Published in 1956, Peyton Place became a bestseller and a literary phenomenon. A lurid and gripping story of murder, incest, female desire, and social injustice, it was consumed as avidly by readers as it was condemned by critics and the clergy. Its author, Grace Metalious, a housewife who grew up in poverty in a New Hampshire mill town and had aspired to be a writer from childhood, loosely based the novel’s setting, characters, and incidents on real-life places, people, and events.
The novel sold more than 30 million copies in hardcover and paperback, and it was adapted into a hit Hollywood film in 1957 and a popular television series that aired from 1964 to 1969. More than half a century later, the term "Peyton Place" is still in circulation as a code for a community harboring sordid secrets.
In Unbuttoning America, Ardis Cameron mines extensive interviews, fan letters, and archival materials including contemporary cartoons and cover images from film posters and foreign editions to tell how the story of a patricide in a small New England village circulated over time and became a cultural phenomenon.
She argues that Peyton Place, with its frank discussions of poverty, sexuality, class and ethnic discrimination, and small-town hypocrisy, was more than a tawdry potboiler. Metalious’s depiction of how her three central female characters come to terms with their identity as women and sexual beings anticipated second-wave feminism.
More broadly, Cameron asserts, the novel was also part of a larger postwar struggle over belonging and recognition. Fictionalizing contemporary realities, Metalious pushed to the surface the hidden talk and secret rebellions of a generation no longer willing to ignore the disparities and domestic constraints of Cold War America.
WRITTEN WITH COURAGE AND FEISTINESS"
Emily Toth, author of Inside Peyton Place
Unbuttoning America is a wonderful book about a fascinating and historically significant topic...It is clearly argued, strongly researched, impressively structured, and beautifully written. The energetic writing, with Ardis Cameron's voice coming through on every page, makes the book lively." Jennifer Frost, author of Hedda Hopper's Hollywood
"Seldom have I encountered a book as well-written and argued as Unbuttoning America...Cameron deploys this material lightly, with consummate skill, to produce a revelatory account that illuminates how a popular book enters the cultural landscape."
Judith E. Smith, author of Visions of Belonging.
"SHE PUT ME ON THE WRONG ROAD EARLY ON, AND I AM BETTER FOR IT."
"WHEN A BOOK...TO BE."
The Chronicle of Higher Education April 9, 1999
NEW EDITION OF 'PEYTON PLACE' FEATURES SCHOLARLY INTRODUCTION; U. OF ARKANSAS PRESS TAPS NEW DIRECTOR
APRIL 9, 1999
It’s not your mother’s Peyton Place.
By the end of 1956, the year it was published, one out of 29 Americans owned a copy of Grace Metalious’s scandalous novel about illicit sex and abortion in a small New England town, despite -- or perhaps, in part, thanks to -- its having been banned in several U.S. cities.
Unbuttoning America: A Biography of "Peyton Place"
University of Southern Maine American Studies professor Cameron (Radicals of the Worst Sort) presents a unique synthesis of historical research and fresh analysis in this study of Peyton Place by Grace Metalious, a bestselling 1956 novel later made into a movie and TV series. Eisenhower-era America experienced the book, with its overt treatment of socially taboo topics like female sexuality and ethnic disenfranchisement, as the literary equivalent of the H-bomb. Cameron dexterously tracks the shock waves, unearthing gushing fan letters as well as scathing reviews that deemed the book "a lethal weapon aimed at the purity of family life." Cameron's intelligent treatment of a racy novel meant to be read "often at night, under bedcovers, a flashlight illuminating the guilty pleasures of the act" makes for a fascinating read in and of itself. It is a rare feat for such an overtly academic work to have such a smooth, comfortable prose style. While Peyton Place is often remembered as frivolous, Cameron reminds readers of its resounding cultural impact, which uprooted ideas of normalcy and helped set the tone for modern America. (May)
LETTERS 'PEYTON PLACE' REVISITED
Readers react to recent essays about “Peyton Place,” reviews of Fred D’Aguiar’s “Children of Paradise” and Barry Miles’s “Call Me Burroughs,” and more.