Jane (Vance) Rule Victoria Glendinning - Essay

Victoria Glendinning

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[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 said in a few pages about Radclyffe Hall and Gertrude Stein, and the chapter on V. Sackville-West is drawn mainly from Nigel Nicolson's Portrait of a Marriage. Miss Rule searches the plots of novels by Margaret Anderson, Dorothy Baker, May Sarton and—jumping a few years—Maureen Duffy, finding varying degrees of caution, commitment, rebellion, resignation…. In her chapter on Elizabeth Bowen—who was an expert not so much on lesbianism as on the power one woman can have over another, a rather different thing—she misses that writer's most overtly lesbian character, and an exception to Miss Rule's grimly accurate statement that "Humour has been rare in fiction about lesbians": the fatal Theodora in Friends and Relations….

Victoria Glendinning, "Women in Love," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1976; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3880, July 23, 1976, p. 904.