Pushing the Limits

We Too Are Drifting front cover. Two women occupy most of the visual space. One is standing on the left of the image, her back to the reader, and seen from her calves up. She has blond, short hair and is wearing a white and red-stripped male pajama top with the sleeves rolled up to her forearms. Her legs are slightly spread, shoulder-width. Her gaze is directed downward from her right shoulder toward another woman sitting behind her, a brunette with her hair tied in a bun, neck-high. She is wearing a black negligee and is sitting on her folded legs with hands together between her thighs. She seems to have her eyes closed and, like the other woman, has her face wrapped in a shadow. A beam of warm light illuminates them both partly from the right of the image.

The cover art was also an indication of the different types of publishing companies and their target audiences. In both the U.S. and Canada, paperback publishers came under government scrutiny in the early 1950s for provocative covers and content.  Mainstream publishers, like Avon and Berkley Books, were more likely to respond to government pressure to tone down their illustrations.

We Too are Drifting, published by Berkley Books in 1955 is an example of the type of cover used by the mainstream publishers.

http://ec.msvu.ca:8080/xmlui/bitstream/handle/10587/879/LPF-Veil of Torment-Front.jpg

At the other end of the spectrum, publishers such as Beacon and Midwood were pursuing the adult market and were more likely to push the boundaries of public acceptability.

In comparison to the book cover of We Too are Drifting, the Veil of Torment published by Nightstand Books in 1957 demonstrates how the publishers specializing in erotica for male audiences were still willing to use provocative covers.

In the mid-1960s several U.S. and Canadian court cases opened the way for freer distribution of erotic and pornographic literature. The differences among the publishers regarding the sexual tone of their book covers grew more distinct. The mainstream publishers' covers featured clothed models, and the sleaze publishers' covers became more overtly sexualized. 

The image to the left shows The Other Side of Desire, published by the mainstream publisher, Paperback Library. The example in the middle shows Sex in the Shadows, released by Softcover Library, a publisher of softcore erotica. The final image on the right presents Split-Level Sin, published by Globe Volumes, a press specializing in hardcore sleaze and pornography.

Browse the MSVU lesbian pulp fiction collection for covers from the different types of publishing companies

Mainstream publishers

Adult/Softcore publishers

Sleaze/Hardcore publishers


Bonn, Thomas L. Undercover: An Illustrated History of American Mass Market Paperbacks. New York, N.Y: Penguin, 1982.

Davis, Kenneth C. Two-Bit Culture: The Paperbacking of America. Houghton Mifflin, 1984.

Rabinowitz, Paula. American Pulp: How Paperbacks Brought Modernism to Main Street. Princeton University Press, 2014.

Server, Lee. Over My Dead Body: The Sensational Age of the American Paperback, 1945-1955. Chronicle Books, 1994.