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Rule, who has taught English at the University of British Columbia and published several novels (Desert of the Heart, 1965; Against the Season, 1971), projects a sense of personal engagement which enhances rather than muddles her thoughtful, unpretentious literary judgments. Her subject is relationships between women in modern literature, ranging from the frankly sexual to the less explicitly defined, from Radclyffe Hall to Sill Johnston. Her judgments are ad hoc, not founded on a strong theoretical basis, and her virtues are empirical, concrete virtues: fair-mindedness, sense of proportion, a feeling for the actual texture of a book. Without succumbing to paranoia, she is quick to spot male-centered assumptions. Thus she refutes critics who talk about Wills Cather's ""masculine sensibility,"" points out the male-supremacist assumptions of The Well of Loneliness, and comments with asperity on Colette's romanticization of erotic relationships between women (fragile, rarefied, exquisitely perverse), which she finds as irresponsible as any heterosexual mystique. Her main achievement is making you want to read every book she discusses; her chief flaw is a fondness for paraphrase and plot rehash which swamps the analytical aspects of her treatment. The intelligence and adroitness of the writing mask a certain lack of substance. The sections on Elizabeth Bowen and Ivy Compton-Burnett especially demonstrate the odd contradiction between the lively surface and sketchily developed content. It's a certain tribute to Rule's skill that one is never tempted to think the subject itself thin or artificial, but her own critical virtues are rather erratically served.

Pub Date: July 11th, 1975
Publisher: Doubleday