Jane (Vance) Rule Essay - Critical Essays

Rule, Jane (Vance)


Jane (Vance) Rule 1931–

American-born Canadian novelist, short story writer, and essayist.

An avowed lesbian, Rule writes with clarity and insight about the struggles and triumphs peculiar to relationships among women. Her characters are typically outcasts, rejected by or rejecting contemporary society.

Although Rule was born and raised in the United States, she has lived in Canada for over twenty years. Her writing reflects many traditional Canadian themes, most notably the love of the landscape and the desire to escape the encroachment of modern technology. Her novel The Young in One Another's Arms (1977), for example, describes an assortment of young eccentrics who retreat from society in an attempt to construct an alternative mode of living. Outlander (1982), her recent collection of essays and short stories, follows a similar theme by portraying various aspects of life on the edge of contemporary culture.

Rule is also concerned with the relation of women to art. Her critical essays in Lesbian Images (1975) examine twelve women writers and how lesbianism has affected their lives and their work. The depth of her scope has led one critic to note that Lesbian Images "offers an expanded view of women in our culture."

(See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 25-28, rev. ed.)

Christopher Salvesen

Reno, Nevada is the setting for a first novel which is a convincing example of its kind: The Desert of the Heart develops a moral situation until a decision is made which the reader feels has been fairly and interestingly worked for. Evelyn Hall, university teacher, unsuccessfully married for 16 years, has come for her divorce. She falls in love with a young girl who works in a casino. Gradually she realises her marriage has been a 'long detour' from her original nature. The conflict between what she knows to be natural and what she believes to be right is worked out on the equivocal stages of the Nevada desert and the gambling-club…. The setting is brilliantly used throughout: one of the central episodes, on a barren lake-shore bone-white with fossil snail-shells, recalls Passage to India. The pessimistic message of the caves ('Everything exists, nothing has value') seems here to be reversed; 'everything has value'—even sterility. But this, from the girl Ann, who lives for the moment, who identifies with the desert, comes perhaps to much the same. And her morality poses a question to Evelyn's more conventional liberal one. The sterile, beautiful landscape (and the pure, useless activity of gambling), can these really accommodate, let alone justify, their love? This is an intelligent novel, not afraid of ideas and not committed to them over-diagrammatically: there are some telling incidental scenes—the divorce hearing, a farcical wedding—and the two women talk with that unaffected graveness, peculiarly American, which can incorporate literary allusion and parlour-game psychology without strain.

Christopher Salvesen, "In the West Riding," in New Statesman (© 1964 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), Vol. LXVII, No. 1718, February 14, 1964, p. 260.∗

The Times Literary Supplement

Miss Rule shows talent in setting [the scene of The Desert of the Heart], with its neon nights and torpid days in the huge desert, but becomes painfully sententious in baring the tense and tawdry dramas of her sexual misfits. [The protagonists'] predicament is made real and even moving, but too much of what they think and say reads like a pastiche of the sentimental idealism one might expect from a romantic novelette about the first stirring of a more conventional kind of love.

A review of "The Desert of the Heart," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1964; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3236, March 5, 1964, p. 201.

Anne Constance Penta

[The Desert of the Heart, a] startlingly explicit novel of lesbian love, is neither an apology nor an indictment. It is an objective portrayal of love between two women, love that progresses from the arousing of their first erotic instincts to their abandonment of conventional moral codes in a kind of desperate liberation.

Despite the uncanny physical resemblance that makes them look like mother and daughter, Ann Childs and Evelyn Hall are fifteen years and a whole society apart. Ann, a change-apron in a Reno gambling casino, moves with defiant gaiety in the garish chaos of Frank's club. Evelyn, a proper middle-aged college professor, comes to Reno to shed her husband, George….

As Evelyn's looks are embodied in Ann, so is her identity as a mother figure. Relegated to a childless fate with George, she finds maternal compensation in her look-alike, Ann.

Ann, scarred by the childhood trauma of desertion by her nymphomaniac mother, sees in Evelyn the mother she yearned for but lost. This relationship, however, is ominously narcissistic. Meeting Evelyn is like seeing your double in a mirror, Ann remarks. "They say when you meet your double, you die."

Death here takes the form of the moral suicide of homosexuality. Although Evelyn has read somewhere that "all intelligent women are latent homosexuals," she is initially bewildered and offended by Ann's erotic power over her…. But social restraint gives way to compulsive lust and this insidious transition from lesbianism on the subconscious level to the overt act of homosexual love making is skillfully delineated by Miss Rule.

Anne Constance Penta, in a review of "The Desert of the Heart," in Best Sellers (copyright 1965, by the University of Scranton), Vol. 25, No. 11, September 1, 1965, p. 222.

Jody Haberland

[This Is Not for You, a] sensitive yet almost documentary account of the college and early adult life of a woman, is unsettling because of its precarious balance between conscious emotional restraint and the force of a supreme desire to love. Kate, the protagonist, succumbs, through brief affairs, to her lesbianism, yet denies herself a relationship with her best friend Esther. By her sacrifice, whatever future fulfillment there might have been is lost…. The novel has substance and insight, and an intellectualism that at times may strike you as stilted or a bit contrived. Still, this slightly extraordinary account proves that love knows no limitations of person, place, or time—but that life is a corridor of doors and only one at a time may be opened and entered.

Jody Haberland, in a review of "This Is Not for You," in Library Journal (reprinted from Library Journal, July 1970; published by R. R. Bowker Co. (a Xerox company); copyright © 1970 by Xerox Corporation), Vol. 95, No. 13, July, 1970, p. 2520.

Bruce D. Allen

Amelia Larson is a crippled spinster dominated by the memory of her dead sister, whose painful diaries she is reading. She is uncertainly poised between past and present, like the old friends, relatives, and acquaintances who cluster around her. Embodiments of various generations, sexes, and life styles, they are people surprised by the intrusion of sexuality into their lives…. Yet loving proves their only escape from self-absorption. [Jane Rule] expertly renders façades that mask indecision, especially through dialogue. But [Against the Season] is too rigidly patterned: each character is a glaring thematic counterpart to some other one; every scene announces too loudly its structural function as some sort of "balance." The human element is there, but it is too obviously part of the design.

Bruce D. Allen, in a review of "Against the Season," in Library Journal (reprinted from Library Journal, April 1, 1971; published by R. R. Bowker Co. (a Xerox company); copyright © 1971 by Xerox Corporation), Vol. 96, No. 7, April 1, 1971, p. 1291.

Michele M. Leber

If lesbianism were accepted as just another way of loving—and if lesbian writers were not always taken in a sexual context—[Lesbian Images] would not be necessary, the author notes. A teacher, writer, feminist, and lesbian, Rule examines love between women in the work of 12 female authors (Radclyffe Hall, Gertrude Stein, Willa Cather, Vita Sackville-West, Ivy Compton-Burnett, Elizabeth Bowen, Colette, Violette Leduc, Margaret Anderson, Dorothy Baker, May Sarton, Maureen Duffy). Fluent and nonjudgmental, she considers to what extent the art of these women reflects their personal lives as well as their society…. This book should not be considered just a literary examination of one narrow facet of life; for...

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Robin Skelton

[Lesbian Images] is a sensible, witty, well-written book which provides us with new perspectives upon the lives and works of a number of women writers…. The biographical details, many of which are here given for the first time, are presented without sensationalism, and with a fine balance of sympathy and objectivity. The book's major weakness is the final chapter on "Recent Nonfiction," for here Ms Rule does not give herself enough space to deal with the complexity and fury of recent writings on lesbianism, and while her comments are, as always, shrewd, they appear occasionally to be less objective than those she makes in other chapters, and the book ends upon a somewhat hortatory note. It is, perhaps, more...

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Victoria Glendinning

[Lesbian Images] begins with a brief history of Miss Rule's discovery of her own lesbianism, which is extremely interesting; she is generous, honest, and quite without bitterness or paranoia. This is the most valuable part of the book. She goes on to a whistle-stop history of attitudes to female inversion from Ancient Greece to the present day, paying particular attention to the position of the Christian churches; she also argues, persuasively, that most nineteenth and twentieth-century psychiatry is nothing but a translation of moral objections into medical terms.

The study of lesbianism in women writers which forms the main part of this book is unrewarding. There is little new that can be...

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Bertha Harris

[Lesbian Images] intends to show what it means to be a lesbian who characterizes her reality in art; who shows "truth in the rich particular rather than in the lowest common denominator of a hundred case histories." These "images" of 12 novelists and literary personalities (13, when we count Jane Rule's own story) are, more than any other thing, a novelist's accomplishment—a skillful interweaving of plot and psychology, temperament and circumstance, life and work. And those who love Jane Rule's fiction … will find themselves once again keeping pleasureable company with the novelist who brought civilizing sense to the heartbreak-and-booze tradition in modern lesbian fiction. Lesbian Images is first...

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John Glassco

Jane Rule's fifth novel [The Young in One Another's Arms] will probably be the first to find a wide audience, since it comes after the success of a timely work of non-fiction [Lesbian Images] and a gust of publicity. Two national magazines have already introduced to the whole country a woman who came across in her interviews as attractive, brilliant, courageous, enormously talented, industrious and—perhaps most appealingly of all—neglected. This combination adumbrates the way in which a large part of literary Canada likes to see itself, and Jane Rule thus appeared in these magazines as quintessentially Canadian. The image is even enhanced by the fact that she was born and bred in the United States....

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Sandra Martin

In her reader Lesbian Images, Jane Rule, herself a professed and practising lesbian, attempts to debunk the time-honoured theories that homosexuality is a sin and/or a sickness. For the most part she is successful, amassing a great deal of evidence to shore up her arguments about what lesbianism isn't. Unhappily she doesn't enlighten us much about what it is, claiming magisterially, "the reality of lesbian experience transcends all theories about it." (p. 87)

Rule argues that psychological theorists and practitioners who insist that lesbianism is a sickness are dangerous in that they often produce traumas in individuals who before suffered from nothing but a loving preference for their own...

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Edith Milton

[The Young in One Another's Arms] is a rather dreadful piece of writing, about a one-armed woman about to be evicted from the Vancouver boarding house which she owns and which has been marked down by urban renewal. Presumably Rule intends Vancouver in particular, and the society of North American cities in general, to stand for what Yeats calls "no country for old men." But the machine-ruled, police-run world she describes hardly does well by birds in the trees or by the young, either. She sees the stereotypes of her boarding house, related as they are by weakness and by the bonds of affection rather than by legal ties and blood lines, as a new, ideal version of the human family, and she traces their sailing to...

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Anthony Brennan

The structure of [The Young in One Another's Arms] is untidy because it tracks erratically in pursuit of the disorganized lives of a large number of characters. It takes [the] orphans and exiles scarred by the callous brutality of a technological society a long time to realize that they might reconstitute themselves into a commune-type family unit. The "pigs" in the approved fashion of the 60's neatly help them to define the kind of society they do not want to belong to. Rule tries to hold the first half of the book together in a number of ways. Ruth recounts several childhood memories that are meant to illuminate matters but only confuse them in jerky, obtrusive transitions. What is missing from the...

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Carrie Macmillan

Like Yeats' "Sailing to Byzantium", Jane Rule's The Young In One Another's Arms is concerned with the problem of aging, but whereas the poem proclaimed the possibility of transcending life and all its mortal limitations through the creation of lasting works of art, the novel takes the position that the old have a useful though not necessarily conventional role to perform in a world that is threatened increasingly by modern social, technological and political ills. In this world it is not age that is the issue, although the aged can provide experience and direction for the young, but rather it is one's attitude to one's fellow man and one's concern about finding alternatives to the prevailing malaise that are...

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Publishers Weekly

["Contract with the World"] is a very fine novel, the third by the author of "The Desert of the Heart." It is an ambitious work focusing on the lives of eight friends, all in their early 30s, living in Vancouver. Most are artists, many are gay and the novel is, at heart, about both love and art and the politics of both…. [The characters's] lives keep shifting, turning, yet at some point all the characters make their "contract with the world," their commitment to life, to their own lives. At times the book is reminiscent of a Marge Piercy novel. It is big and complex and often remarkably insightful.

A review of "Contract with the World," in Publishers Weekly (reprinted...

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Barbara Amiel

Contemporary life is the subject matter … of Contract With the World, Jane Rule's new novel and her best writing to date. These characters, unlike the rather strident figures in her earlier work, have some real blood and spirit—if somewhat unlikely lives. There is Carlotta, the intense portrait painter whose high-C sensitivity leads her to forget eating. Carlotta has an affair with the husband of Alma, the voluptuous earth mother (and would-be writer) who discovers her bisexuality in the arms of Roxanne, the androgynous sound artist who beds Carlotta who is the friend of Pierre who commits suicide after his lover Allen gets caught in a raid involving underage boys. What Rule could have done with some humor...

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Catherine Ross

Contract with the World, Jane Rule's fifth novel, begins where the education novel usually leaves off, with its characters newly launched into their various careers and relationships. It is tempting to think of the six main characters in this novel, like the six characters in Virginia Woolf's The Waves, as complementary parts of a composite human figure. They are all the same age. They are all, in one way or another, artists. And they are all intimately bound up in each other's lives as doubles, opposites, rivals, and lovers, both heterosexual and homosexual. The events of the novel, which extend over ten years and bring the characters to the age of thirty-five, involve them all in death and some at...

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Janet Aalfs

[Jane Rule's] Outlander is a collection of stories and essays about the lives of lesbians….

Outlander reflects the courage it takes to speak out of imposed silences—and in doing so, makes room for the stories that have not yet been told.

The strength of Outlander's diversity lies in its portrayal of lesbians of different ages, class backgrounds, physical abilities—perspectives that are often overlooked. Its weakness is the absence of Third World lesbians. (p. 81)

Jane Rule's stories and essays inspire me to challenge my own view of the world, my place in it, and my relationships to others. The settings and characters she describes and...

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