Keeping the “Gate-Keepers” at the Gate:
Jane Rule and the Role of her Agents and Editors in the Public and Popular Streams of Canadian Publishing
Linda Morra (University of British Columbia) [BIO]
On October 16th, 1963, in a fiery letter to Hope Leresche, her British literary agent, Jane Rule wrote about her resentment of editorial interventions, especially about how her American agent Mr. Hellmer failed to protect her from them:
I have not been at all reassured by Mr. Hellmer’s attitude. He has done everything he could to avoid making a statement which would require him to arrange contracts that limited editorial rights. Apparently, though he will not discuss the problem openly, he feels he would be too limited by such restrictions because he keeps using vague phrases designed to placate me without binding him to any real agreement. I keep working at it and get a little more out of him with each letter, but I have had to resort to threats of canceling the contract, of law suits, to make him pay any attention. It’s a tiresome business.
Such a response not only derived from her deep conviction in literary integrity, to which Rule indeed subscribed, but also came out of a recent literary fiasco that involved revisions and excisions to a short story, “No More Bargains,” for which she had not given permission. The changes, which were made for its publication in the women’s popular magazine, Redbook, were of lesser concern to Rule. The excisions, however, were disconcerting not only because they affected the story’s content but also because they were designed to accommodate material interests—an advertisement for vacuum cleaners.
This paper will show how Rule, Canadian novelist, short story writer, and activist for the gay and lesbian magazine, Sexual Politics, resisted or was obliged to negotiate changes made to her stories (and later her novels) in the 1950s and onwards in order to locate publishers; it will also evaluate the degree to which she struggled against such interventions, even though, as her editors and agents believed, she needed to be more “accommodating” of the audience for whom they determined she was writing. Rule strove to justify that there was indeed another audience whom she envisioned and that no existing venue accommodated that audience’s literary interests. “I’m homesteading a territory,” she declared in a later interview: “Where I am may turn into a ghost town, or it may turn into a city.” The burgeoning of mainstream (rather than pulp) lesbian fiction by the 1970s is evidence that her imagined audience had a real and tangible equivalent and that the territory she contributed to homesteading became not just a city, but also a thriving nation.