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literature

Alpha Index:  A-B  C-F  G-K  L-Q  R-S  T-Z

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Novel: Lesbian  
 
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Other writers in the 1960s, like Isabel Miller in A Place for Us (1969; later renamed Patience and Sarah) and May Sarton in Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing (1965), also explored lesbian relationships and the social forces that made them difficult to maintain for long periods. In her historical novel set in Calvinist New England, Miller attempts to imagine a lesbian relationship in the absence of a lesbian subculture.

Like Rule, Miller, and Sarton, Maureen Duffy, a British author whose writing reflects a working-class sensibility, was one of the novelists of the 1960s who tried to portray lesbian experience in her work, which includes novels, plays, nonfiction, and poetry. She is the first contemporary British lesbian novelist publicly to announce her sexual identification.

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The Microcosm (1966), which is one of Duffy's most important works, centers on lesbianism. Like other lesbian novels that focus on the community found at a lesbian bar (for instance, Nisa Donnelly's The Bar Stories [1989] and Katherine Forrest's Murder at the Nightwood Bar [1987]), Duffy's work describes the bar microcosm that has played such a significant role in the lives of many lesbians.

Like writers such as Djuna Barnes and Gertrude Stein, Duffy experiments with language and tries out different points of view. Like Barnes, Duffy also plays with gender; we are not sure, for instance, whether "he" refers to an anatomical male or to a butch lesbian. Criticized by some lesbian critics for her Freudian views of lesbianism, Duffy nevertheless deserves serious attention since her depictions of lesbian life go far beyond what is contained in Freud's theories.

Lesbian Novels of the 1970s

In the early 1970s, a novel was published that had a profound and lasting effect on future lesbian literature. Without a doubt, Rita Mae Brown's Rubyfruit Jungle (1973) is one of the most influential and best-known of all lesbian novels. Brown's popular Bildungsroman, which was first published by the feminist press Daughters Inc. and then by Bantam Books, has remained in print for over twenty years.

Rubyfruit Jungle caused a sensation because of its positively portrayed lesbian heroine, Molly Bolt. Despite her illegitimate birth and her impoverished background, Molly, thanks to her superior intelligence and strength of character, wins a full scholarship to the University of Florida.

Even when she is a child, Molly knows that she never wants to get married and assumes that she is a lesbian. In college, she begins to experience lesbian life and has an affair with another woman student. When she is expelled from school because she is a lesbian, Molly heads to New York City where she studies to be a film director.

This novel is a coming out story that traces Molly's maturation as an individual and, particularly, as a lesbian. Brown's ebullient, often farcical, picaresque account of a lesbian coming of age showed that lesbianism did not mean that a woman would necessarily be confined to an insane asylum or commit suicide. Instead, Molly is a survivor, who manages to overcome tremendous obstacles.

The Burgeoning of Presses Publishing Lesbian Novels

The remarkable success of Rubyfruit Jungle spawned an explosion of lesbian novels. A number of feminist publishers, including Naiad Press, Daughters Press, Diana Press, and the Women's Press Collective, jumped onto the bandwagon, as did publishers such as Crossing Press and Seal Press that were not solely lesbian publishers but did publish lesbian literature.

These feminist presses were particularly important because they published nontraditional or experimental narratives, such as June Arnold's Sister Gin (1975), Bertha Harris's Lover (1976), and Elana Dykewomon's Riverfinger Women (1974), that were not acceptable to the major publishing companies.

Even more presses publishing lesbian novels sprang up in the 1980s, and it became more common for the mainstream publishing houses to produce lesbian novels. For example, Dutton published Sarah Schulman's After Delores, Knopf published Lisa Alther's Other Women (1984), and St. Martin's Press published Nisa Donnelly's The Bar Stories: A Novel After All (1989).

Today the increasing number of publishers willing to produce lesbian novels has resulted in far greater diversity, the new offerings ranging from murder mysteries to romances to more experimental genres.

Addressing the Concerns of Lesbians of Color

Unfortunately, even these more recent novels have only rarely addressed the complex concerns of lesbians of color. Finding lesbian novels that address the concerns of nonwhite lesbians is difficult, and always has been so, particularly before the 1980s.

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