Women's Barracks is a wonderful novel, with credible characters struggling to do their bit for freedom in the middle of the Blitz. It may not be Moby-Dick, or even The Price of Salt, but it's a fine book, and well worth picking up from Amazon. But we never knew much about the author.
The Times obit is a revelation. Turns out that Torres' own life was more interesting than some fiction. Born a Polish Jew in Paris, she converted (with her family) to Roman Catholicism. When the Nazis invaded, they fled the country; in wartime London, she joined the Free French and made it to second lieutenant. The book, published in 1950, draws on that experience. During the war, Torres married, got pregnant and lost her husband in combat. Afterward, she attempted suicide. Years later, she was involved in the rescue of Ethiopian Jews, which is the subject of a memoir recently published in France.
Although she wrote a number of books, she is by far best known for Women's Barracks, one of the earliest of what would become the "lesbian pulp" genre. In its own way, it is as seminal as the Beebo Brinker books; it was condemned by a Congressional committee on pornography and banned outright in Canada.
Both the books historic place and its scandal are laced with irony. By modern standards, Women's Barracks is only mildly racy. Only a few of the characters were actually daughters of Bilitis, and the author herself was apparently straight. Its cult-classic status is reminder of just how desperate midcentury lesbians were for some public recognition of their existence. Its condemnation, of course, is a reminder of why congressmen should not be literary critics.