The Price of Salt: OR Carol

The Price of Salt: OR Carol

by Patricia Highsmith

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A chance encounter between two lonely women leads to a passionate romance in this lesbian cult classic. Therese, a struggling young sales clerk, and Carol, a homemaker in the midst of a bitter divorce, abandon their oppressive daily routines for the freedom of the open road, where their love can blossom. But their newly discovered bliss is shattered when Carol is forced to choose between her child and her lover.
Author Patricia Highsmith is best known for her psychological thrillers Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley. Originally published in 1952 under a pseudonym, The Price of Salt was heralded as "the novel of a love society forbids." Highsmith's sensitive treatment of fully realized characters who defy stereotypes about homosexuality marks a departure from previous lesbian pulp fiction. Erotic, eloquent, and suspenseful, this story offers an honest look at the necessity of being true to one's nature. The book is also the basis of the acclaimed 2015 film Carol, starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780486802299
Publisher: Dover Publications
Publication date: 12/05/2014
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 514,515
File size: 17 MB
Note: This product may take a few minutes to download.

About the Author

Patricia Highsmith (1921–95) won the O. Henry Award for her first published short story, "The Heroine." Her 22 novels and eight collections of short stories include such well-known books as Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley. Highsmith engaged in sexual relationships with women as well as men, and The Price of Salt is regarded as highly autobiographical.

Date of Birth:

January 19, 1921

Date of Death:

February 4, 1995

Place of Birth:

Fort Worth, Texas

Place of Death:

Locarno, Switzerland


B.A., Barnard College, 1942

Read an Excerpt

The Price of Salt

By Patricia Highsmith

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 1937 Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-80229-9


THE LUNCH HOUR in the coworkers' cafeteria at Frankenberg's had reached its peak.

There was no room left at any of the long tables, and more and more people were arriving to wait back of the wooden barricades by the cash register. People who had already got their trays of food wandered about between the tables in search of a spot they could squeeze into, or a place that somebody was about to leave, but there was no place. The roar of dishes, chairs, voices, shuffling feet, and the bra-a-ack of the turnstiles in the bare-walled room was like the din of a single huge machine.

Therese ate nervously, with the "Welcome to Frankenberg" booklet propped up in front of her against a sugar container. She had read the thick booklet through last week, in the first day of training class, but she had nothing else with her to read, and in the coworkers' cafeteria, she felt it necessary to concentrate on something. So she read again about vacation benefits, the three weeks' vacation given to people who had worked fifteen years at Frankenberg's, she ate the hot plate special of the day—a grayish slice of roast beef with a ball of mashed potatoes covered with brown gravy, a heap of peas, and a tiny paper cup of horseradish. She tried to imagine what it would be like to have worked fifteen years in Frankenberg's department store, and she found she was unable to. "Twenty-five Yearers" got four weeks' vacation, the booklet said. Frankenberg's also provided a camp for summer and winter vacationers. They should have a church, too, she thought, and a hospital for the birth of babies. The store was organized so much like a prison, it frightened her now and then to realize she was a part of it.

She turned the page quickly, and saw in big black script across two pages: "Are You Frankenberg Material?"

She glanced across the room at the windows and tried to think of something else. Of the beautiful black and red Norwegian sweater she had seen at Saks and might buy for Richard for Christmas, if she couldn't find a better-looking wallet than the ones she had seen for twenty dollars. Of the possibility of driving with the Kellys next Sunday up to West Point to see a hockey game. The great square window across the room looked like a painting by— Who was it? Mondrian. The little square section of window in the corner open to a white sky. And no bird to fly in or out. What kind of a set would one make for a play that took place in a department store? She was back again.

But it's so different with you, Terry, Richard had said to her. You've got an absolute conviction you'll be out of it in a few weeks and the others haven't. Richard said she could be in France next summer. Would be. Richard wanted her to go with him, and there was really nothing that stood in the way of her going with him. And Richard's friend Phil McElroy had written him that he might be able to get her a job with a theatre group next month. Therese had not met Phil yet, but she had very little faith that he could get her a job. She had combed New York since September, gone back and combed it a few times more, and she hadn't found anything. Who gave a job in the middle of the winter to a stage designer apprentice just beginning to be an apprentice? It didn't seem real either that she might be in Europe with Richard next summer, sitting with him in sidewalk cafés, walking with him in Arles, finding the places Van Gogh had painted, she and Richard choosing towns to stop in for a while and paint. It seemed less real these last few days since she had been working at the store.

She knew what bothered her at the store. It was the sort of thing she wouldn't try to tell Richard. It was that the store intensified things that had always bothered her, as long as she could remember. It was the waste actions, the meaningless chores that seemed to keep her from doing what she wanted to do, might have done—and here it was the complicated procedures with money bags, coat checkings, and time clocks that kept people even from serving the store as efficiently as they might—the sense that everyone was incommunicado with everyone else and living on an entirely wrong plane, so that the meaning, the message, the love, or whatever it was that each life contained, never could find its expression. It reminded her of conversations at tables, on sofas, with people whose words seemed to hover over dead, unstirrable things, who never touched a string that played. And when one tried to touch a live string, looked at one with faces as masked as ever, making a remark so perfect in its banality that one could not even believe it might be subterfuge. And the loneliness, augmented by the fact one saw within the store the same faces day after day, the few faces one might have spoken to and never did, or never could. Not like the face on the passing bus that seems to speak, that is seen once and at least is gone forever.

She would wonder, standing in the time-clock queue in the basement every morning, her eyes sorting out unconsciously the regular employees from the temporary ones, just how she had happened to land here—she had answered an ad, of course, but that didn't explain fate—and what was coming next instead of a stage designing job. Her life was a series of zigzags. At nineteen, she was anxious.

"You must learn to trust people, Therese. Remember that," Sister Alicia had often told her. And often, quite often, Therese tried to apply it.

"Sister Alicia," Therese whispered carefully, the sibilant syllables comforting her.

Therese sat up again and picked up her fork, because the cleanup boy was working in her direction.

She could see Sister Alicia's face, bony and reddish like pink stone when the sunlight was on it, and the starched blue billow of her bosom. Sister Alicia's big bony figure coming around a corner in a hall, between the white enamel tables in the refectory, Sister Alicia in a thousand places, her small blue eyes always finding her out among the other girls, seeing her differently, Therese knew, from all the other girls, yet the thin pink lips always set in the same straight line. She could see Sister Alicia handing her the knitted green gloves wrapped in tissue, not smiling, only presenting them to her directly, with hardly a word, on her eighth birthday. Sister Alicia telling her with the same straight mouth that she must pass her arithmetic. Who else had cared if she passed her arithmetic? Therese had kept the green gloves at the bottom of her tin locker at school, for years after Sister Alicia had gone away to California. The white tissue had-become limp and crackle-less like ancient cloth, and still she had not worn the gloves. Finally, they were too small to wear.

Someone moved the sugar container, and the propped booklet fell flat.

Therese looked at the pair of hands across from her, a woman's plump, aging hands, stirring her coffee, breaking a roll now with a trembling eagerness, daubing half the roll greedily into the brown gravy of the plate that was identical with Therese's. The hands were chapped, there was dirt in the parallel creases of the knuckles, but the right hand bore a conspicuous silver filigree ring set with a clear green stone, the left a gold wedding ring, and there were traces of red polish in the corners of the nails. Therese watched the hand carry a forkful of peas upward, and she did not have to look at the face to know what it would be like. It would be like all the fifty-year-old faces of women who worked at Frankenberg's, stricken with an ever-lasting exhaustion and terror, the eyes distorted behind glasses that enlarged or made smaller, the cheeks splotched with rouge that did not brighten the grayness underneath. Therese could not look.

"You're a new girl, aren't you?" The voice was shrill and clear in the din, almost a sweet voice.

"Yes," Therese said, and looked up. She remembered the face. It was the face whose exhaustion had made her see all the other faces. It was the woman Therese had seen creeping down the marble stairs from the mezzanine at about six thirty one evening when the store was empty, sliding her hands down the broad marble banister to take some of the weight from her bunioned feet. Therese had thought: she is not ill, she is not a beggar, she simply works here.

"Are you getting along all right?"

And here was the woman smiling at her, with the same terrible creases under her eyes and around her mouth. Her eyes were actually alive now, and rather affectionate.

"Are you getting along all right?" the woman repeated, for there was a great clatter of voices and dishes all around them.

Therese moistened her lips. "Yes, thank you."

"Do you like it here?"

Therese nodded.

"Finished?" A young man in a white apron gripped the woman's plate with an imperative thumb.

The woman made a tremulous, dismissing gesture. She pulled her saucer of canned sliced peaches toward her. The peaches, like slimy little orange fishes, slithered over the edge of the spoon each time the spoon lifted, all except one which the woman would eat.

"I'm on the third floor in the sweater department. If you want to ask me anything"—the woman said with nervous uncertainty, as if she were trying to deliver a message before they would be cut off or separated—"come up and talk to me sometime. My name is Mrs. Robichek, Mrs. Ruby Robichek, five forty-four."

"Thank you very much," Therese said. And suddenly the woman's ugliness disappeared, because her reddish brown eyes behind the glasses were gentle, and interested in her. Therese could feel her heart beating, as if it had come to life. She watched the woman get up from the table, and watched her short, thick figure move away until it was lost in the crowd that waited behind the barricade.

Therese did not visit Mrs. Robichek, but she looked for her every morning when the employees trickled into the building around a quarter to nine, and she looked for her in the elevators and in the cafeteria. She never saw her, but it was pleasant to have someone to look for in the store. It made all the difference in the world.

Nearly every morning when she came to work on the seventh floor, Therese would stop for a moment to watch a certain toy train. The train was on a table by itself near the elevators. It was not a big fine train like the one that ran on the floor at the back of the toy department, but there was a fury in its tiny pumping pistons that the bigger trains did not possess. Its wrath and frustration on the closed oval track held Therese spellbound.

Awrr rr rr rrgh! it said as it hurled itself blindly into the papier-mâché tunnel. And Urr rr rr rrgh! as it emerged.

The little train was always running when she stepped out of the elevator in the morning, and when she finished work in the evening. She felt it cursed the hand that threw its switch each day. In the jerk of its nose around the curves, in its wild dashes down the straight lengths of track, she could see a frenzied and futile pursuit of a tyrannical master. It drew three Pullman cars in which minuscule human figures showed flinty profiles at the windows, behind these an open boxcar of real miniature lumber, a boxcar of coal that was not real, and a caboose that snapped round the curves and clung to the fleeing train like a child to its mother's skirts. It was like something gone mad in imprisonment, something already dead that would never wear out, like the dainty, springy-footed foxes in the Central Park Zoo, whose complex footwork repeated and repeated as they circled their cages.

This morning, Therese turned away quickly from the train, and went on toward the doll department where she worked.

At five past nine, the great block-square toy department was coming to life. Green cloths were being pulled back from the long tables. Mechanical toys began to toss balls into the air and catch them, shooting galleries popped and their targets rotated. The table of barnyard animals squawked, cackled, and brayed. Behind Therese, a weary rat-tat-tat—tat-tat had started up, the drumbeats of the giant tin soldier who militantly faced the elevators and drummed all day. The arts and handicrafts table gave out a smell of fresh modeling clay, reminiscent of the art room at school when she was very small, and also of a kind of vault on the school grounds, rumored to be the real tomb of someone, that she had used to stick her nose into through iron bars.

Mrs. Hendrickson, section manager of the doll department, was dragging dolls from the stock shelves and seating them, splay legged, atop the glass counters.

Therese said hello to Miss Martucci, who stood at the counter counting the bills and coins from her moneybag with such concentration she could give Therese only a deeper nod of her rhythmically nodding head. Therese counted twenty-eight fifty from her own moneybag, recorded it on a slip of white paper for the sales receipts envelope, and transferred the money by denominations into her drawer in the cash register.

By now, the first customers were emerging from the elevators, hesitating a moment with the bewildered, somewhat startled expressions that people always had on finding themselves in the toy department, then starting off on weaving courses.

"Do you have the dolls that wet?" a woman asked her.

"I'd like this doll, but with a yellow dress," a woman said, pushing a doll toward her, and Therese turned and got the doll she wanted out of a stock shelf.

The woman had a mouth and cheeks like her mother's, Therese noticed, slightly pocked cheeks under dark-pink rouge, separated by a thin red mouth full of vertical lines.

"Are the Drinksy-Wetsy dolls all this size?"

There was no need of salesmanship. People wanted a doll, any doll, to give for Christmas. It was a matter of stooping, pulling out boxes in search of a doll with brown eyes instead of blue, calling Mrs. Hendrickson to open a showcase window with her key, which she did grudgingly if she were convinced the particular doll could not be found in stock, a matter of sidling down the aisle behind the counter to deposit a purchased doll on the mountain of boxes on the wrapping counter that was always growing, always toppling, no matter how often the stock boys came to take the packages away. Almost no children came to the counter. Santa Claus was supposed to bring the dolls, Santa Claus represented by the frantic faces and the clawing hands. Yet there must be a certain good will in all of them, Therese thought, even behind the cool, powdered faces of the women in mink and sable, who were generally the most arrogant, who hastily bought the biggest and most expensive dolls, the dolls with real hair and changes of clothing. There was surely love in the poor people, who waited their turn and asked quietly how much a certain doll cost, and shook their heads regretfully and turned away. Thirteen dollars and fifty cents for a doll only ten inches high.

"Take it," Therese wanted to say to them. "It really is too expensive, but I'll give it to you. Frankenberg's won't miss it."

But the women in the cheap cloth coats, the timid men huddled inside shabby mufflers would be gone, wistfully glancing at other counters as they made their way back to the elevators. If people came for a doll, they didn't want anything else. A doll was a special kind of Christmas gift, practically alive, the next thing to a baby.

There were almost never any children, but now and again one would come up, generally a little girl, very rarely a little boy, her hand held firmly by a parent. Therese would show her the dolls she thought the child might like. She would be patient, and finally a certain doll would bring that meta-morphosis in the child's face, that response to make-believe that was the purpose of all of it, and usually that was the doll the child went away with.

Then one evening after work, Therese saw Mrs. Robichek in the coffee and doughnut shop across the street. Therese often stopped in the doughnut shop to get a cup of coffee before going home. Mrs. Robichek was at the back of the shop, at the end of the long curving counter, dabbling a doughnut into her mug of coffee.

Therese pushed and thrust herself toward her, through the press of girls and coffee mugs and doughnuts. Arriving at Mrs. Robichek's elbow, she gasped, "Hello," and turned to the counter, as if a cup of coffee had been her only objective.

"Hello," said Mrs. Robichek, so indifferently that Therese was crushed.


Excerpted from The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith. Copyright © 1937 Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Price of Salt 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 23 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I first read the 'Price of Salt' 25 years ago at the tender age of 19, the same age as the character Therese in the book. It made such an impact on me. I bought it at the now defunct 'Womanbooks' bookstore on the Upper West Side. Reading the story was like a rite of passage because the book's ending was not your typical period lesbian love story with it's morbid, tragic ending though in some ways it was a sad ending. Mostly it was a more realistic bittersweet finale. It swept me through a range of deeply felt emotions. It is a timeless love story and one that anyone would enjoy! Patricia Highsmith was a storyteller of the highest caliber!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is the end you really have a sense of who the characters were and what motivated them. It is more than a lesbian love story; it's a true novel. This book is read by myself at least once a year...too bad, though, there was never a sequel!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well written & engaging love story between 2 women. With a happy ending to boot- unusual for the time it was written. Thank you Ms. Highsmith!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A love story not to be missed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great piece of lesbian literature, amazing now, even 61 years later. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Difficult to love. Moves slowly and the characters are hard to relate to. Kept hoping this story would get better.
corinneblackmer on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The exact words for this 1950s classic novel of lesbian love are existential film noir. Therese Belivet, an aspiring set designer in New York City, encounters Carol Aird, a glamorous and married lesbian mother, in a department store during the Christmas season. A passionate bond, not consummated for some time because Carol wants to tease Therese for pleasure, develops between the two, quickly sparking the homophobic passions and jealousies of Aird's husband, Harge, and Therese's considerably more hapless and ineffectual (fortunately) boyfriend. In the final resort, Carol chooses Therese over her daughter--not consciously or because she abandons her daughter--but rather because she has been given an ultimatum to renounce Therese as well as her lesbianism and accept having very, very limited access to her daughter. If this is a "happy ending," it is a highly qualified one, but Carol and Therese are represented as capable, competent, engaging, and socially integrated individuals who intend to live together in New York City and shall likely succeed in their relationship.
ALincolnNut on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Working at a department store counter during the Christmas season rush, young Therese Belivet assists a well-dressed woman in purchasing a doll. Somehow intrigued, Therese sends the woman a greeting card as a lark. To her surprise, the woman responds with an invitation to lunch. From that chance meeting, a deep relationship grows between these two women unhappy with their lives.Written in the early 1950s, "The Price of Salt" was a scandalous book about a lesbian relationship between a young woman and a middle-aged wife and mother. Written by Patricia Highsmith, a prolific author whose most famous books, "Strangers on a Train" and "The Talented Mr. Ripley," have been made into movies, the daring novel is reputed to have inspired Vladimir Nabokov to write "Lolita."From the beginning, the romance between Therese and Carol is threatened by numerous obstacles. Aside from the age difference, Therese is stuck with a boyfriend she does not love, pursuing a career in theater design that has barely begun. Carol has a daughter upon whom she dotes, a husband she wishes to divorce, and protective best friend who fears the consequences of her desires. Even so, the two women quickly bond and embark on a lengthy road trip together.As with any relationship, there are hiccups along the way caused by misunderstandings and miscommunications. Quickly, though, the illicit nature of the relationship causes headaches for both women in their relationships with other people. Most obvious is how the romantic affair threatens Carol's relationship with her daughter she very much loves. Although told from the point of view of Therese, who is somewhat naïve, the story is deftly and subtly handled, filled with characters who are believable and whose reactions to the situation ring true. Elegantly written with a poetic melancholy, the book is filled with great sympathy for its main characters despite the steep obstacles their relationship faces. The combination is riveting, resulting in an emotional and suspenseful page-turner.
bobbieharv on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An early non-crime novel about a lesbian affair that she originally wrote under a pseudonym. It says it inspired Lolita, but it was a lot less well-written. Somehow I never really engaged with either character.
ConnieJo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I picked this up because it sounded so unlike everything else Highsmith had ever written, and I wanted to see how she did a relatively serious-minded love story.I didn't really care for it, mostly because I just couldn't grow to love the main character and I dislike this kind of romance, where every action is second-guessed again and again as to how the lover will take it. I also very much disliked the way she treated her boyfriend at the end of their relationship, but he was also insistent on not breaking up, so there really wasn't too much she could do about it.I also had a love/hate relationship with the romance between Therese and Carol. Parts of it were extremely passionate, and I liked a lot of the ways they met up, traveled, and kept running into one another, and I really liked the pre-trip parts where Therese was literally thinking of nothing but Carol, but as I mentioned earlier, the fact that Therese was constantly, CONSTANTLY going over things in her head as to what she should say and do and what Carol may do in response drove me up the wall. I dislike that type of story though, so it probably doesn't really reflect on this book in particular.A lot of the characters were really well-written and played their parts in the story nicely. Therese's boyfriend, Carol's best friend and former lover Abbey, Carol's husband Harge, the older woman that worked at Therese's department store that terrified her, and the possible male romantic interest for Therese that lingered throughout the story were all quite well done.The ending was fantastic. After all the trouble the two of them ran into with investigators following them on the road, their separation, and Therese's thought process at the end of the novel were all great. I enjoyed those parts quite a bit, and I liked the eventual ending.
WordMaven on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Price of Salt was Highsmith¿s second book, written on the heels of Strangers on a Train. Salt was radical when published in 1952 because of its homosexual theme and even more radical because of its happy ending for the two women. This apparently was a great departure from similar works that often ended in suicide or despair.Carol is an urban sophisticate, probably in her late 20s or early 30s. Therese is barely out of her teenage years and still trying to break into her chosen profession, theatre set design. They live in New York, and Carol is going through a divorce.Therese¿s insecurity and uncertain character stand out in this novel. She almost idolizes Carol; you can tell it from her thoughts about Carol even when they are together. Carol comes across as very cultured and sophisticated, very blueblood East coast, albeit somewhat alcoholic and anorexic. She isn¿t a rich woman, but she is a woman of experience and good taste. Sometimes it seemed like she was trying to parent Therese by telling her what to wear and in subtle ways, and Therese was always willing to oblige Carol to win her approval. As the story progresses, Therese develops more as her own person, although not without great emotional struggle. Highsmith is very good at creating a solid picture of emotional mood and location. I could feel Therese¿s emotions; some of which I¿ve experienced myself in relationships. I¿d hoped the meaning of the book¿s title would be revealed, but salt was only mentioned twice and in its context, I could not figure out what Highsmith meant by ¿the price of salt.¿ Still, this novel published almost 60 years ago is relatable today. Human nature doesn¿t change, and a writer who can make it come alive on the page will always sell books. 4/5 stars.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This could have been so fantastic, but for the fact that I didn't care for Therese. She was such a child in so many ways and she completely turned me off when she couldn't understand why Carol would choose her daughter over her. She completely lost me at that point. her immaturity became too much for me and I no longer thought she deserved Carol. Still, overall I loved the story. I I loved the prose. I loved the tone. The ending felt a bit rushed but by that time I was no longer rooting for the couple so wasn't too bad. I would have preferred a happy outcome for Carol, but the outcome, was probably more realistic.
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My absolute favorite novel in this genre. Well written and a beautiful story that far exceeds a "lesbian love story". it's a story of sacrifice, defeat, victory and most of all self growth and maturity.
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I read this book after seeing a small bit of the filming for Carol, a movie based on this book. The book was interesting, gave me a different prespective on love. Whike not a scary book by any means,parts of it were just creepy.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Why in the world would someone want their kid when they could have a lovely life with their lover?