Beebo Brinker: book review
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Today it is 50 years since I read this book, so I’ll simply quote what I wrote in my diary then, as I can’t remember anything about it, other than what I wrote at the time, 9th November 1962:
Ma says I am a corrupter — possibly so. She moans and makes a big issue of that book I bought, Beebo Brinker. It’s about a female homosexual who falls in love with two women, and makes a big balls-up before she decides who to live with. It was forced upon the stupid bitch in the end when she shacked up with a film star whose husband kicked her out. I don’t blame the husband — not that his marriage was much of a marriage at all — there were about three previous divorces. However the author is obviously a lesbian who is making propaganda for gays. She sanctions the selfish attitude taken by the “heroine” Beebo Brinker, when she expects to get off with a married woman.
Though I wrote in my diary that I bought it, I don’t have the book now. Since my mother disapproved of it, she probably threw it out when I was away at university. So I can’t write anything more about the book itself than that.
What I can recall, though, is why I bought it, and my thoughts about it. I had a couple of friends who were gay, and a couple more who had recently decided to become gay (I wrote something about one of them here). I couldn’t remember who the author was, so I Googled for it, and found this description of the book: “Beebo Brinker is a lesbian pulp fiction novel written in 1962 by Ann Bannon. It is the last in a series of pulp fiction novels that eventually came to be known as The Beebo Brinker Chronicles”. It also said that the author’s real name was Ann Weldy.
I’d read a couple of other gay pulp fiction novels by then, which had been lent to me by another of my gay friends. Back then, both in South Africa and in the countries where the books were published, homosexual sexual relations (at least between males) were illegal, and so the plots of many of these novels revolved around the fear of discovery. They seemed to me to be more propaganda than art, and in Beebo Brinker the thing that struck me most was the essential self-centredness of the protagonist. Books written by gay people don’t have to be like that, though writers in that genre manage to create that impression. Homosexual writers like E.M. Forster and Jean Genet, for example, have written books (and in the case of Genet, plays) of real literary merit.
There have been many stories about adultery, and some of them have also taken their place in great literature. King Arthur was conceived in adultery with the connivance of Merlin. It is central to the plot of Chaucer’s Miller’s tale. But in the case of Beebo Brinker only the Afrikaans word for adulterer seems to fit: eg breker, which literally means “marriage breaker”, and the focus of the story is on the essential self-centredness of the protagonist. I suppose I didn’t like Beebo Brinker for the same reason that I didn’t like Ayn Rand’s books. Beebo Brinker and Dagny Taggart had the same approach to life. Perhaps, since Beebo Brinker, Dagny Taggart and Ayn Rand are female (two fictional and one real), that makes me a misogynist, at least in the eyes of some people. But I suspect that there might be some females, and even some gay females, who would interpret Beebo Brinker in the same way that I do.