April 23, 7.30 pm, at the Heritage Hall in Vancouver, Hedgerow Press celebrates Jane Rule and launches Loving the Difficult, a collection of Jane Rule’s essays. I’ve been asked to speak at the launch.
The only post I regret losing is the one most easily replaced. After I wrote my Jane Rule tribute the night I learned of her death, I reworked it slightly for an evening tribute sponsored by Xtra West. We were asked to read a selection of Jane’s work after a five-minute intro. I had to teach that night, but Morgan Brayton read this for me:
Jane Rule was known on Galiano as The Bank of Jane. Wait, maybe I’ve got that wrong. Maybe she was known as the Galiano Island Bank. She had letterhead made up. Or someone else had letterhead made up for her: The Bank of Jane. Or Galiano Island Bank. I can’t remember. The point is there is no bank on Galiano Island. Except for Jane. She really was it. What she did was lend people money: so they could buy land, so they could start a business, so they could weather a tough time.
She had a critical mind. When I was believing what it was fashionable to believe, I would read her columns in the Body Politic or her essays in A Hot-Eyed Moderate and be reminded to question, to work from first principles.
In about 2000 or 2001 I did a reading on Galiano Island at the bookstore (great bookstore, by the way — turn left on the first road off the ferry). I had prepared a little intro to my reading that I would deliver whether or not Jane Rule, whom I had not until then met, was able to make it. Something like, “I was born in 1964, the year Desert of the Heart was published. Nineteen years later, my first lover stole Lesbian Images from the library. We tracked down every single book in Lesbian Images, every single author: Colette, Ivy Compton-Burnett, Radcliffe Hall, Vita Sackville-West, Violette Leduc, Djuna Barnes. I can’t tell you how much that meant to us. Our lives were alive in history. We were not apart from something, we were a part of something. And Desert of the Heart, the first book where the lesbian did not die or kill herself in the end, the book whose publication won Jane Rule kudos, yes, but death threats, too, Desert of the Heart meant that thirty years later, I could write the lesbian stories in Pool-Hopping. I owe a direct debt to Jane Rule.”
I have many literary heroes. But none have meant as much to me, personally, none have meant as much to my life rather than to my enjoyment or sense of artistry or aesthetics, as Jane Rule.
So you can imagine how nervous I was, how much it meant to me, that she was able to come to the reading, that she did come, that she smiled and nodded in acknowledgment as I made my small, heartfelt speech. Yes, she seemed to say, with a profound and unarrogant nobility. You do owe me a debt. History is continuous and I am glad you know it. You can imagine what it meant to me when she invited me and a few other people back to her place for scotch and conversation.
We corresponded after that. I wish I had kept it up. I wish I had known she was sick. I wish I had known she was dying. I would have taken some food, sent books, or books-on-tape if she was not up for reading. I would have said again what her life — her life, not just her books — what her life meant.
No doubt there are great swaths of things I don’t know about Jane Rule. But she was the Bank of Jane to Galiano Island. And she was the Bank of Jane to generations of lesbians who need to draw from that bank, the bank of knowing that lesbians existed, that they were moral, that they were part of their communities, that they were worth portraying in all their individual complexities, that they did not always die at the end.
The first book Rule addresses in Lesbian Images is Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness. When I was nineteen and falling in love with my friend, Chris, completely clueless about what was happening, she, having stolen Lesbian Images the year before, gave me The Well of Loneliness to read. I started it at about 10 o’clock at night and finished at around 3 in the morning, relating the whole time to Stephen and murmuring Chris’s name.
Here’s what Jane Rule has to say about Radclyffe Hall and The Well of Loneliness in Lesbian Images:
“The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall, published in 1928 [three years before Jane Rule was born], remains the lesbian novel, a title familiar to most readers of fiction, either a bible or a horror story for any lesbian who reads at all. There have been other books published since, better written, more accurate according to recent moral and psychological speculation, but none of them has seriously challenged the position of The Well of Loneliness.” [Morgan went on to read a longer selection from this essay, too long to retype.]
From The Well of Loneliness to Desert of the Heart, from Desert of the Heart to, well, I won’t say Pool-Hopping, but maybe Oranges are Not the Only Fruit or Rubyfruit Jungle or The Night Watch or Fun Home or Fall on Your Knees. Our debts are owed back. Now let’s pay them forward.