During the first half of the 20th century a number of lesbian and gay novels were published in the USA and UK, some of which are on display here.
The cover design of these novels falls into two distinct strands and styles, aimed at different audiences: the serious literary reader, and the consumer of titillating pulp fiction. The same novel could be marketed in both styles; this difference of approach can be seen clearly in the hardback and paperback editions of Fall of Valor and End as a Man.
The gay and lesbian content of the novels of this period is rarely mentioned directly, rather it is alluded to both linguistically and visually.
The dust jackets of the hardback editions occasionally suggestively declare, either in words or pictures, that the book is “strange”. Alternatively, some of the covers opt only for the austerity of title and author, leaving the reader to peruse the dust jacket for hints to the book’s content, using words such as “courageous”, “subterranean”, and “sensitive”.
The pulp paperback editions, with their garishly coloured and personified covers, take these hints one step further by creating a visual language of suggestion that, when seen en masse, begins to speak clearly to the reader. Body language and gaze are used to imply suspicion or despair; love triangles are depicted, with one member kept in the dark; one figure dominates another. Nobody is allowed to look happy.