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Dirty Whites and Dark Secrets

Sex and Race in Peyton Place

Sally Hirsh-Dickinson

Publication Year: 2011

In a surprise rereading of the classic Peyton Place by Grace Metalious, Sally Hirsh-Dickinson contends that it scandalized the nation precisely because of the way in which sexuality in the novel is conflated with America's problematic relationship to race. This charge is buttressed by the oft-forgotten detail that the fictional Peyton Place was founded by one Samuel Peyton, an escaped slave.

Hirsh-Dickinson argues that the town's inability to come to terms with its black history informs its dysfunctional relationship to sex, power, and justice, mirroring America on the eve of the civil rights movement. She writes of New England in the larger American consciousness, touching on discussions of white studies and the racialized lower classes in American fiction. Dirty Whites and Dark Secrets is a thought-provoking study of a genre classic that will speak to both scholars and students about the deeper truths hidden in popular fiction.

Published by: University of New Hampshire Press

Series: Revisiting New England

Series Page

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Title Page

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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xi

From the beginning, this seemed to be the least likely of projects to ever see the light of day. It certainly would not have done so had it not been for the extraordinary and singular network that formed to support me and see me through. Sarah Sherman at the University of New Hampshire provided me with much professional and practical guidance during the...

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pp. 1-19

In the years that I have been devoting my academic energies to exploring constructions of race in Grace Metalious’s much-maligned 1956 best seller, Peyton Place, I have met with a fair measure of cynicism about my work. Upon first disclosing the subject of my scholarship to colleagues or introducing it into cocktail party conversation, the range of disbelieving...

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1. Dark Past, White Lies: Reconsidering the Sources of Scandal in Peyton Place

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pp. 20-46

Peyton Place famously begins, “Indian summer is like a woman. Ripe, hotly passionate, but fickle, she comes and goes as she pleases so that one is never sure whether she will come at all, nor for how long she will stay” (1). This brazen simile, at once racialized, gendered, and highly sexualized, strikingly, efficiently, and suggestively anticipates the conflation of...

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2. The Color of Incest: Sexual Abuse, Racial Anxiety, and the 1950s Family in Peyton Place

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pp. 47-73

Peyton Place refers to three things at once: the blockbuster best-selling novel with the racy reputation, the town in which that novel is set, and the castle (“the Peyton place”) that gives the town its name. Though the full telling of the story of the latter is held in abeyance until very near the novel’s conclusion, the English castle erected on a New England hilltop...

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3. Domestic Disturbances: Rape, Race, and Peyton Place

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pp. 74-98

In a scene considered by many teen readers at the time to be the “quintessence of romance” (Toth, Inside, 138), Peyton Place ushers the fair, blond, and Anglo Constance MacKenzie out of her sexual repression at the hands of the dark, virile, Greek, Tom Makris. This act of libidinal rehabilitation leads her into a sexually satisfying marriage and suggests that the novel...

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4. The Good Rapist, the Bad Rapist, and the Abortionist: Peyton Place’s Crisis of Masculinity

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pp. 99-130

Tom Makris’s rape of Constance MacKenzie in Peyton Place is singular within their relationship in its show of sexual force. It is not singular, however, in Tom’s experience. His sexual initiation, we later learn, demonstrates a similar strain of aggression. As in the first sex scene with Constance, the issue of consent is made to seem ambiguous: Tom “took” a girl...

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5. Home Is Where the Haunt Is: Domestic Space, Race, and the Uncanny

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pp. 131-171

Samuel Peyton’s castle is a haunting home. Structured by the racism that forced Peyton to flee Boston, it relocates and reiterates the history of white racial domination in America upon a New Hampshire hilltop. Although the castle has been uninhabited since the deaths of Peyton and his wife and shows the signs of neglect, it remains very much on the minds of those...

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pp. 172-178

The frenzy and the furor that greeted Peyton Place’s arrival in stores in September 1956 had been deliberately stoked by a great deal of advance publicity about the naughty novel by the New England mother of three. Owing in part to a clever marketing campaign alleging that Peyton Place had put George Metalious’s job in jeopardy, the novel became the fourth-...


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pp. 179-197

Works Cited

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pp. 199-210


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pp. 211-221

E-ISBN-13: 9781611682151
E-ISBN-10: 1611682150

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: Revisiting New England