Only Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness (1928) surpasses Rubyfruit Jungle in fame as a lesbian coming-of-age story. The titles of both books have become code words for homosexuality; a reader in a strange city, seeing a sign that read “Rubyfruit Books,” could expect to find a good selection of gay and lesbian literature. Rita Mae Brown was a member of several groups in both the gay rights and women’s movements in New York City. Mainstream women’s groups such as the National Organization for Women (NOW) considered her too radical, while many lesbian groups thought her not radical enough. Brown has since written several mysteries and historical novels, as well as other books with lesbian heroines.
Critics often compare Rubyfruit Jungle to Mark Twain’s juvenile heroes. Molly Bolt has the same uncertain parentage, colorful lifestyle, enterprise, cheerful self-regard, and ability to get into scrapes as Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. The character of Molly, however, differs in important respects. Unlike Huck or Tom, she must confront gender issues in each of her escapades. Brown handles these problems as wittily as Twain, but with more of a ribald twist. Molly’s growing awareness of her sexual orientation is but one way in which she differs from other people in the small town of Coffee Hollow. None of these differences shakes her appealing innocence or her firm belief that society’s ideas are wrong, not her own.
Abel, Elizabeth, Marianne Hirsch, and Elizabeth Langland, eds. The Voyage In: Fictions of Female Development. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1983. This valuable collection of essays examines developmental novels by women writers. Rita Mae Brown and Rubyfruit Jungle are discussed at length in Bonnie Zimmerman’s “Exiting from the Patriarchy: The Lesbian Novel of Development.” Zimmerman’s 1990 book The Safe Sea of Women expands many ideas from this essay.
Alexander, Delores. “Rita Mae Brown: ‘The Issue for the Future Is Power.’ ” Ms. 3 (September, 1974): 110-113. In this article, published shortly after...
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