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Rule, Jane (1931-2007)  

Though dealing forthrightly with lesbian and gay subjects, the novels and criticism of Jane Rule are deliberately nonpolitical in their commitment to diverse communities and a range of experiences.

Rule was born in Plainfield, New Jersey, on March 28, 1931, the daughter of Arthur Richard and Carlotta Jane Rule. In 1952, she earned a B.A. in English from Mills College and then, for a year, studied at University College, London. In 1956, she moved to Vancouver, British Columbia; from 1976 onward, she made her home on Galiano Island. She became a Canadian citizen in the 1960s.

Teacher, author, and out lesbian, Rule was best known as a fiction writer. Her awards included the Canadian Authors' Association Award for Best Novel (1978), the Benson and Hedges Award for Best Short Stories (1978), the Literary Award of the Gay Academic Union (1978), the Fund for Human Dignity's Award of Merit (1983), and the Order of Canada (2007).

Rule's book of criticism, seven novels, and numerous short stories and essays address lesbian and gay issues to varying degrees, most often by presenting them as universal concerns. Though typically outcasts, her characters do not belong to a subculture; whether queer or straight, they participate in what she calls the human family, whose members' task it is to learn to get along with one another.

The cultivation of nurturing relationships and communities in the wake of obtrusive social "systems" is a predominant theme in her work, as is the appreciation for landscape and nature, which some critics have called a particularly Canadian motif.

Rule's first novel, Desert of the Heart (1964), recounts a lesbian love story via conventional Christian images and narrative strategies. By invoking and subverting representations of gender and sexual taboos from such canonical texts as the Bible, The Divine Comedy, and The Pilgrim's Progress, the two protagonists of this coming-out novel explore the significance of their involvement.

Self-consciously literary, Desert of the Heart offers an affirming, insightful, and optimistic depiction of lesbian love, one rare indeed in pre-Stonewall fiction. Dedicated to Rule's life partner Helen Sonthoff, the novel was made into the 1986 lesbian cult film Desert Hearts, directed by Donna Deitch.

Although interested in renegotiating mainstream literary paradigms, Rule saw her writing as free of any overt ideology; she did not align herself firmly with either lesbian feminist or separatist platforms. Her 1987 novel Memory Board, for example, examines aging and AIDS, not as political but as personal concerns to be dealt with in a matter-of-fact manner that nourishes human intimacy.

For Rule, politics had no place in art; the literary work arrives at its own truth or set of truths through the particular vision of the artist. This position, which also informs Lesbian Images (1975), a pioneering discussion of women writers and their treatment of love between women, risks being labeled naive and complacent: It neither acknowledges the ideological power of language (whereby the structures of thought used actually determine what is said) nor the inevitably political nature of proclaiming a nonpartisan stance.

Still, her fiction, especially in its delineation of character and theme, expresses a large-spirited commitment to diverse communities and a range of experiences.

Moreover, although she rejected the idea of political art, she was nevertheless a tireless fighter for glbtq rights and against censorship. From 1979 to 1985, she wrote essays and a regular column for Canada's gay liberation magazine The Body Politic, and supported Little Sister's Book and Art Emporium in its 15-year battle against the censorship of Canadian Customs.

Rule's novels and collections of short stories are all available from lesbian feminist publishers, having all been reprinted by Naiad Press in the United States and by Pandora Press in London.

Margaret Soenser Breen


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Hancock, Geoffrey. "An Interview with Jane Rule." Canadian Fiction Magazine 23 (Autumn 1976): 57-112.

Martin, Sandra. "Jane Rule, 76." (November 28, 2007):

Roof, Judith. A Lure of Knowledge: Lesbian Sexuality and Theory. New York: Columbia University Press, 1991.

Schuster, Marilyn R. "Strategies for Survival: The Subtle Subversion of Jane Rule." Feminist Studies 7.3 (Fall 1991): 431-450.

Sonthoff, Helen. "A Bibliography." Canadian Fiction Magazine 23 (Autumn 1976): 133-138.

_____. "Celebration: Jane Rule's Fiction." Canadian Fiction Magazine 23 (Autumn 1976): 121-132.

Spraggs, Gillian. "Hell and the Mirror: A Reading of Desert of the Heart." New Lesbian Criticism: Literary and Cultural Readings. Sally Munt, ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 1992. 115-131.

Zimmerman, Bonnie. The Safe Sea of Women in Lesbian Fiction, 1969-1988. Boston: Beacon Press, 1990.


    Citation Information
    Author: Breen, Margaret Soenser  
    Entry Title: Rule, Jane  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated November 30, 2007  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  


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