Before Peyton Place: In search of the real Grace Metalious

Sixty years after Peyton Place scandalized the country, the novel and film seem almost a diversion from the scandals of the current day. But the life story of its author raises essential questions: to what extent does fiction reflect culture or shape it? Can one be ruined by a book? Through Humanities to Go, scholar Robert B. Perreault sheds light on these questions in his program "Before Peyton Place: In Search of the Real Grace Metalious."

From a literary standpoint, Grace (née Marie Grace DeRepentigny) Metalious (1924-64) belonged to a generation of writers who sowed the seeds of a sociocultural revolution that came to fruition in the 1960s. Unfortunately for Metalious, who wished to be taken seriously as a writer, critics viewed Peyton Place, her frank depiction of the darker side of small town New England life, as mere pulp fiction. Meanwhile, the reading public focused on what, for that socially conservative era, were the book’s sexually explicit scenes—mild by today’s standards. Both critics and readers ignored the author’s beautifully-crafted descriptions of the novel’s setting, her portrayal of true-to-life, interesting characters, as well as her complex psychological plot twists.

Despite the novel’s sales, now estimated at more than 20,000,000, both Peyton Place and Grace Metalious remain largely unknown among generations born after the author’s death in 1964. Moreover, Peyton Place itself overshadowed her subsequent novels, including her most autobiographical work of fiction, No Adam in Eden.

Set in fictional "Livingstone, New Hampshire," but based on Manchester, the author’s birthplace and hometown through young adulthood, No Adam in Eden is a portrait of four generations of women from the Québec countryside to the New England industrial cityscape. As a Franco-American and Roman Catholic from a working-class milieu, Metalious wrote this novel to depict the struggles of ethnic Americans who lived a marginal life, caught between their linguistic and cultural origins and their quest to join mainstream American life.

Robert Perreault, using No Adam in Eden and Metalious’ autobiographical article "About Me and Peyton Place," in conjunction with his own interviews with Metalious’ father and paternal aunt, reveals the lesser-known aspects of the author’s formative years in Manchester.

To host this program in your community, visit www.nhhumanities.org/humanitiestogo.

Humanities to Go, our most far-reaching program, enables nonprofit organizations and community groups to offer free, high-quality cultural programs to the public at minimal cost to the host. Each year 400 Humanities to Go programs bring 12,500-plus NH residents together in more than 150 local community settings to learn together on topics that challenge, enlighten, and engage. To learn more about hosting a program in your community, visit www.nhhumanities.org/humanitiestogo.