|Author||Rita Mae Brown|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
Rubyfruit Jungle is the first novel by Rita Mae Brown, published in 1973. It was remarkable, in its day, for its explicit portrayal of lesbianism. The novel is a coming-of-age autobiographical (some have suggested picaresque) account of Brown's youth and emergence as a lesbian author. The term "rubyfruit jungle" is slang for the female genitals.
The novel focuses on Molly Bolt, the adopted daughter of a poor family, who possesses remarkable beauty and who is aware of her lesbianism from early childhood. Her relationship with her mother is rocky, and at a young age her mother, referred to as "Carrie," informs Molly that she is not her own biological child but a "bastard." Molly has her first same-sex sexual relationship in the sixth grade with her friend Leota B. Bisland, and then again in a Florida high school, where she has another sexual relationship with another friend, the school's head cheerleader Carolyn Simpson, who willingly has sex with Molly but rejects the "lesbian" label. Molly also engages in sex with males, including her cousin Leroy when the two were younger. Her father, Carl, dies when she is in her junior year of high school.
In a combination of her strong-willed nature and disdain for Carrie, Molly pushes herself to excel in high school, winning a full scholarship to the University of Florida. Unlike Carrie, Carl had always supported Molly's goals and education. However, when Molly's relationship with her alcoholic roommate is discovered, she is denied a renewal of her scholarship. Possessing little money, she moves to New York to pursue an education in filmmaking. Upon reaching New York, she realizes that the rubyfruit is maybe not as delicious and varied as she had dreamed within the concrete jungle.
Literary significance and criticism
Parallels with personal life
In 1955, when Brown was 11 years old, her family moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where she attended high school and experimented sexually with boys and girls. When Brown was 16, her girlfriend's father found her love letters, and Brown was dismissed from the student council. In the 1960s, Brown attended Broward Community College and the University of Florida, but she was expelled from UF for participating in a civil rights rally. She later moved to New York City, attended New York University, and received a degree in Classics and English. Later, she received another degree in Cinematography from the New York School of Visual Arts, and, in 1976, she received a doctorate in political science.
As a coming-of-age lesbian novel
This work is notable for being an early literary lesbian novel, as well as for Brown's own activism in lesbian and feminist causes. Many lesbian readers have found in it a reflection of their own experiences and observations. While some now refer to it as "just another lesbian coming of age novel" (Bildungsroman), its success is part of why the genre is now often considered a cliché. The book has, however, faced criticism from some gay theorists, who consider its savage ridiculing of "butch" culture to be heteronormative.
References in other literary works
Rubyfruit Jungle is mentioned in Willy Russel's play Educating Rita. The main character, Rita, claims to have changed her name based on Rubyfruit Jungle, which she says is her favorite book. She claims to take Rita from the author's name, Rita Mae Brown.
- Dixon, Megan. "Rita Mae Brown - 1944". American Collection Educators' Site. Retrieved 20 June 2012.
- Halperin, David M. (2012). How to Be Gay (1st ed.). Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belnap Press of Harvard University Press. p. 47. ISBN 978-0-674-06679-3.
- Russel, Willy (2000). Educating Rita. Longman. p. 21. ISBN 0-582-43445-9.