The relationship between Pauline & Juliet

3.1.11 The relationship between Pauline & Juliet

Where else has the relationship been discussed? [jp] The relationship between the real Pauline Parker and the real Juliet Hulme has been discussed and analyzed extensively, though there is hardly a concensus of opinion. Books and articles are listed in the Library (section 11). There is an extensive analysis of the relationship within the social and sexual context of the times in Glamuzina & Laurie's book (see 7.8.2 and 7.9.9). G? is a particularly good resource for describing public perceptions and attitudes towards lesbians in New Zealand, around the time of the murder. Questions and labels

Who seemed like a "queer mob"?

[jp] Bert Rieper declared that the Marriage Guidance Council seemed like a "queer mob" when Juliet told him of her mother's involvement.

Bert did not think the Council was composed of homosexuals. The word "queer" did not have that connotation at the time and place shown in "Heavenly Creatures." It was a common slang term which could be used in reasonably polite company, as Bert used it, meaning "unusual" with an associated negative value judgement attached. "Queer" was also used as a verb, meaning to make inoperable or to break just enough to make something useless.

In real life, Pauline used the word quite liberally in her diary entries, meaning "strange" or "unusual" by it. Jackson omitted Pauline's asides of "s'queer" and "queerly" in the quotes used in the voicover, possibly because they would have generated snickering in modern audiences. And possibly as a 'significant clue' to his conclusions about the girls' relationship.

Who was bothered by Pauline & Juliet's relationship?

[jp,lfr] Concerns over the 'intensity' of Pauline and Juliet's friendship escalated throughout the film. By the second half of the film, all adults in the girls' immediate families were preoccupied with labelling the girls' relationship and with separating them, with the possible exception of Hilda Hulme.

The final North American release version of the film has less extreme and explicit concerns voiced by the characters than those featured in an early draft of the screenplay (Heavenly Creatures, Draft #5, February 7, 1993, Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Beverly Hills, CA.)

Did anyone else worry about the relationship?

[jp,G?,lfr,mc] Glamuzina and Laurie state the following (p. 72): "By late 1953, the Riepers in particular had become very concerned about Pauline. According to one of the teachers, the school [CGHS] had contacted both the Riepers and the Hulmes sometime in 1953 regarding the 'unhealthy' relationship between the two girls and to say that the school 'didn't like their association'. The teacher said that Hilda Hulme replied that 'she wasn't prepared to interfere in her daughter's friendships...'" [G?] [note: This must have been before May 21, 1953. jp]

Miss Stewart was a family friend from the 1920s. A story that surfaced recently is that Miss Stewart consulted with my mother re the two girls. My mother had processed three girls through adolescence, so that was not unusual. [mc]

The early draft of "Heavenly Creatures" mentioned above (see 3.1.25) has Hilda Hulme say the exact line quoted by G?. It also has several more scenes which didn't make it to the final release version in which the girls' relationship is discussed explicitly by the central characters. [lfr]

The final North American release version of "Heavenly Creatures" has no characters outside of Dr Bennett, the Hulmes and the Riepers voicing concern about the girls' relationship. This is too bad, because in real life other members of the public did take note of the girls' relationship. Nailing down the extent of public notice, and public pressure, is a very important point to understanding the case and this aspect may not have been treated faithfully in "Heavenly Creatures." [jp]

Why was labelling the relationship so important?

[jp] This is a very complex question. The motives for pursuing the issue were different for each character in "Heavenly Creatures." Broadly speaking, the families were responding in part to intense social and even legal pressures to conform to rigid social norms of conduct. We are told, indirectly, that Christchurch had a particularly conservative, 'more-British-than- thou' social structure in the opening stock footage. The girls were blithely, innocently and quite publicly ignoring the norms of their community. This behaviour was bound to generate unwanted public attention for both families, especially for the Hulmes who were a very prominent family, socially. Remember, this was a small, close community in which chins would wag at the slightest provocation. Sometimes spontaneously, too, with no provocation.

But the parents were also reacting, within the norms of the time and place, to what they perceived to be a mentally unhealthy situation. It could be argued that much of the parents' reaction was generated by a genuine concern for the health and happiness of the girls, even if it may seem misguided or ill-informed to modern eyes. Labelling and understanding the girls' relationship was seen as a necessary step to dealing with it. With provisos attached (see below).

Who first openly raised the spectre of homosexuality?

[jp,aa] Henry Hulme did, in his elliptical, cunning, quietly aggressive conversation with the Riepers in their living room. Henry Hulme was careful to phrase his comments in such a way as to imply that Pauline was forming an unhealthy attachment to Juliet.

The cinematography and soundtrack during this scene are particularly ominous and effective.

What was Honora's immediate reaction?

[jp] After Dr Hulme said that Pauline was forming an "unwholesome" attachment to Juliet, Honora jumped into the conversation with: "What's she done?!"

This is an important line. Honora gets Dr Hulme's drift immediately, and even leaps ahead of his thinking. This is a clear statement from Jackson that Honora knew about lesbianism and she clearly didn't approve of it.

Was an accusation of homosexuality a big deal then?

[jp,sb] Absolutely. This was a very serious charge, carrying with it wide-ranging repercussions. One strength of the book by Glamuzina & Laurie (see 7.8.2) is their discussion of this issue in depth.

Were Honora's reactions extreme?

[maw] Honora's reactions to Dr Hulme's talk and to Dr Bennett's 'diagnosis' would not have been considered extreme at the time. My mother probably would have reacted in the same way if she thought one of her kids was homosexual--and would probably still react in the same way. Then, people seemed to think there was something both morally and mentally wrong with you if you were that way inclined.

What social consequences awaited an accused lesbian?

[jp] According to the social norms of the time and place, being publicly labelled a practicing lesbian would have brought discrimination, scandal and social ruin upon a woman and her family, because societal expectations for women were so narrowly defined. There would have been profound public revulsion, ostracism and social condemnation of the woman. (The public reaction to the crime gives plenty of evidence of this kind of reaction, though it isn't shown in the film.)

Both families were well aware of this, though consequences would have been quite different for the well-placed Hulmes and the working-class Riepers. Socially, the Hulmes had the most to lose from such an accusation. Dr Hulme had the most to lose, professionally, from the scandal such an accusation would bring. However, the Riepers probably would have been intimidated by social pressure to a greater extent than the Hulmes would have been.

What legal repercussions awaited a 'proven' lesbian?

[jp,G?] Homosexuality was officially classified at the time as a mental disorder. It could be used to deny applications for visas or immigration to most countries, including the US (it is still a question asked of immigrants to the US, for which the penalty for a false answer is deportation)--hence the escape to Hollywood could have been aborted legally by the American INS. A positive 'diagnosis' could also have been used in custody arguments in the Hulme's impending divorce, for example. G? state that sexual practices of lesbians weren't illegal in 1954, though some practices of gay males were until quite recently. In 1961 it became illegal in NZ for a woman over the age of 21 to have sex with a girl under the age of 16.

Being labelled a lesbian could affect employment, especially in the Armed Forces (where it was cause for dismissal), the public service, in terms of security clearances, jobs that required bonding, jobs that involved teaching or supervising children etc.

What medical repercussions were there?

[jp] Glamuzina and Laurie detail scholarly research and they also document anecdotal evidence that women who thought they might have been lesbians, or who had been accused, in the New Zealand of the 50s, could face medical treatments of various kinds if convinced/coerced into it. Even if treatment wasn't followed through, an 'accused' woman would have had to face very confusing and damaging accusations, doubts and fears no matter if she were lesbian or not.

What was known about homosexuality by common folk?

[jp,mf,sb,G?,maw] For most people, there was simply no 'official' information on this topic. It was not a subject which could be looked up casually in the local library, for example. Consequently, information (and misinformation) was passed along by word of mouth, or not at all.

Quite apart from the general social etc opprobrium, is the fact that it was probably never officially mentioned. Films, books etc with homosexual/lesbian themes were banned, and indeed PYP and JMH would not have had any accurate information about such things, and no way to see their relationship in a wider context. G? have a very good chapter on this aspect of the case.

In his Forward to "Daughters of Heaven" by Michaelanne Forster, Elric Hooper wrote: "I was a first year student at Canterbury College at the time (of the murder). I remember leaning against a green corrugated iron fence, balancing my bike, and exchanging wonder with someone equally ill-informed about life. I heard the word 'lesbian' for the first time."

Was there a gulf between adult and adolescent sophistication?

[maw] Although Christchurch adults knew little about homosexuality at the time, adolescents tended to know even less, about all aspects of human sexuality. Most adolescents were far less well informed about many, many things than is the case now. The enormous amount that is learned about life in general as a teenager is learned at an accelerated rate, and earlier, with all the media information we get now. I would be very surprised if the girls really, knowingly, had a lesbian relationship.

Did CGHS girls talk about lesbianism at school?

[mc,maw] I do not recall any talk about lesbianism at school (CGHS '46-'50 incl.). There was a teacher at St Margaret's with mannish haircut and manners, and we laughed at that, the way children do. That is my only memory. [mc]

Believe it or not, I didn't know a thing about the murder until years later, and the kinds of issues raised in the trial would have been kept well out of hearing range in my family. Girls from Rangi Ruru (a private girls school) used to say it was a 'lesbians training school,' but I didn't really know what a lesbian was until I was an adult. My mother (bless her heart) refused to tell me! People were just so prudish back then (early 60s). I was in University before I met anyone who admitted they were homosexual. [maw]

What lesbian stereotypes were commonly-believed in '54?

[jp,G?] If the topic was raised, these things might have been mentioned:

Did the "Parker Hulme" case have any lasting repercussions at CGHS in real life?

[maw] The only thing I knew that was odd at the school in the early 60s, and I didn't understand it until I saw the film, was that girls in one class who got too friendly were put into different classes the next year. I must have been so naive, then. [note: G? mention in several places this kind of vigilance, both private and 'institutional,' over girls and their friendships in the years following the case. jp]

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