Taking My Life
By Jane Rule. Talonbooks, 278 pp, softcover
As did Alice Walker in her 1983 essay collection In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens, Jane Rule probes her formative years in Taking My Life, the posthumously published autobiography of the revered B.C. writer, who died in 2007 at the age of 76.
About the text, which Rule deposited in her UBC archive, the author declares: “Mortal with abused lungs and liver…I may be able to learn to value my life as something other than the hard and threateningly pointless journey it has often been. I have never been suicidal but often stalled, as I have been now for some months.…And so, I take my life…simply because there is nothing else to do.”
Bishop’s University scholar Linda M. Morra notes in an afterword that she found the narrative (written in the 1980s) while conducting research on the pioneering lesbian writer. Morra ventures that Rule, mindful of the manuscript’s probable impact on family and friends, chose not to publish it during her lifetime. Interestingly, Taking My Life does not mention Helen Sonthoff, the woman with whom the American-born Rule immigrated to Canada in 1956. The couple lived together (first in Vancouver, then on Galiano Island) until Sonthoff’s death in 2000.
The engaging book details Rule’s life in northern California as an awkwardly tall, deep-voiced emerging lesbian in an upwardly mobile family. She writes with poignancy about her complex relationship with an older brother who grew increasingly distant from her. “I wanted [Arthur] to be a different person, someone I could talk to, someone I could trust,” she reveals.
Rule also discusses her charged liaison, as an adolescent, with a married female artist who introduced her to lesbian literature and who encouraged her to masturbate. After years of repressed passion, Rule, at age 19, slept with her “mentor”. “My desire for her, so long held in check, was more intense than ever.”
Alas, by this time Rule had become sexually involved with an older British woman she’d met while studying Shakespeare in England. There, Rule writes, she’d begin her apprenticeship as the future activist-author of Desert of the Heart (1964), the first novel to depict a nurturing lesbian relationship.
Rule was appointed to the Order of Canada shortly before her death. In addition to Taking My Life, she wrote more than a dozen critically acclaimed fiction and nonfiction works.