Rita Mae Brown was born in Hanover, Pennsylvania in 1944 and grew up in Florida. She was expelled from Uni of Florida and thrown out of the National Organisation for Women. She later moved to NY and attended University, earning degrees in English and Cinematography, a PhD in Literature, and doctorate in political science. In the late 1960s she became active in the American Civil rights Movement, the anti-war movement, gay liberation and feminist movements. She has also had multiple screenplays some of which were Emmy nominated. She has had a number of relationships with notable people including Martina Navratilova and Fanny Flagg.
Her early writing career started with poetryuntil in 1973 she wrote her first novel Rubyfruit Jungle which was a groundbreaking lesbian novel and media phenomenom. Since then she has been a prolific author. Since 1990 Brown has “coauthored” with her cat, Sneaky Pie Brown, a mystery series featuring the feline character Mrs. Murphy. She has a passion for American fox hunting. She has rescued hundreds of cats, dogs, foxes and hounds, and found homes for them and this is reflected in the series she commenced in 2000.
“Outfoxed” is the first in this series centred on a fox hunting club in Virginia, and introduces us to ‘Sister’ Jane Arnold, Master of the prestigious Jefferson Hunt Club. Nearing 70, Sister feels responsible for selecting an appropriate joint-master to smoothly succeed her in the future. In a world where deep seated tradition and a rigid code of social conduct carry more power than money, it is a much sought after position- an honour high enough to kill for.
The two main candidates for the position are Crawford Howard and Fontaine Buruss: the first an outsider Yankee millionaire who shamelessly flaunts his money to save the club from financial ruin, and the other a local lightweight who is well versed in the tradition of the hunt but who also has a penchant for cocaine and young women.
It takes almost 200 pages before a crime is committed, but by this time Brown’s engaging style has already drawn the reader in. Fontaine’s murder, in conjunction with the murder of one of the annoyingly superior red foxes, lead to a dual hunt for a killer with members of both the human and animal world trying to solve the case.
Brown is masterful in her portrayal of the sometimes stuffy traditions and protocol of the hunt and the people who partake in it; from the diverse terrain through which they ride, the conflicting loyalties of the local community, and the thrill of chasing the wily foxes. But it is in giving the animal kingdom a voice that this novel truly comes to life. The cast consists of horses, hounds, birds and foxes whose witty dialogue and amusing antics indicate just where they think humans belong in the scheme of things.
Hailed as an early lesbian literary classic, Rubyfruit Jungle is the milestone first novel by Rita Mae Brown.
It tells the story of bastard born Molly Bolt, a rough and tough tomboy who is brought up by a poor family in rural Pennsylvania. Much to her adopted mother Carrie’s frustration and despair, Molly refuses to conform to traditional gender roles leading to anger and conflict in their relationship. After the family moves to Ft. Lauderdale in search of work, her father and only support, Carl, dies suddenly leaving Molly to fend for herself against her mother’s hatred. Molly is forced to use her smarts to survive, excelling at school and further alienating Carrie from her. Aware of her sexuality from an early age, an unrepentant Molly loses her virginity to her first girlfriend in sixth grade, but doesn’t limit her sexual experiences strictly to female partners. Winning a scholarship to University, she soon forms relationships with a number of different women including the head cheerleader and an alcoholic roommate.
Booted out for being morally corrupt and non-conformist, a broke Molly hitchhikes to New York to pursue her education. Her beauty and unique fighting spirit see her surviving in this concrete jungle, overcoming poverty, intolerance and bigotry in 1970’s America.
This book is remarkable for several reasons: firstly for its explicit lesbianism in an era when homosexuality and feminism were fiercely repressed, and secondly for its unapologetic (and sometimes painful) honesty about relationships, races, and the role of women in a society where many had no voice. It is important to highlight it is by no means just a “lesbian” book. It is a poignant, funny, and heart-warming novel which I highly recommend.