Places: Rubyfruit Jungle

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1973

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Social realism

Time of work: Early 1950’s through late 1960’s

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*New York City

*New Rubyfruit JungleYork City. Largest and most cosmopolitan city in the United States that has long symbolized the highest challenge for American artists and entrepreneurs and the ultimate “escape” destination for individuals disaffected by the prejudices and limitations of their hometowns. Expelled from the University of Florida in Gainesville because she refused to renounce her lesbianism and denied a home with her mother for the same reason, Molly Bolt hitchhikes to Manhattan, determined to succeed there on her own terms. Although liberating in its anonymity, in many ways the city is a hell for Molly because she has so little money. She meets other women with her sexual orientation and shares part of her life with some of them, but has no intention of settling down with a man.

The other film students at New York University are all men, and neither they nor the professor say a word to Molly when she shows her film of Carrie talking about her life. She graduates with academic honors, yet the film companies, even the underground filmmakers, stereotype her as someone who could only be hired as a secretary or in some other traditionally female capacity. Molly notes that there is a new women’s movement beginning to protest such patriarchal attitudes, but she knows that some of those same women would expel her from the movement for being a lesbian. She does stay in New York, however, and remains determined to make movies her way.

Coffee Hollow

Coffee Hollow. Molly’s childhood home. She describes it as “a rural dot outside of York, Pennsylvania.” York is mentioned again when Molly, age twenty-four, returns to the area for a brief visit. Her childhood friend and first love, Leota, is now conventionally married to a local body-shop owner, pretending to herself to be happy with him and her children. Leota claims not to remember her time with Molly, yet even as she denounces Molly’s life as perverted and sick, she clearly envies her.

Although there is some love and support, especially from Molly’s sad and defeated stepfather Carl, the dominant image of the Coffee Hollow area, representative of small-town America, is that of closed-minded busybodies intolerant of anyone different from them.

*Florida

*Florida. Molly’s and her cousin Leroy’s families move from Coffee Hollow to Ft. Lauderdale to escape poverty but find little economic improvement there. Molly is bright and figures out that the wealthier students who control the social scene will like her if she is bold and witty and makes them laugh. She goes to the University of Florida because it offers her the largest scholarship, but she is expelled because of a sexual relationship with her roommate, Faye. Her roommate disappears, leaving a note saying that she lacks Molly’s courage and must acquiesce to the rigid wishes of her parents.

Six years later, when Molly returns to Florida to make a film of her mother for her senior project, Carrie denies that she ever refused to take Molly in after she was expelled from the university. Molly also sees Leroy, who has begun an affair with a gay man but is now somewhat resigned to being married. He confides that he dreams of getting away, maybe to get a job as a crew member and sail around the world.

BibliographyAbel, 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 the publication of Rubyfruit Jungle, Alexander discusses Brown’s writing and her position on the contemporary women’s movement.Boyle, Sharon D. “Rita Mae Brown.” In Contemporary Lesbian Writers of the United States: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook, edited by Sandra Pollack and Denise D. Knight. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1993. Boyle’s article profiles Rita Mae Brown’s life and work, including an extended discussion of Rubyfruit Jungle and a useful bibliography.Chew, Martha. “Rita Mae Brown: Feminist Theorist and Southern Novelist.” In Women Writers of the Contemporary South, edited by Peggy Whitman Prenshaw. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1984. Chew examines the connections between Brown’s political essays and her fiction. She places Brown in the context of Southern writers who are political activists.Farwell, Marilyn R. “Toward a Definition of the Lesbian Literary Imagination.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 14 (Autumn, 1988): 100-118. Although Farwell’s article does not refer explicitly to Rubyfruit Jungle, it is an extremely useful exploration of recurring themes in lesbian literature. Farwell suggests that feminist literary critics use “lesbian” as a metaphor, a “positive, utopian image of woman’s creativity.”Fishbein, Leslie. “Rubyfruit Jungle: Lesbianism, Feminism, and Narcissism.” International Journal of Women’s Studies 7 (March/April, 1984): 155-159. Concentrates on the novel in relation to lesbian and feminist issues. Sees Brown as a strong voice in lesbian literature.Harris, Bertha. Review of Rubyfruit Jungle, by Rita Mae Brown. Village Voice Literary Supplement, April 4, 1974, 34-35. Early and sympathetic review of the novel by another writer of lesbian novels. Harris discusses it among works from the feminist publishing house Daughters, Inc.Mandrell, James. “Questions of Genre and Gender: Contemporary American Versions of the Feminine Picaresque.” Novel: A Forum on Fiction 20, no. 2 (Winter, 1987): 149-170. Using Rubyfruit Jungle and two other novels as illustrations, Mandrell explores how genre can influence a woman author’s “viewpoint and the ideological slant of her work.” He focuses on Rita Mae Brown’s use of the picaresque genre, pointing out that Molly Bolt’s story “changes nothing, . . . but, rather, acquiesces to and confirms the marginality experienced by those who are not straight, white middle-class males.”Palmer, Paulina. “Contemporary Lesbian Feminist Fiction: Texts for Everywoman.” In Plotting Change: Contemporary Women’s Fiction, edited by Linda Anderson. London: Edward Arnold, 1990. Palmer sees Rubyfruit Jungle as representative of early lesbian feminist fiction, which “generally utilized the form of the bildungsroman and concentrated, somewhat narrowly, on the theme of Coming Out.”Stimpson, Catharine R. “Zero Degree Deviancy: The Lesbian Novel in English.” In Writing and Sexual Difference, edited by Elizabeth Abel. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982. This groundbreaking article describes and distinguishes between the “dying fall” and “enabling escape” patterns of lesbian narrative, using Rubyfruit Jungle as a prime example of the second category.Ward, Carol M., ed. Rita Mae Brown. New York: Twayne, 1993. An excellent full-length discussion of Brown and her works arranged according to individual books. Includes a discussion of Rubyfruit Jungle in the chapter “The Grand Canyon Between First Person Narrative and Third Person Narrative.” Also contains an extensive selected bibliography of reviews and criticism about the novels.Zimmerman, Bonnie. The Safe Sea of Women: Lesbian Fiction, 1969-1989. Boston: Beacon Press, 1990. This insightful book-length study of contemporary lesbian prose literature explores the interaction between fiction and community– specifically, how lesbian novels and short stories have both reflected and shaped the lesbian community. Zimmerman describes Rubyfruit Jungle as the quintessential “coming-out” novel, a Bildungsroman.
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