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Book Title: Desert of the Heart|
The author of the book: Jane Rule
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 1.72 MB
City - Country: No data
Edition: Naiad Press
Date of issue: December 31st 1985
ISBN 13: 9780930044732
Loaded: 1286 times
Reader ratings: 3.6
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Desert of the Heart is a groundbreaking novel in the context of lesbian literature. Written in 1961 and eventually published in 1964, albeit after significant changes, this novel marked Jane Rule out as a visionary and a spokesperson for a generation of lesbians, daring to defy the idea that marriage is a ticket to normality. Desert of the Hearts is a wise and witty novel that in essence tells the story of English professor, Dr Evelyn Hall, and her desire to be free of the confines of a marriage and live as an independent woman. Set in the 1950s, the story opens with Mrs Evelyn Hall taking a flight from her home in California to the ‘divorce capital’ of Reno, Nevada. She touches down in the swelteringly desert ahead of finalising her divorce with a six-week residency requirement at the boarding house of Mrs Frances Packer ahead of her. Marriage for Evelyn is an “ill-fitting uniform” and she has a rather matter of fact attitude to her incompatibility with her husband of sixteen-years, George, with her marriage proving more “difficult than her PhD to both achieve and maintain”. In debt, unemployed and having given up the facade of working on his thesis, Evelyn financially keeps George, and they have not seen in public together for over five-years. Much of the early story is an internal monologue from Evelyn and battle with her own inhibitions and the opening lines of the novel set a provocative tone:“Conventions, like cliches, have a way of surviving their own usefulness. They are then excused or defended as the idioms of living. For everyone, foreign by birth or by nature, convention is a mark of fluency. That is why, for any woman, marriage is the idiom of life.”It is at the boarding house of matronly Frances Packer and her impish and high-spirited son, Walter, that Evelyn meets the striking Ann Childs, a quick-witted, perceptive and confident woman fifteen-years her junior. It is their uncanny resemblance to each other that breaks the ice, and this can perhaps be interpreted as a subtle reference to their future shared persuasions. In a ten-gallon hat and rodeo trousers, the first fleeting meeting of the pair sees Ann on route to her night- shift employment, working as a ‘change apron’ in thriving casino, Frank’s Club. Intrigued by Ann’s place within this house it takes time for Evelyn to discover her circumstances, with Frances enlightening her on the death of Ann’s lawyer father, leaving her alone in the world and with Frances acting as a watchful guardian. Ann’s bedroom, lined with bookshelves, offers a home from home to Evelyn, and as she waits for Ann to return from her work, she immerses herself in Ann’s private thoughts. It is on one of these nights that Ann first shows her drawings and cartoons to Evelyn, before opening her heart and sharing her private sketchbook, ‘Eve’s Apple’. The connection between the two in instant and the fascination mutual, despite their very different paths in life, however the often philosophical discussions about their circumstances show that Ann is every bit as intelligent as Evelyn.
Rule makes much of the casino workplace of Ann, with the occasionally crude burlesque beauty, Silver, her closet ally. It is Silver who first broaches the idea of lesbianism openly and her tongue-in-cheek advice to Ann to “just relax and enjoy her” when she is assigned a trainee to supervise and her veiled references to Evelyn as a “mother figure of the moment” are the most unequivocal references. Boss at the casino, Bill, is awkward in the company of Ann, a woman whom he loved but who felt unable to make or share a life with him and her rejection has left him smarting. Having engaged with both Bill and Silver on occasions, is it Ann that is more comfortable with her own sexuality to the significantly older Evelyn. However, Desert of the Heart does not speak explicitly of lesbianism. Despite Evelyn’s description of a close friendship with her wartime neighbour, Carol, she appears to have never actively considered the idea of her sexuality, if anything she is more inclined to refer to the concept of “latent homosexuality”. Evelyn’s idea of womanhood is tied to the idea of reproduction and there is some implication that Evelyn subscribes to the theory that every woman longs for her own child. Initially awkward and reluctant to confront their feelings, Rule paints the first overtures as the rather less than wholesome Evelyn’s longing for a child, finding a ready made replacement in Ann, and Ann’s desire for a mother figure. I suspect these aspects were required to dilute the idea that lesbian love could ever be an accepted choice as opposed to a situation that has been enforced by problems specific to an individuals psyche, but these aspects do belittle the power of the story.
Evelyn’s first visit to lawyer, Arthur Williams, is surprisingly short and with only one further meeting necessary before the court date she is shocked by the simplicity of gaining a divorce. Evelyn is truthful and states her and George’s incompatibility but Mr Williams bombards her with questions pertaining to mental cruelty, medical ailments or George having embarrassed her in public but Evelyn acknowledges that, if anything, it is George that has suffered the most in a union that has left him feeling inadequate and undermined. As the end of Evelyn’s six weeks draws closer, both Evelyn and Ann find themselves forced to contemplating everything from fidelity and the vows of marriage. Things come to a head when Ann’s jilted ex, Bill, threatens to intervene and cause disruption to both women’s lives.
Rule poses the question of whether Ann would ever leave her desert home and the importance of Evelyn’s academic career to her sense of self. It is the mostly unspoken and evolving attraction between the two woman that is the focus of Desert of the Heart, but Rule also takes time to ruminate of the isolation of the desert and the strange mix of people that populate and pass through Reno. Reading the novel in 2017 highlights how dated and irrelevant many of the preoccupations are, but it also highlights the necessary discretion between same sex couples that was a requirement of the 1950s era.
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Read information about the authorJane Vance Rule was a Canadian writer of lesbian-themed novels and non-fiction. American by birth and Canadian by choice, Rule's pioneering work as a writer and activist reached across borders.
Rule was born on March 28, 1931, in Plainfield, New Jersey, and raised in the Midwest and California. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Mills College in 1952. In 1954 she joined the faculty of the Concord Academy, a private school in Massachusetts. There Rule met Helen Sonthoff, a fellow faculty member who became her life partner. They settled in Vancouver in 1956. Eventually they both held positions at the University of British Columbia until 1976 when they moved to Galiano Island. Sonthoff died in 2000, at 83. Rule died at the age of 76 on November 28, 2007 at her home on Galiano Island due to complications from liver cancer, refusing any treatment that would take her from the island.
A major literary figure in Canada, she wrote seven novels as well as short stories and nonfiction. But it was for Desert of the Heart that she remained best known. The novel published in 1964, is about a professor of English literature who meets and falls in love with a casino worker in Reno. It was made into a movie by Donna Deitch called Desert Hearts in 1985, which quickly became a lesbian classic.
Rule, who became a Canadian citizen in the 1960s, was awarded the Order of British Columbia in 1998 and the Order of Canada in 2007. In 1994, Rule was the subject of a Genie-awarding winning documentary, Fiction and Other Truths; a film about Jane Rule, directed by Lynne Fernie and Aerlyn Weissman, produced by Rina Fraticelli. She received the Canadian Authors Association best novel and best short story awards, the American Gay Academic Literature Award, the U.S. Fund for Human Dignity Award of Merit, the CNIB's Talking Book of the Year Award and an honorary doctorate of letters from the University of British Columbia. In January of 2007, Rule was awarded the Alice B. Toklas Medal “for her long and storied career as a lesbian novelist.”
Proud Life - Jane Rule: 1931 - 2007 by Marilyn Schuster
Jane Rule 1996 - George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award
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