cover, but how was I to know that the story would be good as well? Lesbian pulp is usually one of those things that you skim to the juicy parts and then stop reading because the lesbian usually dies in the end. This book is different. It has some very realistic depictions of all of the main characters, who are all very different. I especially liked the conversation that the narrator has with Ann (the Lesbian) and the differences between women who are lesbians and those who sleep with women occasionally but do not consider themselves lebians. The book doesn't center completely around this idea of sexual identity, there is also a very strong story of the question of war. Most of the characters in the book are convinced that the end of World War II with put an end to war altogether. As the book ends, the optimism they have of post-WWII Europe has begun to wane.

Women's Barracks was the first lesbian themed pulp to hit the US. It was published in 1950. It was also the first pulp fiction that made it big. It sold over 2 million copies in the first 5 years. Wow. ( )
1 vote lweddle | Jan 17, 2007 |
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My husband tells me I ought to write my memoirs of the women's army in which I spent five years during World War II.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 155861494X, Paperback)

Originally published in 1950, this account of life among female Free French soldiers in a London barracks during World War II sold four million copies in the United States alone and many more millions worldwide.
The novel is based on the real-life experiences of the author, Tereska Torres, who escaped from occupied France. She arrived as a refugee in London and joined other exiles enlisting in Charles de Gaulle’s army, then stationed in Britain awaiting an invasion of their homeland by Allied forces. But Women’s Barracks is no ordinary war story.
As the Blitz rains down over London, taboos are broken, affairs start and stop and hearts are won and lost. Women’s Barracks was banned for obscenity in several states. It was also denounced by the House Select Committee on Current Pornographic Materials in 1952 as an example of how the paperback industry was “promoting moral degeneracy.” But in spite of such efforts—or perhaps, in part, because of them—the novel became a record-breaking bestseller and inspired a whole new genre: lesbian pulp.

From the obituary in the New York Times:
Tereska Torrès, 92, Writer Of Lesbian Fiction, Dies
Tereska Torrès, a convent-educated French writer who quite by accident wrote America’s first lesbian pulp novel, died on Thursday at her home in Paris. She was 92…
…It was not homophobia that caused Ms. Torrès to find her book’s canonical status peculiar. Quite the contrary, she said: because affairs with barracks mates were so much a part of ordinary wartime experience the hoopla seemed simply prurient.
“The book spoke very delicately about the few matters of sexual encounters,” Ms. Torrès told Salon.com in 2005. “But so what? I hadn’t invented anything — that’s the way women lived during the war in London.”
She added: “I thought I had written a very innocent book. I thought, these Americans, they are easily shocked.”

Femmes Fatales restores to print the best of women’s writing in the classic pulp genres of the mid-20th century. From mystery to hard-boiled noir to taboo lesbian romance, these rediscovered queens of pulp offer subversive perspectives on a turbulent era. Enjoy the series: Bedelia; The Blackbirder; Bunny Lake Is Missing; By Cecile; The G-String Murders; The Girls in 3-B; In a Lonely Place; Laura; Mother Finds a Body; Now, Voyager; Skyscraper; Stranger on Lesbos; Women's Barracks.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:04:44 -0400)

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