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"Carol" Summary

By Patricia Highsmith

fiction | 304 pages | Published in NaN

Patricia Highsmith's story of romantic obsession may be one of the most important, but still largely unrecognized, novels of the twentieth century. First published in 1952 and touted as "the novel of a love that society forbids," the book soon became a cult classic.Based on a true story plucked from Highsmith's own life, Carol tells the riveting drama of Therese Belivet, a stage designer trapped in a department-store day job, whose routine is forever shattered by a gorgeous epiphany—the appearance of Carol Aird, a customer who comes in to buy her daughter a Christmas toy. Therese begins to gravitate toward the alluring suburban housewife, who is trapped in a marriage as stultifying as Therese's job. They fall in love and set out across the United States, ensnared by society's confines and the imminent disapproval of others, yet propelled by their infatuation. Carol is a brilliantly written story that may surprise Highsmith fans and will delight those discovering her work.This authorized edition includes an afterword by Patricia Highsmith. Previously titled The Price of Salt.


Estimated read time: 5 min read

One Sentence Summary

A forbidden love affair unfolds between a young photographer and a married woman in 1950s New York City.


In Patricia Highsmith's captivating novel, "Carol," readers are transported to the bustling city of New York in the early 1950s. This gripping story explores themes of love, desire, and societal expectations through the forbidden relationship between two women. With its richly drawn characters and evocative setting, "Carol" is a must-read for fans of literary fiction and those interested in the complexities of human relationships.

Brief Synopsis

Set against the backdrop of post-war America, "Carol" tells the story of Therese Belivet, a young aspiring photographer working at a department store, and Carol Aird, an elegant and enigmatic woman trapped in a loveless marriage. When Carol visits the department store one fateful day, a chance encounter between her and Therese ignites a deep connection that neither woman can ignore.

As their friendship evolves into a passionate romance, Therese and Carol must navigate the societal pressures and prejudices that threaten to tear them apart. In a time when same-sex relationships were taboo, their love becomes a clandestine affair, fraught with danger and the risk of societal ostracism.

Main Characters

Here are the main characters in "Carol":

Character NameDescription
Therese BelivetA young aspiring photographer who works at a department store. She is introspective and yearns for something more in her life.
Carol AirdAn elegant and sophisticated woman trapped in a loveless marriage. She is confident, enigmatic, and captivates those around her.
Richard SemcoTherese's boyfriend who wants to marry her. He is kind but lacks the passion and understanding that Therese craves.
Abby GerhardCarol's close friend and former lover. She provides support and understanding to Carol during her challenging times.

Summary of Story Points

Chapter 1: A Chance Encounter

  • Therese and Carol meet for the first time at the department store where Therese works.
  • There is an instant connection between them, and Therese becomes infatuated with Carol.

Chapter 2: A Forbidden Friendship

  • Therese and Carol begin spending more time together, developing a deepening friendship.
  • Carol invites Therese on a road trip, igniting their romantic feelings for each other.

Chapter 3: Society's Obstacles

  • Therese and Carol face societal pressure and prejudice as their relationship becomes more intimate.
  • Carol's husband, Harge, discovers their affair and threatens to take away their daughter if Carol doesn't end the relationship.

Chapter 4: The Escape

  • Therese and Carol decide to go on a cross-country road trip, leaving behind their old lives.
  • They face numerous challenges and moments of joy as they navigate their newfound freedom and deepen their love for each other.

Chapter 5: Confronting the Past

  • Harge hires a private investigator to gather evidence against Carol during their divorce proceedings.
  • Therese and Carol must confront their pasts and make difficult decisions about their future.

Chapter 6: Love Prevails

  • Despite the obstacles, Therese and Carol's love for each other triumphs.
  • They find a way to be together and build a life that defies societal expectations.

Main Events

  1. Therese and Carol's chance encounter at the department store.
  2. The development of their friendship and growing attraction.
  3. The road trip that deepens their connection and leads them to confront their feelings.
  4. The threat of societal pressure and prejudice against their relationship.
  5. The decision to escape and go on a cross-country road trip together.
  6. The challenges they face during their journey and the moments of joy they experience.
  7. The confrontation with Carol's husband and the private investigator.
  8. The final triumph of their love and the decision to defy societal expectations.

Themes and Insights

1. Forbidden Love: "Carol" explores the complexities and challenges of a forbidden love between two women in a time when same-sex relationships were highly stigmatized. It delves into the emotional toll and societal pressures faced by individuals who dared to love outside the norms of society.

2. Self-Discovery: Therese's journey in "Carol" is one of self-discovery and finding her true identity. Through her relationship with Carol, she learns to embrace her desires and pursue a life that aligns with her authentic self.

3. Conformity vs. Authenticity: The novel contrasts the societal pressure to conform with the desire for personal fulfillment and authenticity. Therese and Carol must navigate between societal expectations and their own desires, ultimately choosing to live their lives on their own terms.

4. Love and Sacrifice: "Carol" explores the sacrifices individuals are willing to make for love. Both Therese and Carol face difficult choices and challenges that test the strength of their love and their willingness to fight for it.

Reader's Takeaway

"Carol" is a beautifully written novel that transports readers to a time when love between two women was considered taboo. Through the captivating relationship between Therese and Carol, readers are invited to explore themes of love, desire, and self-discovery. Patricia Highsmith's masterful storytelling and vivid characterization make "Carol" a compelling and thought-provoking read that will stay with readers long after they turn the final page.


"Carol" by Patricia Highsmith is a powerful and emotionally resonant novel that delves into the complexities of love, desire, and societal expectations. Through the forbidden relationship between Therese and Carol, Highsmith paints a vivid picture of post-war America and explores themes that remain relevant today. With its richly drawn characters, evocative setting, and compelling storytelling, "Carol" is a must-read for anyone seeking a thought-provoking and beautifully written literary work.

Carol FAQ

  1. What is the genre of the book Carol?

    The book Carol is a romance novel.

  2. Who is the author of Carol?

    The author of Carol is Patricia Highsmith.

  3. What is the main storyline of Carol?

    Carol tells the story of a forbidden love affair between Therese, a young photographer, and Carol, an older woman going through a divorce.

  4. When was Carol first published?

    Carol was first published in 1952.

  5. Was Carol adapted into a film?

    Yes, Carol was adapted into a film in 2015 starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara.

  6. Is Carol based on a true story?

    No, Carol is a work of fiction and is not based on a true story.

  7. Is Carol a standalone novel or part of a series?

    Carol is a standalone novel.

  8. What is the writing style of Carol?

    Carol is written in a descriptive and introspective style, focusing on the characters' emotions and inner thoughts.

  9. What age group is Carol suitable for?

    Carol is suitable for adult readers.

  10. Does Carol have any explicit content?

    Yes, Carol contains some explicit content and is recommended for mature readers.