The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith (1952)
Carol directed by Todd Haynes (2015)
Therese meets a woman named Carol and the two of them begin to fall for each other. Carol is in the middle of a divorce which is messy because they have a young daughter and the husband, Harge, decides he wants full custody because Carol is gay.
Carol decides to take a road trip and invites Therese. During this trip they fall in love, but unfortunately, they discover they have been followed and have been recorded by a man hired by Harge. He is trying to get evidence of Carol’s activities in order to prove to the court that she shouldn’t be allowed custody.
Carol returns to New York and tells Therese they can’t speak.
Eventually, Carol reaches out to Therese and initially Therese doesn’t want to be with Carol anymore after having her heart broken. But in the end, Therese goes to meet Carol and it is a happy ending as far as their relationship goes. As far as Carol’s daughter, Harge has full custody but Carol can have visits.
Background of the book
This book was originally published under the name The Price of Salt and with Highsmith using the pseudonym Clair Morgan. “In 1983, lesbian publishing house Naiad Press offered Highsmith $5,000 to reprint the novel under her own name, or $2,000 under the pseudonym. Highsmith accepted the latter and it was reissued in 1984. In 1990, the book was republished by Bloomsbury as Carol under Patricia Highsmith’s name, with the addition of an afterword by her. Phyllis Nagy said Highsmith chose “Carol” because Highsmith, herself, “was Therese and the object of her desire wasn’t herself…it was someone else.” The novel was so personal to Highsmith that “it was difficult for her to take ownership of it as a writer for many years.””
Highsmith got the idea for the book when she was working in department store after the release of Strangers on a Train. She met a woman who was buying a doll and when she later went home she began writing the novel.
“The character of Carol Aird and much of the plot of the novel was inspired by Highsmith’s former lovers Kathryn Hamill Cohen and Philadelphia socialite Virginia Kent Catherwood, and her relationships with them. Virginia Catherwood lost custody of her daughter in divorce proceedings that involved tape-recorded lesbian trysts in hotel rooms. The story shared the same “sexual behavior” and “intense emotion” obsessions that Highsmith’s writing became known for.”
In the afterword which Highsmith wrote for the 1990 release, she says, “Prior to this book, homosexuals male and female in American novels had had to pay for their deviation by cutting their wrists, drowning themselves in a swimming pool, or by switching to heterosexuality (so it was stated), or by collapsing— alone and miserable and shunned—into a depression equal to hell. Many of the letters that came to me carried such messages as “Yours is the first book like this with a happy ending! We don’t all commit suicide and lots of us are doing fine.””
I started Stranger’s on a Train a few years ago but didn’t finish it because it was too slow moving. If I started Carol at that time, I probably wouldn’t have finished this either. I now have more patience with reading and while I didn’t find this book boring, it was slow at times and I could see why others would think it was too slow.
I also don’t gravitate towards romance; however I really loved this book especially considering the time it was written and that it was the first of its kind where the queer couple has a happy ending.
It was a very beautiful book with so many great passages. I went into it not knowing much, aside from that it was about two women who fell in love and I was glad it has such a sweet ending.
Seeing how certain characters reacting to Carol and Therese was so heartbreaking, and Carol losing custody over her daughter just because she is queer is so terrible.
This movie was perfectly cast, especially Cate Blanchette, but Rooney Mara as Therese was also perfect. They really captured they characters and made them feel even more real.
The film is beautifully shot and the wardrobe is stunning! I think any period piece has stunning wardrobe though if I’m being honest. Can we all just start dressing like they did in the 1950’s??
This is a great adaptation and the changes that were made are pretty minor. There is a small difference in regards to the ending, and here I had liked how it was in the book better. The other changes I will be talking about though, I don’t mind that the movie made.
In the book, Therese is a set designer for plays which I thought was really cool. In the movie, she is trying to become a photographer.
We also learn more of Therese’s background in the book. We hear that she isn’t close with her mother, as a child she attended a religious boarding school and that her dad has died. Carol makes a point to ask what her mother had looked like and Therese says she had dark hair. Showing that she isn’t into Carol because of a mom resemblance or something.
In both, she is dating a guy named Richard and in both she asks him if he has ever been in love with boys to which he says no. They talk about this for a bit and he clearly has negative views of gay people. In the book she and Richard had had sex three times, however at this point Therese has no interest in being with him sexually and admits to him she doesn’t love him. He sticks with her though, just assuming she will change her mind.
In the movie she and Richard hadn’t “gone all the way”. Also in the movie, when Therese leaves for the road trip, she and Richard have a fight and he tells her she is acting weird over this crush and within a couple weeks she will be begging him to take her back. This is in the book as well, but in the book, Richard still doesn’t think of the relationship as being over. He writes her a few letters while she is away, and then his final letter is very cruel saying how he is disgusted by her.
He never speaks as harshly to her in the movie as he did in that letter he sent in the book.
We actually get more of Carol in the movie than we had in the book. The book is only from Therese’s perspective but in the movie, we get scenes without Therese. I liked that the movie made this change. The book did a good job of showing us Carol through Therese’s lense, and we see the two of the with Abby and we can see the close relationship the two of them have after having known each other for so long. In the movie we see them talking about Therese and Abby tells her that she has an eye on a redhead she met. In the book it seems Abby is still in love with Carol and we don’t hear about her seeing other women.
The movie also has scenes with Rindy, Carol’s daughter. I liked this change as well because in the book we never actually meet Rindy. We hear Carol talk to her on the phone and that’s it.
In the end of both book and movie, Carol has lost custody of Rindy, despite initially agreeing to “change her ways” and in the movie we even hear she has begun seeing a psychotherapist. However, while meeting with Harge and their lawyers, Carol decides to put an end to their fighting and just agrees to let Harge have custody, but he needs to allow her visitations. This was such a great scene, Carol refusing to deny the truth saying, “What use am I to Rindy if I am living against my own grain.” Then saying that Harge can either take it or leave it (her offer of him having custody with her getting visits) and that he should take it because if he leaves it, they will go to court and it will get ugly. “And we’re not ugly people.” This line really hit me. So often we have these messy, ugly divorces, even though really, neither person is that ugly yet the divorce is bringing this ugliness out in them.
We don’t get this scene between Harge and the lawyers in the book, but we do see Carol confront the private detective and she is so strong and brave and Therese admires her strength. She confronts the detective in the movie as well, but in the book, it is on the side of a road and in the movie, she goes into his hotel room. In the movie, the detective even goes up and talks to them whereas in the book he was more subtle.
Carol leaving Therese
In the book, Carol decides she needs to go back to New York to get things sorted out with Harge so she won’t lose custody but tells Therese she won’t be away long and Therese should stay where they were.
Therese stays in the town and spends her days going to the library, working on set ideas. She is getting updates through letters from Carol and is told that Carol can’t return and that Therese should come back to New York. When Therese tries to call, Carol keeps the conversation short and says the lines are being listened to.
Therese drives back to New York by herself and returns the car.
In the movie, Therese wakes up, and Abby is there and she tells Therese that Carol left early that morning. Abby is there to do the drive back with Therese. Before they head back, Abby tells Therese of her and Carol’s relationship. In the book, it had been Carol who told Therese. Anyway, we learn that the two of them had sex a few years back (in the book it was more recent, like maybe just a few months back) and they had a thing but it was short lived. As said, in the book it seems Abby is still in love with Carol but in the movie, it seems they are just friends.
Also, in the book Therese had left a letter she had written for Carol in a book in Carol’s house. They phone Abby about getting the letter but Abby says it isn’t there. Turns out the maid found the letter and sold it to Harge. In the movie this doesn’t happen, though we do see the maid seeming judgmental of Carol.
Before Therese goes back to New York in the book, she meets up with her friend Danny. He asks about Carol, assuming she and Carol had been romantic, but he isn’t judgmental of it the way Richard was. He tells Therese he is interested in her but tells her to wait a few months before calling him-giving her time to decide what she wants. Danny is in the movie as well and is similar where he is into Therese but also seems nonjudgmental, however she doesn’t admit to Danny the full truth the way she does in the book.
In both, Carol meets Therese and asks her to move in with her which Therese declines. She then tells her what restaurant she will be at later that evening and invites Therese but she declines that as well. In both, she goes to a party with some friends and speaks with another woman. In the book, she is taken with this woman and it seems the woman is interested in her. However, Therese realizes she isn’t interested in this other woman and is still only in love with Carol and so she goes to the restaurant. When Carol sees her, she excitedly waves to Therese. Carol is usually reserves and doesn’t let her emotions show too much. So, her getting this excited, surprised wave was just a great moment.
In the movie, Therese speaks with another woman (played by Carrie Brownstein) and it seems she is interested in Therese but it isn’t as obvious as it had been in the book. I wish they would have expanded on this conversation more, the way the book had. In the book, this interaction shows to Therese that she is gay, and Carol wasn’t just a phase or something. But it also makes her realize she has not interest in being with this woman, because she is in love with Carol. But same as book, she then goes to the restaurant and sees Carol. When they see each other, Carol doesn’t wave, but she does have a great smile. I really liked the wave in the book, but this is still a great scene in the movie.
Views on gay relationships
In the book we have a section that talks about how happy Therese is when she is which Carol, which reads, “Therese pulled out the light. Then Carol slipped her arm under her neck, and all the length of their bodies touched, fitting as if something had prearranged it. Happiness was like a green vine spreading through her, stretching fine tendrils, bearing flowers through her flesh. She had a vision of a pale white flower, shimmering as if seen in darkness, or through water. Why did people talk of heaven, she wondered.”
This is then juxtaposed with another passage which we read after Therese and Carol have the confrontation with the detective and Therese can see how he sneers at them and wants to ruin them. “She had seen just now what she had only sensed before, that the whole world was ready to be their enemy, and suddenly what she and Carol had together seemed no longer love or anything happy but a monster between them, with each of them caught in a fist.”
So terrible and sad that someone should be made to feel that way, and all these decade later, even though we have made a lot of progress, there are still people who try to make queer people feel less than and as if what they have isn’t something beautiful but rather is a monster.
In the book, when Therese is alone in the Midwest area, she sees a painting of a blonde woman and remembers having seen it in her school when she was growing up. She sees how Carol looks so much like this woman and realizes that is one of the reasons she was so drawn to Carol. A goodreads user really explained the symbolism of the painting very well so I will quote them, “In the historical context of the novel, the ‘pain[t]ing’ might have been a nod to the existing Freudian view of the neurotic mechanisms that skewed the development of a ‘normal’ sexual orientation from the innate. In the absence of a loving mother figure, Therese had an idealized image of the portrait to aspire to. She perhaps internalized this image, and it became part of her attraction map, (if you will). Her attraction to Carol was no less real as a result of this, but the recognition shocked her. Highsmith was constantly exploring images and ideas of what attracts and repels: Mrs Robicheck’s plump dry aging hands with their remnant red polish and cheap rings, one with a “clear green stone’ versus Carol’s strong hands, red lacquered nails, and clear green sapphire ring.”
Book vs Movie
I really loved the book and there are so many great moments. However, I like the movie even better. It was so gorgeous; the acting was amazing and seeing the story brought to life was really wonderful. The backstory we get in the book wasn’t anything that was super necessary to the story, but I would still recommend the book to people who like the movie and vice versa.
Also, director Todd Haynes is gay, plus we have Sarah Paulson and Carries Brownstein who are also queer.