“I thought, these Americans, they are easily shocked.”
- Tereska Torres, author of Women’s Barracks
Tereska Torres did not intend to be a lesbian writer, and she certainly didn’t intend to pioneer an entire genre of fiction. Unwittingly though it may have been, Torres stunned millions of people with her first novel, adapted from her own experiences.
Women’s Barracks is a story about the author’s experiences during the war. It tells of Torres fleeing occupied France and becoming a refugee in London. She joins the Charles DeGaulle’s army and is stationed in Britain. The all-women environment sparks lesbian relationships, and soon the women pair off, usually between the butch officer types and their femme subordinates. The experienced older women taught the younger ones the passion of love, as is often the case in lesbian pulp fiction.
Although Women’s Barracks was published in 1950 (by Gold Press) and was the first lesbian pulp fiction novel, Torres was not expecting a lot of controversy. In an interview, Torres says, “I felt I was extremely tame!” She was used to French standards for novels, which included more candid descriptions of sex. Torres didn’t expect anyone to be shocked by the novel.
But shocked they were. In 1952, the House Select Committee on Current Pornographic Materials denounced the book as obscene, but didn’t have it banned as it was defended as warning about the dangers of lesbianism, not endorsing it. The book was still, however, banned in several states. Canada ruled the book as obscene after only two days of discussion. It was seen as a sign of pulp fiction’s “promoting moral degeneracy”.
All the same, Women’s Barracks sold millions of copies, including four million in the US alone. As for France, Torres’s home country, it was never published. Torres was encouraged to publish it there, but refused, preferring to have her diary published instead. She felt the truth was more interesting than fiction.
Women’s Barracks success encouraged others to begin to pursue lesbian pulp fiction, even if that hadn’t been the author’s intent. Its success outstrips many, if not most, of the novels of the same genre that followed it, and remains in print to this day.
"I was as surprised as in 1951 when the book came out and I went to see the American publisher and said, 'You print 200,000 copies now, but will you print more?' And he said, 'We'll always print this book! We'll publish it for always, like the Bible.'"
- Tereska Torres