Jane (Vance) Rule Biography
Nationality: Canadian. Born: Plainfield, New Jersey, United States, 1931. Education: Palo Alto High School, California; Mills College, Oakland, California (Ardella Mills award, 1952), 1948-52, B.A. in English 1952 (Phi Beta Kappa); University College, London, 1952-53; Stanford University, California, 1953. Career: Teacher of English and biology, Concord Academy, Massachusetts, 1954-56; assistant director of International House, 1958-59, intermittent lecturer in English, 1959-72, and guest lecturer in creative writing, 1972-73, University of British Columbia, Vancouver. Since 1974 full-time writer. Awards: Canada Council award, 1969, 1970; Canadian Authors Association prize, for short story, 1978, for novel, 1978; Gay Academic Union (USA) award, 1978; Fund for Human Dignity (USA) award, 1983. D.H.L., University of British Columbia, 1994. Agent: Georges Borchardt Inc., 136 East 57th Street, New York, New York 10022, USA.
Desert of the Heart. Toronto, Macmillan, and London, Secker andWarburg, 1964; Cleveland, World, 1965.
This Is Not for You. New York, McCall, 1970; London, PandoraPress, 1987.
Against the Season. New York, McCall, 1971; London, Davies, 1972.
The Young in One Another's Arms. New York, Doubleday, 1977;London, Pandora Press, 1990.
Contract with the World. New York, Harcourt Brace, 1980; London, Pandora Press, 1990.
Memory Board. Tallahassee, Florida, Naiad Press, and London, Pandora Press, 1987.
After the Fire. Tallahassee, Florida, Naiad Press, and London, Pandora Press, 1989.
Theme for Diverse Instruments. Vancouver, Talonbooks, 1975; Tallahassee, Florida, Naiad Press, 1990.
Outlander (includes essays). Tallahassee, Florida, Naiad Press, 1981.
Inland Passage and Other Stories. Tallahassee, Florida, Naiad Press, 1985.
Uncollected Short Stories
"Your Father and I," in Housewife (London), vol. 23, no. 8, 1961.
"No More Bargains," in Redbook (New York), September 1963.
"Three Letters to a Poet," in Ladder (Reno, Nevada), May-June1968.
"Moving On," in Redbook (New York), June 1968.
"Houseguest," in Ladder (Reno, Nevada), January 1969.
"The List," in Chatelaine (Toronto), April 1969.
"Not an Ordinary Wife," in Redbook (New York), August 1969.
"Anyone Will Do," in Redbook (New York), October 1969.
"The Secretary Bird," in Chatelaine (Toronto), August 1972.
"The Bosom of the Family," in 75: New Canadian Stories, edited byDavid Helwig and Joan Harcourt. Ottawa, Oberon Press, 1975.
"This Gathering," in Canadian Fiction (Vancouver) Autumn 1976.
"Pictures," in Body Politic (Toronto), December 1976-January1977.
"The Sandwich Generation," in Small Wonders, edited by RobertWeaver. Toronto, CBC, 1982.
"Ashes, Ashes," in New: West Coast Fiction. Vancouver, PulpPress, 1984.
"Blessed Are the Dead," in The Vancouver Fiction Book, edited byDavid Watmough. Winlaw, British Columbia, Polestar Press, 1985.
Lesbian Images (history and criticism). New York, Doubleday, 1975;London, Davies, 1976.
A Hot-Eyed Moderate. Tallahassee, Florida, Naiad Press, 1985.
Detained at Customs: Jane Rule Testifies at the Little Sister's Trial. Vancouver, British Columbia, Lazara Press, 1995.
University of British Columbia, Vancouver.
"Jane Rule and the Reviewers" by Judith Niemi, in Margins (Milwaukee), vol. 8, no. 23, 1975; "Jane Rule Issue" of Canadian Fiction (Vancouver), Autumn 1976; interview with Michele Kort, in rara avis (Los Angeles), Summer-Fall 1981.
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Jane Rule's writing is best known for its open exploration of unconventional human relationships, particularly lesbianism. Her first two novels contrast two different types of relations between women. Desert of the Heart traces, in alternating chapters, the lives of two women, widely separated by age and background, as they overcome their initial fear and prejudice and risk living together. This Is Not for You, the only one of Rule's novels to be narrated from a single perspective (it takes the form of an unmailed letter) follows the development of two women, friends from their California college days, who fail to break free of convention, so that their love for each other remains unfulfilled.
Rule's third novel branches out to embrace a larger cross-section of the human community. Set in a small American town, Against the Season explores the intersecting lives of a wider range of female and male characters, including a lame seventy-two-year-old spinster, two pregnant teenage girls from a home for "unwed mothers," and a lesbian businesswoman of Greek descent. Although kinship, habit, and professional functions link some of the townspeople, Rule highlights the element of free choice in their social interactions, and her work extends the usual boundaries of romantic love to include the longings and desires of the elderly.
The tyranny of conventional morality, which marginalizes the handicapped and nonconforming, set against a more generous and innovative concept of community, which values human differences, is explored further in Rule's fourth and fifth novels, where multiple points of view again are used to reflect a non-hierarchical vision of society. The Young in One Another's Arms describes how the residents of a Vancouver boarding house—slated for demolition in a program of urban renewal—regroup around the owner, a crippled fifty-year-old woman, to form a voluntary four-generation "family," related by bonds of affection rather than by legal or blood titles. They seek shelter from urban politics and an intrusive social order by working together to establish a restaurant as an experiment in communal living. Contract with the World describes the life and work of six different Vancouver artists or art dealers, all friends, who must confront philistinism, prejudice, and failure, and who suffer existential crises over their sexual and artistic identities, being homosexuals in a homophobic culture or artists in a barbarous climate.
Rule's short stories, collected in three books—Theme for Diverse Instruments, Outlander, and Inland Passage—present a similar diversity of emotional and sexual relationships. Again, despite her primary interest in female sexuality and identity, especially lesbianism, Rule does not ignore male and heterosexual perspectives. The characters' attempts at self-definition are sometimes frustrated, resulting in feelings of weakness, vulnerability, alienation, and even madness. However, most of the characters, in the end, manage to discover some means of integrating personal and social realities. The stories are set variously in England, the U.S., and West Coast Canada; but more significant than geographic location are the smaller domestic spaces or psychic "houses" which the characters inhabit, construct, or deconstruct. Arguably her best stories, "Themes for Diverse Instruments" and "Outlander" celebrate women's vitality and emphasize a recurring theme—that tolerance for a variety of lifestyles engenders a sense of community, thereby extending the creative potential of the group and of each of its members.
Rule's essays, many written for her column in the controversial paper The Body Politic, deal with various aspects of sexuality, morality, and literature, and are particularly valuable on the subject of lesbianism. Twelve essays appear alongside the short stories in Outlander; others have been collected in Lesbian Images and A Hot-Eyed Moderate. The former begins with an essay surveying attitudes to female sexuality over the centuries, condemning the prejudices fostered by churchmen and psychologists, and it contains searching studies of individual women writers such as Radclyffe Hall, May Sarton, and Vita Sackville-West, and of the veiled forms through which they projected their love for other women. The latter is a collection of Rule's reflections, courageously honest and deeply personal, on her own life as a lesbian and a writer; in addition there are miscellaneous reviews and articles on topics such as pornography, censorship, morality in literature, homosexuals and children, and caring for the elderly.
In all her writing, Rule says, she has tried "to speak the truth as I saw it," to present lesbians and homosexuals as "not heroic or saintly but real." Refusing the strategies of evasion of many earlier women's texts, but equally resisting the separatist and utopian tendencies of some contemporary lesbian literature, Rule has been criticized by the gay community for not being political enough; she maintains, however, that "literature is the citadel of the individual spirit which inspires rather than serves the body politic." Indeed, Rule's method has consistently been to treat homosexuality as a given, and then to explore ideas raised within that context. Memory Board, for instance, examines memory loss amid the backdrop of a lesbian love triangle, thus providing Rule an opportunity to develop another favorite theme, that of aging. In After the Fire the characters, five women living on one of the Golf Islands in British Columbia, represent a variety of ages, but their needs are similar, and transcend issues of "mere" sexuality.
—Wendy Robbins Keitner,
updated by Judson Knight