|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 account of Brown's youth and emergence as a lesbian author. The term "rubyfruit jungle" is a term used in the novel 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 girlfriend 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.
Molly pushes herself to excel in high school, winning a full scholarship to the University of Florida. However, when Molly's relationship with her alcoholic roommate is discovered, she is put into their psychiatric ward and denied a renewal of her scholarship. Possessing little money, she hitchhikes to New York to pursue an education in filmmaking.
In New York, Molly has her first experiences in lesbian communities. She is critical of most of the circles she meets and, as she always has done, continues to define herself and go down her own path.
Molly appears to notice environmental differences between the countryside and the city, and she also notices similarities of American culture-at-large.
At film school, she continues to observe and ignore the heterosexual culture that appears to saturate the world around her.
Molly takes a trip home to have her mother Carrie star in her short documentary that will be her final project for her film degree. After a quiet but successful graduation from film school, Molly runs into all of the roadblocks she expected to in looking for a job in her field. She is offered secretary jobs. She does not take any of the jobs and states that if it takes her until she's 50 years old then so be it.
Literary significance and criticism
This work is notable for being an early literary lesbian novel. Many lesbian readers have found in it a reflection of their own experiences and observations. While some refer to it as "just another lesbian coming of age novel", its success is part of why the genre is now often considered a cliché. However, the book was criticized by psychological theorist David Halperin, who considered its savage ridiculing of butch culture to be heteronormative. In 2015, Rita Mae Brown was awarded the Lee Lynch Classic Book Award from the Golden Crown Literary Society for Rubyfruit Jungle.
The book is directly referenced in Educating Rita with the central character confessing she has changed her name from Susan to Rita in tribute to both the author and the book.
A 1977 review reported that since the book's 1973 release it has remained popular.
In an interview at the 2015 republishing of the book, Brown remarked that the book was an immediate success at the time of its publication.
- 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.
- Advocate.com Editors (2015-07-28). "Historic Night at Golden Crown Literary Awards". Advocate.com. Retrieved 2015-08-06.
- Horn, Carole (24 October 1977). "Rita Mae Brown". Washington Post.
- Masad, Ilana (22 June 2015). ""Your Sexuality Is the Least Interesting Thing About You": Rita Mae Brown on RubyFruit Jungle's Rerelease". The B&N Teen Blog. Barnes & Noble.
- Danforth, Emily (25 May 2012). "Teenage Tales: Sneaking Looks In Sexy Books". All Things Considered. NPR.
- Haynes, Anna J. (25 November 2017). "Examining Rita Mae Brown's "Rubyfruit Jungle"". Anna J. Haynes. annajhaynes.com.
- Maria Machado, Carmen (9 April 2015). "Rubyfruit Jungle: Polymorphous And Perverse". Uncovered Classics.