|See also for more in-depth critique
of Grace's writings:
Franco-American Women's Literary Tradition: A Central Piece in the Region's Literary Mosaic
Written and Presented by Rhea Côté Robbins
Paper at the Colloque: "Cultural Identity in French America: Legacy, Evolution and the Challenges of Renewal," May 1996, Bar Harbor, Maine
Published, River Review/Revue Rivière, number/numéro 5, 1999, ©All rights reserved
The following paper, work done
by the student in the course which Robbins teaches online:
A Look at Grace Metalious
Wednesday, December 19, 2001 3:36:28 PM
(I hope all the pics work for everyone)
Grace Metalious was born September 8, 1924 in the mill town of Manchester, New Hampshire. She was born "Marie Grace de Repentigny" to Franco American parents. Although her family was Franco-American, they did not embrace the "French-Canadian" culture, instead they made some efforts to separate themselves from the "Little Canada" of Manchester. They lived outside west-end Manchester, which was considered "Little Canada." Although Grace was born in the mill town of the famed Amoskeag, neither she nor her parents worked in the mill. Grace's mother, Laurette, was a dental hygienist when she married Al, a printer. They had a little more financially than other Franco-American people in their area and own family circle. As a result, Grace was somewhat spoiled, she did not have the same household responsibilities that many children of that time had. She was not required to do any household chores at all. Laurette also focused on providing her children "culture." "Grace and Bunny [her sister] learned about silver, fine table linen, Beethoven and dressing well- the last lesson did not take." (Toth Pg. 15) (Grace was infamous for her lack concern of style. In pictures she seems forever to be in the same pair of jeans and plaid shirt with a simple ponytail.) Grace's father was not around much because of work and before she was twelve, her mother had filed for divorce from Al. It is said that Laurette felt that Al was never good enough for her. As a result, Grace had a lack of a father figure in her life.
Grace described herself as a lover of books and writing from a young age. It is said that she wrote her first Nancy Drew-like book in seventh grade. She attended the local public High School. She was close with two local boys and they would write little plays and even perform them at the local Y. Grace, at the age of eighteen, married her first real boyfriend: George Metalious. She and George, after some traveling, settled in Gilmanton, New Hampshire in a run down home that Grace never seemed to keep clean, nor did she have the desire to upkeep. She was too busy with three children and writing. She kept her relationships with other women at a minimum except for a close friendship with Laurie Wilkens who also had young children. They would often get together and take their kids on picnics and Grace would use Laurie as a sounding board for her writing. All this seems quite normal for the time. She had a life as a busy housewife and wife of a school- teacher, but after the printing of her first novel "Peyton Place," her life changed dramatically. All at once she captivated the media, her hometown was furious with her, she was accused of writing perverted trash, and her family relationships became tense. Her time of success was not short lived. "Peyton Place" shocked the nation and was on the best seller's list for weeks. It was bought for movie and television rights. Grace went on to write a few other novels, but none of them were well accepted by America's readers and critics. People accused Grace of not truly writing "Peyton Place". They said that Grace's good friend Laurie really wrote the book. Grace's children were treated horribly at school because their mother wrote a "dirty book." And it is rumored that Grace's husband George lost his job because of the "Peyton Place." Grace became disillusioned with the whole writing and publishing business. Her exposure in the media was no longer fun, but taxing instead. After a few divorces, affairs, and husbands Grace fell into the spiral of alcohol abuse and eventually died at 39. Her story is tragic; she left behind three children and a grand child who would not get a chance to know her. Obviously, this brief biography does not do her life experience justice, but it provides an outline to begin to understand Grace and her writings.
It is said that by some that Grace based the characters of Allison, from "Peyton Place," and Lesley, from "No Adam in Eden." Although both character's life in no way exactly mirror Grace's life, there are many particulars from each character's life that are drawn from Grace's. Allison, like Grace, did not have much of a father figure in her life. Allison's father was a man who her mother, Constance, had a long time affair with. When her father, also named Allison, died, Constance moved back to the small town of Peyton Place to raise her daughter. Constance does not tell her daughter that her father was never her husband. Instead Allison believes that her mother is a widow and that the man in the picture on their mantle would have been a doting and caring father to her. Allison and Grace also shared a dislike and unease about their pre pubescent bodies. Allison thinks to herself while looking in the mirror, "If I were very thin and much taller, I could move like a bluebell in the wind…If I were only completely blonde, like Mother, or very dark, like my father. If I wasn't so awfully medium." (Pg. 107 "Peyton Place") Allison tries to use a "falsie", a bra with rubber padding, to look better, but her mother takes it away. Grace was also plagued by body image insecurities. "Grace was called "Slats"- a negative tribute to her flat chest" in high school. It is no doubt that Grace probably also tried her hand with a "falsie" for self-improvement. One of the sweetest moments of "Peyton Place" when Allison meets Norman, a local boy, at her special spot: Road's End. "Their hands rested close together on the board that had the red letter printed on its side, and there was a companionable sort of intimacy at the sight of them… ‘I used to think that I was the only kid in town who ever came up here,' said Norman…‘I thought that once," said Allison." (Pg. 134 Peyton Place) After their meeting at Road's End, Allison and Norman for a friendship and share innocent romantic moments. Grace's special place in Gilmanton was also Road's End, which she shared with her love George. "They sat for hours, overlooking the city lights of Manchester, thinking they understood everything about one another- and sharing a power physical attraction" (Toth Pg. 35) Both Allison and Grace lived for writing. Allison as a young woman, unlike Grace, left Peyton Place for New York City to pursue writing. She did not marry young or even have a serious boyfriend in high school, unlike Grace who married George at age eighteen.
Lesley also shares Allison and Grace's love for escaping in literature. Although Lesley does not write, she always had her nose in a book to escape her home life. Lesley was a seeker of the positive things in life. She carries an air of innocence throughout the story. "...Lesley went right on believing in princes and shining white knights for simply years and years." ("No Adam in Eden" Pg. 245) Lesley married young, like Grace, and the circumstances of her marriage where close to that of Grace's. When Lesley was walking home from school "her left foot hit a patch of ice on the sidewalk. Everything to happen at once Her books went flying in all directions and Lesley went flying too... her right leg twisted painfully beneath her." ("No Adam..." Pg. 269) Grace also had he experience of falling down. Once, when walking home from the YMCA with two friends, "Grace dislocated her knee and lay writing on the ground...she was somewhat plump. Neither Bert...nor Jay... could pick her up. The finally half-helped, half-dragged her home..." (Toth Pg.26) Lesley, on the other hand, was found my truck driver Gino Donati who carried her to his truck and drove her home, it was almost instant love Lesley.
Gino was the "perfect man" in "No Adam in Eden." "Gino was twenty-one years old, six feet tow inches tall and weighed one hundred and ninety pounds stripped. He ad the black , curly hair of his ancestors and their dark-brown eyes as well, and his white, very straight teeth showed often in a wide-lipped mouth that smiled easily...there was a sensitivity in the dark-brown eyes an a gentleness in his big square hands that the casual observer might easily have missed." ( "No Adam...Pg. 266) Grace described Gino as the kind of man that she was attracted to. Once Grace become older she was attracted to tall strong men. Gino is the "physical type she always admired-big, broad shouldered.." (Toth Pg.112) Gino and Lesley's chance meeting blossoms into romance, but it creates tension. Gino is Italian and Lesley is Franco American. Lesley's mother deeply disapproves of their marriage, but the couple still weds. When Grace was 17 and in love with George Metalious, who is Greek, both their parents objected to their talk of marriage. George and Grace were defiant and chose to live with each other, something almost unheard of in their time, and then eventually get married. They started their relationship as well with negative attitudes of the family, but they prevailed. Grace and George had a rocky relationship, but Lesley and Gino seemed to have the perfect domestic relationship. Lesley had a loving devoted husband. She "had her blue and white kitchen with a row of red geraniums on the window sill, her primrose-yellow bathroom and a living room with a fireplace and a pine-board floor and a hand -braided rug. Her children were plump and sunny-natured..." (No Adam... Pg. 289) It seemed as though Lesley was Grace's picture of ideal femininity. When Grace was young and with children, much of her identity as a woman was found in her ability to have children and be a mother. When she had to have her tubes tied because giving birth almost killed her, "she mourned her loss of ‘womanhood'." (Toth Pg. 63) It is almost as if she lost her purpose, or at least felt as though a large chunk of herself was obliterated. "...You don't feel like a woman at all."(Toth Pg. 62)
I find it interesting that Grace uses herself as a base to create Allison and Lesley from. I found myself likening Grace to the characters of Angelique, Alana, or even Armand before I connected her to Allison or Lesley. Angelique also had a drinking problem, like Grace later on in life. Angelique was never happy with her current relationship and was always looking for something more; more of a father figure man, the same goes for Grace. Armand and Grace died of the same infliction, they basically drank themselves to death. Alana looks at life through critical eyes, she truly sees underneath people's, especially, her mother's false pretenses. Grace does the same thing in her writing. "Peyton Place" and "No Adam in Eden" were exposures of the taboo and true things in life that people were unwilling to talk about. When Alana bursts out and blaming Angelique for the death of her father, it reminds me of how Grace so harshly writes of all the pain and death that surrounds small town life.
True, there are many similarities between Grace's life to Allison's and Lesley's, but even Allison and Lesley seem so opposite. Allison is a young career minded woman. She sets off on her own to New York City to see what life has for her. She does not feel the tug to remain home and start a family, she wants to write. Lesley, on the other hand, has her focus set on making and raising a family. Her entire world revolves around her three children and marvelous husband. Lesley is full of love for her life and enjoys the domestic role of homemaker that she has taken on. Lesley feels sorry for those who do not experience such love and fulfillment that she relieves from her life. It is as Grace is somewhere in the middle of both stories, yet her life was not so cut and dry. Grace married young and had three children while still in her twenties. After raising a family for while with a husband off to war in the early years and after he returned they were still on a tight budget. Grace detested housework. She did not do chores growing up and she was infamous for her filthy home. Once she did write her book she traveled to and from New York to work with publishers, but her fame only brought her trouble. Are Allison and Lesley two different women with different lives that Grace wanted? Did Grace have this pull inside of her wishing to be truly domestic and the devoted mother or the young unattached career woman? Where these characters Grace's way to escape her own life and pretend that her life was different? Was her writing an escape from reality much like it was for Allison? Grace put enough of her own life into each character's story to make it seem as if it were hers. Perhaps Grace wanted her life to imitate her art in some ways, but it seems that it was only her art that imitated life. It is as if Grace is in the middle of these two women, desiring to be both, but unable to make that work in the real world. They are two opposite pulls: one traditional for Grace's time and the other nontraditional almost feminist independence. It seems as like Grace's characters are a testament of the changing times. There was this pressure to be the mother in a nuclear family, but the women's movement began slowly to inspire women to try something new first. Grace wrote "Peyton Place" before she wrote "No Adam in Eden." One would think that her characters would evolve from traditional to more progressive, but it is the opposite. Maybe by the time Grace wrote "No Adam in Eden" she was too disillusioned by the world of professional writing and publishing that she wished that she had chosen a completely varying path. Even after reading and researching there are many unanswered questions for me, and they will remain unanswered. It is unfortunate that Grace died at such a young age. Just think of what she could write about in this day in age. I wonder what she would think of a society that now is much more open about all the things she wrote, her books no longer shock people, instead they seem mild compared to what is on day time television. I enjoyed Grace's books thoroughly, so far. I am just getting started on "Return to Peyton Place" to find out what happens to the rest of the characters. Grace is a testament to the diversity of women and the diversity found in Franco American communities.
"Inside Peyton Place: The Life of Grace Metalious"
by Emily Toth
Thursday, December 27, 2001 2:38:56 PM
Is this available for publishing on the ezine? If so, could you send me a permission to do this?