Jane (Vance) Rule Anne Constance Penta - Essay

Anne Constance Penta

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[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.