Torres, Tereska (pulp fiction writer)


(c. 1920-?)

A Frenchwoman of Polish/Jewish extraction, the daughter of well-known artists, Torres followed her family into exile a few jumps ahead of Hitler’s rampage in World War II. They resettled in England and Tereska, still a teenager, volunteered to join Charles de Gaulle’s Free French Forces (FFF), quickly becoming transformed, she would declare, “from a schoolgirl to a woman with a purpose.” Headquartered in a big, dank mansion on London’s Downing Street, the women’s division was formed to relieve the men from noncombat assignments, although women would eventually enter the battle zones as nurses and ambulance drivers. Torres’s five-year tour of duty in the division brought her into close contact with an extremely colorful and unpredictable group of females. Due to the chaotic circumstances of the war, and the reluctance of middle-class French families to let their daughters join the cause, the FFF recruits were an unconventional lot. They were, wrote Torres, “the children of disturbed or broken families— divorced parents, disoriented homes. And . . . girls from the working classes—French maidservants and the French prostitutes of Soho. Another category of women were the adventuresses, emancipated women, and career women who for one reason or another had no family life.”

Torres recounted her wartime experiences in a fictionalized work, written in French and translated to English for its first publication, in a soft-cover edition from Fawcott Gold Medal topics entitled Women’s Barracks. Gold Medal was a new line specializing in original paperback novels, an innovation that would have an enormous impact on the popular fiction of the next 20 years. If the paperback house offered no prestige, it certainly figured out how to sell a lot of copies. Declaring Torres’s lively but serious-minded story a “frank autobiography of a French girl soldier,” Gold Medal gave the topic a provocative cover featuring a glimpse of the locker room in the barracks, with one uniformed female ogling three or four others standing about in pink bras, white towels, and other states of undress. The voyeuristic cover, the insinuating back cover copy, and phenomenal word of mouth made Women’s Barracks a hit, and one of Gold Medal’s best sellers for years. Though there was plenty of fraternization between women and men in the topic, what provoked the paperback’s big buzz in the early 1950s were the “frank” passages about female homosexuality and lesbian lovemaking:

Ursula felt herself very small, tiny against Claude, and at last she felt warm. She placed her cheek on Claude’s breast. Her heart beat violently, but she didn’t feel afraid. She didn’t understand what was happening to her. Claude was not a man; then what was she doing to her? What strange movements! What could they mean? Claude unbuttoned the jacket of her pajamas . . .

If Women’s Barracks was not the first explicit treatment of lesbian activity in a mainstream American publication, it was the first (thanks to the burgeoning new paperback industry) to be available at every corner drugstore and bus station topic rack. Gold Medal was so thrilled by the success of Women’s Barracks that they looked for a lesbian follow-up. But Tereska Torres had written of serious, real-life situations and profound memories (her first husband, George Torres, had been killed in action), not sexy fantasies. She produced no salacious sequel for Gold Medal to exploit, but the company’s huge success with the touchy subject of lesbianism led to the commissioning of Vin packer’s Spring Fire, another phenomenal seller. Soon the paperback racks of America were filled with examples of a new genre of pulp fiction recounting the “twilight” adventures of women loving other women. Hundreds of titles followed in the army boots and silk stockings of Tereska Tor-res’s Women’s Barracks, but few would match its groundbreaking success. Torres continued to publish fiction in the years ahead, but never again caused the stir of her sexy paperback bestseller.


  • By Cecile (1963);
  • Converts, The (1970);
  • Dangerous Games, The (1957);
  • Golden Cage, The (1959);
  • Not Yet (1957);
  • Only Reason, The (1961);
  • Open Doors, The (1969);
  • Women’s Barracks (1950)

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