Molly Bolt is one of the most genuine, funny and delightful heroines in all of literature for me. She's spirited and sassy and I would be pleased to have her as a friend. She has then, been added to the official roster of most favorite characters of mine. If I could snap my fingers and make her appear or if I could sit next to her at a dinner party I would do so in a heart-beat. The Molly Bolt I speak of is Rita Mae Brown's creation in her, what surely must have reached iconic status by now (or at least the label modern classic), novel Rubyfruit Jungle. The book was published in 1973 and I wonder what the reading public must have made of it back then.
In Brown's introduction she tells the reader that if her book helped make us feel we are not alone--good, and if she made us laugh, even better. My story may not be exactly like Molly's, but her wish for a happy and fulfilling life doing the things she loves certainly makes me feel like my own searching is not so unlike others'. And darn if I didn't laugh out loud reading this book. Sometimes so much so, that I had to look around and see if people were giving me odd stares. It's not often that a story brings the sort of tears to my eyes that come hand in hand with a smile.
I think what I admire so much about Molly Bolt is that she is utterly true to herself and unapologetically so. That is something we should all strive for. She was true to herself in a time when it was not much accepted to march to the beat of your own drummer. In an ignominious moment of argument with her mother, she discovers she is not in fact her blood daughter but a bastard and anytime someone calls someone else a bastard it means the person was bad. Orphaned and a hoyden on top of it all. She runs with the boys and can outwit them and outargue them. This is Molly's response when a classmate tells her she can't be a doctor:
"I got to be the doctor because I'm the smart one and being a girl don't matter."
"You'll see. You think you can do what boys do but you're going to be a nurse, no two ways about it. It doesn't matter about brains, brains don't count. What counts is whether you're a boy or a girl."
And in 1950s America that was probably true, but Molly doesn't buy into it. Her dreams and her lifestyle are not at all "conventional", but she never tries to be someone she is not. That surely must even now give readers pause and comfort. As a matter of fact despite seeming so unconventional she is actually quite normal, however paradoxical that sounds. She has no hang ups about what she wants or who she wants. Her cousin Leroy, with whom she has a close relationship growing up tells her he doesn't care how she wants to be (like riding just the sort of motorcycle he most wants), but then he gets confused--"how do I know how to act if you act the same way?" And she tells him, "what Goddamn difference does it make to you what I do? You do what you want and I do what I want."
For a young girl, raised by a stepmother who wishes she would act properly and a stepfather who loves her unconditionally, in a closed-minded and dirt-poor environment, Molly turns out to be well-grounded. It's not how she sees the world but how the world treats her. She shows a strength and resilience that can be hard to come by for many of us.
"I had no mother, no father, no roots, no biological similarities called sisters and brothers. And for a future I didn't want a split-level home with a station wagon, pastel refrigerator, and a houseful of blonde children evenly spaced through the years. I didn't want to walk into the pages of McCall's magazine and become the model housewife. I didn't even want a husband or any man for that matter. I wanted to go my own way. That's all I think I ever wanted, to go my own way and maybe find some love here and there. Love, but not the now and forever kind with chains around your vagina and a short circuit in your brain. I'd rather be alone."
I wonder if not having those close family ties was less a hindrance for Molly and perhaps more a help since she had no context to worry about, no added pressure to be one of a group. She could invent or reinvent herself in a way most pleasing. This is a book that should be widely read, maybe everyone should read it. It's a reminder that what matters is what's inside--intentions and truth. And that not everyone's story is the same and that is okay. Life is never neat and tidy and people don't fit into easy categories. By the end of the story Molly has only made a small step into her future life, confronted almost immediately by obstacles due to her sex. As characters go, she certainly holds up well over time and I only hope that forty years on her wished for ending and the struggle to achieve her dreams has been overcome and reached. Something tells me that even if she hadn't by the end of the story she would always be hopeful.
"Leroy bet me I couldn't find a pot of gold at the end, and I told him that was a stupid bet because the rainbow was enough."