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There’s no doubt that the pulp fiction era spawned a wealth of escapist genres known for over-the-top exaggeration and off beat characters. At it’s height in the early half of the 20th century, pulp fiction earned it’s name from the low-budget paper, or “pulp”, the stories were printed on. These days, the term is more likely to bring to mind the movie of the same name, after all, who could forget when Vincent Vega and Mia Wallace went toe-to-toe at the campy caricature haven, Jack Rabbit Slim’s?
Over the years, pulp fiction’s resurgence into entertainment and fashion reminds us of its cultural significance, but while the depictions of women may seem varied, it’s the lasting impression of pulp’s portrait of what’s feminine that’s worth a closer look. When pulp’s heroines find empowerment, it’s often through manipulation or seduction, and a typical narrative leaves the female lead in need of rescue, in peril at the hands of a suitor, or as little more than an object of desire. In honor of National Novel Writing Month, we’re exploring the subtle, and not-so-subtle, sexism of pulp book art in this month’s Vintage Sexism.
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Above we have the cover of Richard Deming’s 1960 novel, Hit and Run, about a detective who offers to cover up evidence of a couple’s involvement in a hit-and-run accident. As he falls deeper under the spell of our main vixen, its revealed that she’s not as innocent as she seems, and is willing to go to great lengths to cover up her involvement in the accident, hence the semi-nude sunbathing and nonchalant brandishing of a firearm.
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The Girl in the Black Chemise is Les Scott’s answer to 1952’s percolating ambivalence over questions related to marriage, intimacy, and traditional roles. The novel is a sordid love triangle between Tom, his wife Bertha, and Iris, his lover. While the storyline alone is worth consideration for a Daytime Emmy, the themes explored exemplify the power of pulp and its influence on an audience of young women and men.
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Writer John Flagg isn’t shy with his subtitles. In 1953, he published Woman of Cairo with the addition, “Men said Gina had beauty, but they didn’t know she had brains.” Following the exploits of Gina Ferelli, a socialite of sorts who happens to be smarter than she looks, Woman of Cairo, illustrates the vixen archetype, though to claim this role, she must be calculating, always alluring, and devoid of compassion.
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The title truly says it all. Richard Starnes published the above whodunit in 1951 and the implication is clearly that good behavior merits reward, while objection, or anyone else’s definition of “bad” behavior leads to arson and first degree manslaughter. Such an outlandish scene is certainly part and parcel of pulp’s hyperbolic nature, and while it’s fair to assume that flashy covers helped to sell these books, it’s important to always consider intent.
When we think of the major forms of entertainment in the 50s and 60s, pulp is one of the ways people were introduced to cultural changes taking place in society. How do you think the history of pulp has shaped modern femininity? — By Amy, Customer Care Assistant Lead