In 1952 Highsmith, barely 30, perhaps startled by the wayward success of her first novel Strangers on a Train (conferring instant stardom when the Hitchcock movie followed a year later), had good reason to be edgy about the reception The Price of Salt would receive. “Those were the days when gay bars were a dark door somewhere in Manhattan, where people wanting to go to a certain bar got off the subway a station before or after the convenient one, lest they were suspected of being homosexual,” she wrote, in a postscript to the novel, many years later.
She showed some early extracts to her favourite teacher from Barnard College, Ethel Sturtevant, whose excited reply – “Now this packs a wallop!” – probably alarmed and reassured the former student in equal measure. Highsmith’s own publisher Harper & Brothers rejected it, so it was published first by a small press, and the solution of the pseudonym Claire Morgan was decided on.
“It flowed from the end of my pen as if from nowhere,” Highsmith wrote. She also admitted a specific inspiration: a “blondish woman in a fur coat”, who wafted into Macy’s in New York to buy her daughter a doll. Highsmith was working there as a sales-girl during the Christmas rush. On her day off she took a bus to New Jersey, found the woman’s house (from the address on the sales slip) and simply walked by it. [Read More]