Peyton Place (novel)  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Peyton Place is a 1956 novel by Grace Metalious.

Selling sixty thousand copies within the first ten days of its release, it was publishing's second "blockbuster," (following Gone with the Wind in 1936) and remained on the New York Times best seller list for fifty-nine weeks. The main plot follows the lives of three women - lonely and repressed Constance Mackenzie, her illegitimate daughter Allison, and her employee Selena Cross, a girl from "across the tracks" or as it is called in the book "from the shacks" - and how they come to terms with their identity as women and sexual beings in a small New England town. Hypocrisy, social inequities, and class privilege are recurring themes in a tale that includes incest, abortion, adultery, lust and murder. Peyton Place has become an expression used to describe any place with sordid secrets.

Contrary to popular belief, the "real" Peyton Place is not only Gilmanton, New Hampshire but also Gilford, Laconia and Gilmanton Iron Works, New Hampshire.

Several characters and events were drawn from events in nearby towns and people Metalious actually knew. Selena Cross was based on Jane Glenn, a 20-year-old girl from Gilmanton Iron Works, New Hampshire, who murdered her father after years of sexual abuse and buried his body under a goat pen. (In the novel, Selena kills her stepfather, since incest was considered too taboo for readers at the time. Metalious' editor Kitty Messner made the change, much to the author's dismay and disapproval.) Another controversial character was the salacious school principal Tomas Makris, who bore the name and physical description of a Laconia resident and co-worker of Metalious's school teacher husband. Makris sued for libel, winning an out-of-court settlement for $60,000. It later was revealed that Metalious had forged Makris's name on a release form, and the character was renamed Michael Rossi for the film version and television adaptation of the novel.

Some citizens of the Lakes Region took umbrage at the notoriety that was quickly thrust upon the area, and directed their resentment at Metalious. Vicious rumors began circulating about the author, some true (Metalious had an affair), and some preposterous (she bought groceries while wearing a fur coat and nothing underneath). Metalious later tried to cash in on her success when she helped buy a motel on Lake Winnipesaukee that was re-christened the Peyton Place Motel, but it was an unsuccessful venture. Decades after the publication of the novel and the death of its author, many in Metalious' former hometown have forgotten the controversy, but the topic of Peyton Place still raises the ire of some.

Despite the controversy and social commentary present in the novel, Metalious insisted that Peyton Place was a work of fiction. When John Michael Hayes, the screenwriter for the film adaptation, asked her if the novel was her autobiography, Metalious asked him to repeat the question and then spilled her drink on him.

Despite the critical hostility to Metalious' prose, there are glimpses of a deeper talent, as reflected in the book's third paragraph: "The sky was low, of a solidly unbroken blue. The maples and oaks and ashes, all dark red and brown and yellow, preened themselves in the unseasonably hot light, under the Indian summer sun. The conifers stood like disapproving old men on the hills around Peyton Place and gave off a greenish yellow light. On the roads and sidewalks of the town were fallen leaves which made such a gay crackling when stepped upon and sent up such a sweet scent when crushed that it was only the very old who walked over them and thought of death and decay."

Metallious wrote very accurately about New Englanders and many in her hometown still remember to this day the scandal caused by the book. She was almost barred from being buried in the Church cemetery, but the church and townsfolk in Gilmanton finally relented. To this day someone puts flowers on her grave in the far off corner plot. High school students in Gilmanton, Gilford and Laconia, New Hampshire are assigned this book as required reading and learn to separate the local truth from the fiction.

Plot summary

Town Secrets:

Allison MacKenzie is the daughter of Constance MacKenzie. Constance left Peyton Place for New York city at a young age, hoping to snag a charming and wealthy husband. She found one, named AllisonTemplate:Dubious MacKenzie, but he was already married with children, and he died shortly after Constance became pregnant. Constance returned to Peyton Place as a "widow" with a year-old baby girl. Constance and Allison, Jr., altered Allison's birthdate to make her appear legitimate. Selena Cross was the daughter of Nellie Cross, who married Lucas Cross soon after Selena's birth. Selena was not Lucas' daughter. Lucas also had a son named Paul, and the family of four lives in "the shacks" or poor section of town. Nellie and Lucas later had a child together, as well. When Selena turned fourteen years old, Lucas Cross began to abuse her, impregnating her and forcing the local doctor to perform an abortion. The doctor made Lucas leave town, and the Nellie committed suicide by hanging herself after finding out. Leslie Harrington is the richest man in town and all of the things he accomplished were shattered into pieces when he lost his only son Rodney in a car accident. There is a not-wholly-unexpected surprise at the end of the novel.


Metalious followed up Peyton Place with Return to Peyton Place in 1959. Although the sequel sold well, its success did not approach that of the original.

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