In a good Asian or Mexican restaurant, you might be asked how spicy you want your dish. It’s rare that you get that same choice when it comes to a novel. But with Charlotte Paul’s Gold Mountain and Wild Valley—aka The Cup of Strength—you do.
Charlotte wrote her second and third published novels in the 1950s, while she and her husband Ed owned and operated a weekly newspaper in Washington state’s Snoqualmie Valley. The novels are based on true pioneer stories she gathered from locals, some of whom were old enough to have been alive when they occurred. Journalist that she was, Charlotte’s research was impeccable, and her novels bring to life the late 1800s in that remote valley in a way possible only with the skills of a reporter and the heart of a storyteller.
At that point in her career, Charlotte was writing family-oriented material for magazines like The Saturday Evening Post, Redbook, Coronet, Pageant, Good Housekeeping, and McCall’s. Her novels were sent to the largest, most respectable publishers, and it was Random House that published Gold Mountain and The Cup of Strength. Given her audience, these historical romances were decidedly on the safe side, with no “action” heavier than passionate kissing, fully clothed.
Fast forward about two decades. Charlotte has published her blockbuster bestseller, Phoenix Island, under the wing of Bernard Geis, the publishing father of such naughtier-than-nice hits as Valley of the Dolls and Sex and the Single Girl. With the success of her latest, a paperback publisher wants to reprint her two historical romances. But Charlotte’s audience has changed. It’s no longer the respectable ladies that subscribe to book clubs. Now it’s the romance-hungry readers of books in supermarket and drugstore racks. And for them, she is told, her earlier books are too tame.
So, Charlotte accommodates her market. For the rack paperback edition of Gold Mountain and the renamed Wild Valley, she adds steamy, premarital sex scenes, full female nudity, and scattered sexual references. The G-rated books have turned R.
Which means you can take your pick. If you enjoy your romance with an occasional hot scene, stick to the rack paperback editions of the ’70s and ’80s. Or, if you prefer it sweet and chaste, seek out the hardcovers from the ’50s.
Either way, you’ll find rousing stories with a fascinating setting and strong, engaging characters. But if you favor the spicy versions, be warned: They may be the most flavorful, but not necessarily the most historically authentic—or the most narratively coherent!