Carolyn Heilbrun Criticism - Essay

Sara Hudson (review date spring 1984)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Hudson, Sara. Review of The Representation of Women in Fiction, edited by Carolyn Heilbrun and Margaret T. Higonnet. Southern Humanities Review 18, no. 2 (spring 1984): 185-88.

[In the following excerpt, Hudson considers the utility and readability of the critical essays collected in The Representation of Women in Fiction.]

The Representation of Women in Fiction is a collection of feminist criticism. In the first of a two-part Introduction, Carolyn Heilbrun celebrates the devotion of the 1981 meeting of the English Institute to a program on women in fiction which, she notes, marks a break in the traditional (marginal) role allotted to women on the...

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Charles Champlin (review date 20 May 1984)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Champlin, Charles. “Two Women with the Kiss of Death.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (20 May 1984): 6.

[In the following excerpt, Champlin argues that the strength of Sweet Death, Kind Death is Heilbrun's portrayal of academic life.]

There are those who swear by another of the murderous angels, the academic who signs herself Amanda Cross. She is in the English tradition in a sense, recalling the work of other academics (like Michael Innes, who is in reality Prof. J. I. Stewart). The speech of characters is rich with epigram and literary allusions and reads as if it were being written rather than said.

Cross has the added appeal of writing as a vigorous feminist whose academic heroine, Kate Fansler, treats her husband as a minor adjunct of some limited usefulness in certain legal situations but who can trade citations (one of Martin Buber for two of Stevie Smith) in a way that makes life a perpetual High Table.

In her latest, Sweet Death, Kind Death (from a Stevie Smith poem), Cross sends Kate off to a small college where another academic woman has seemingly weighted herself with rocks and walked into the campus lake to drown. Unlikely.

It is a good enough puzzle, although as always in Cross' books, the strength is in the incidental music about academic life—the bitchery, the treacheries large and small born of ruthless politicking, and the ceaseless, unending, interminable high-arch talk.

My trouble—I'm not an enthusiast—is that Cross' expository prose and her dialogue merge indistinguishably into a continuum of small, set-off phrases like a dotted line across a map.

I quote, truly, at random, expecting, not improbably, that even more heavily perforated examples could be found, and admitting, not less improbably, that one could even unearth a lonely, defiantly uninterrupted sentence, if only, as Al Smith once remarked in conversation, we should live so long:

“AT&T has,” Kate pointed out, “provided us with means of speaking across distance. Do you, in the throes of your Humpty Dumpty complex, again suspect eavesdroppers?”

Yes, but only at the lower late-night rate.

As Rendell understands, pace is all, and a feeling of blood in the veins and fear in the heart.

Not all mysteries are created equal.

Maureen T. Reddy (review date December 1986)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Reddy, Maureen T. “She Done It.” Women's Review of Books 4, no. 3 (December 1986): 8.

[In the following excerpt, Reddy delineates the role of contemporary feminism in Heilbrun's series of mystery novels, written under the pseudonym Amanda Cross.]

There seem to have been few feminist mysteries between 1935 and 1964, the year that Amanda Cross's first book, In the Last Analysis, appeared. Perhaps they passed rapidly out of print? Were written but not published? Since 1964, Cross has produced a total of eight mysteries, all featuring amateur detective Kate Fansler. Like her creator, who is actually Carolyn Heilbrun, the widely respected feminist...

(The entire section is 686 words.)

Abigail McCarthy (review date 2 December 1988)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: McCarthy, Abigail. “Women Who Step Forward: Fasting & the Politics of Carmel.” Commonweal 18, no. 21 (2 December 1988): 647-48.

[In the following review, McCarthy applies Heilbrun's ideas in Writing a Woman's Life to several case studies, including political activist Carol Fennelly's fasting campaign and the dispute at the Morristown Carmel convent.]

I recently reviewed Carolyn Heilbrun's Writing a Woman's Life (W. W. Norton) for another publication. It is a thought-provoking little book about the depiction of women in biography and autobiography. As is often the case with books with interesting theses, or with ideas which interact with my...

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Marian Sandmaier (review date January 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Sandmaier, Marian. “Outlaw Stories Empower & Inspire.” New Directions for Women 18, no. 1 (January 1989): 20.

[In the following review of Writing a Woman's Life, Sandmaier commends Heilbrun's contention that women need to chronicle the true stories of their lives as well as the female experience as a whole.]

In 1968, novelist and memoirist May Sarton published Plant Dreaming Deep, an exquisitely beautiful meditation on the experience of buying her own home and living alone. The reviews were approving; her readers rapturous. And then Sarton did something extraordinary: She rewrote the story of those bravely told years of aloneness and...

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Emily Toth (review date February 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Toth, Emily. “Questioning the Quest.” Women's Review of Books 6, no. 5 (February 1989): 11.

[In the following excerpt, Toth praises the eloquence, honesty, and wit of the essays in Writing a Woman's Life.]

And certain motives are still not seen as appropriate for women, Carolyn Heilbrun points out brilliantly in Writing a Woman's Life. The romance and marriage plot is still the accepted narrative for a woman's story; the quest narrative of ambition—like Lorin Jones' singleminded concentration on her art—is much harder to shape when the life at the center is a woman's. Polly's first impulse, once she learns that Lorin Jones didn't care about...

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Linda Simon (review date 10 February 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Simon, Linda. “Biography beyond Gender.” Christian Science Monitor 81, no. 53 (10 February 1989): 13.

[In the following review, Simon derides the lack of sympathy for men as well as the narrow focus of Heilbrun's thesis in Writing a Woman's Life.]

In her latest book, Writing a Woman's Life, feminist scholar Carolyn Heilbrun asserts that in telling the story of a woman's life, whether in autobiography or biography, that story must be shaped to fit a male narrative—a linear progression of experiences ending in worldly success. There are only a few narratives available to women—the marriage narrative, for example—and except for these, women are...

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Linda Simon (review date winter 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Simon, Linda. “The Shape of Women's Lives.” Michigan Quarterly Review 29, no. 1 (winter 1990): 133-39.

[In the following review of Writing a Woman's Life, Simon examines Heilbrun's assertions about the problems and constraints of the genres of female biography and autobiography.]

Biography and autobiography present quite enough problems for critics and scholars even when we do not consider the gender of the subject. What, after all, happens in the process of distilling a life into the pages of a book? How do we perceive the theme and plot of an individual's life? What questions do biographers ask of sources to help them understand a life as it was...

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Lawrence E. Mintz (review date summer 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Mintz, Lawrence E. “Review Essays.” Journal of Popular Culture 26, no. 1 (summer 1992): 165-71.

[In the following review of Writing a Woman's Life, Mintz compliments Heilbrun as an astute and provocative feminist scholar.]

In the 1960s and 1970s feminist scholars voiced a concerted objection to the patriarchal bias in western intellectual thought. Because scholarship has been dominated by male voices, telling all stories from a male point of view, they argued, women's experience has been ignored, devalued, or wrongly interpreted. Feminist scholars insisted that we listen to women as they tell their own stories, so that we would have a balanced view...

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Stacey Vallas (review date September 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Vallas, Stacey. Review of Hamlet's Mother and Other Women, by Carolyn Heilbrun. English Language Notes 30, no. 1 (September 1992): 72-3.

[In the following review, Vallas asserts that Hamlet's Mother and Other Women demonstrates Heilbrun's significant role in the progress of literary and gender studies.]

Carolyn Heilbrun begins her Writing a Woman's Life (1988): “There are four ways to write a woman's life: the woman herself may tell it, in what she chooses to call an autobiography; she may tell it in what she chooses to call fiction; a biographer, woman or man, may write the woman's life in what is called a biography; or the woman may...

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Lillian S. Robinson (review date July 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Robinson, Lillian S. “Postmurderism.” Women's Review of Books 12, nos. 10-11 (July 1995): 32.

[In the following review, Robinson notes the dislocation of structure and content in An Imperfect Spy.]

The distinguished feminist critic Carolyn Heilbrun has been publishing mystery novels under the pseudonym Amanda Cross since 1964. So it was by design that, in 1991, the names of both Heilbrun and Cross appeared on the program of a Texas conference called “Feminist Practice: Representation of Women in Law and Literature.” (I was on the same panel as Cross.)

Ten years earlier, in Cross's Death in a Tenured Position, Professor Kate...

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Gayle Feldman (essay date 11 September 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Feldman, Gayle. “Heilbrun on Steinem, Steinem on Heilbrun.” Publishers Weekly 242, no. 37 (11 September 1995): 25-6, 30.

[In the following essay, Feldman explores the collaboration between Heilbrun and Gloria Steinem, which resulted in The Education of a Woman: The Life of Gloria Steinem.]

She's the woman who told the world, “This is what 40 looks like,” and made many yearn to look just like that.

She's been treated as an icon—and as a pinup. For years, her life has been picked over for public delectation.

There was the childhood spent alternately on the road or in a bathing suit at the lakeside resort her family...

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Marion Winik (review date 8 October 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Winik, Marion. “Heilbrun for the Defense.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (8 October 1995): 2, 7.

[In the following review, Winik contends that The Education of a Woman “reads like a biography written by the subject's feminist-academic-maiden-aunt—too careful, too dry and too doting.”]

When I heard that Carolyn Heilbrun had written a biography of Gloria Steinem [The Education of a Woman], I was excited. Heilbrun's book Writing a Woman's Life has been required reading in women's studies classes since its publication in 1988 as a pioneering framework for understanding the lives of “women who write their own scripts.” As Steinem...

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Vivian Gornick (review date 6 November 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Gornick, Vivian. “What Feminism Looks Like.” Nation 261, no. 15 (6 November 1995): 544-46.

[In the following review, Gornick maintains that one of the major thematic concerns of The Education of a Woman is the impact of Steinem's beauty and femininity on her life and career.]

The first woman astronaut went up into space and, standing on the ground, her mother cried, “God bless Gloria Steinem!”

The women's movement, in a moment of disarray, needed an enemy within, and it cried, “Gloria Steinem!”

Asked in a small city why she had never married, Steinem said for the television cameras, “I wanted women to see...

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Wini Breines (review date December 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Breines, Wini. “Career Feminist.” Women's Review of Books 13, no. 3 (December 1995): 8-9.

[In the following review, Breines criticizes The Education of a Woman, arguing that the biography is “strangely transparent, an unmessy narrative of Steinem's admirable life with little attention to depth, complications, or contradictions.”]

Carolyn Heilbrun writes Gloria Steinem's life [in The Education of a Woman], as an uncomplicated story. Steinem was born into a white lower-middle-class family in 1934 in Toledo, Ohio. She spent many years parenting her seriously troubled mother, eventually went to Smith College, traveled in India and returned to...

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Florence King (review date 29 January 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: King, Florence. “The Mud Turtle's Progress.” National Review 48, no. 1 (29 January 1996): 62-4.

[In the following review, King offers a negative assessment of The Education of a Woman, asserting that Heilbrun's inability to objectively portray her subject is “maddening.”]

The parable of the mud turtle comes at the end of this hagiographic book, but it so perfectly illustrates the feminist blind spot of both biographer and subject that I shall start with it.

Here is how Gloria Steinem claims she learned to respect the right to self-determination:

During a science field trip in college, she found a turtle beside...

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Cathy Young (review date 31 May 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Young, Cathy. “Pretty-Power.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4861 (31 May 1996): 11.

[In the following review of The Education of a Woman, Young argues that Heilbrun's biased view of her subject compromises the biography as a serious study of Steinem's life and work.]

If there is one person whose name has been a symbol of American feminism in the past twenty years, it is Gloria Steinem. As journalist, activist and bestselling writer, Steinem has been a charismatic and controversial figure. Many, from the movement veteran Betty Friedan in the 1970s to dissidents like Christina Hoff Sommers today, have criticized her for promoting a gender-war ideology...

(The entire section is 1167 words.)

Annette Zilversmit (review date January 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Zilversmit, Annette. “Free at Last.” Women's Review of Books 15, no. 4 (January 1998): 10-11.

[In the following review, Zilversmit praises the essays in The Last Gift of Time as courageous and inspiring looks at the process of aging.]

“Not to change one's life is not to keep living,” wrote Virginia Woolf. To open with a quote from Woolf is appropriate for a review of Carolyn Heilbrun's moving memoir-reflection [The Last Gift of Time]. It is obviously appropriate for those who know this feminist's writing on Virginia Woolf, who shattered the “appropriate” for women with her life and art. It is appropriate because Heilbrun's direct but...

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Perspectives in Psychiatric Care (review date April-June 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Review of The Last Gift of Time, by Carolyn Heilbrun. Perspectives in Psychiatric Care 35, no. 2 (April-June 1999): 2, 36.

[In the following review, the critic offers a positive assessment of The Last Gift of Time, praising the collection as entertaining and insightful.]

May Sarton's readers will remember Carolyn Heilbrun as Sarton's friend and critic. I also remember a scathing article Heilbrun once wrote in the New York Times Magazine about sexism in the English department at Columbia University. Heilbrun is a well-known feminist writer and biographer of Gloria Steinem.

As the title suggests [The Last Gift of...

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Sarah Emsley (review date autumn 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Emsley, Sarah. Review of Women's Lives: The View from the Threshold, by Carolyn Heilbrun. Dalhousie Review 79, no. 3 (autumn 1999): 425-27.

[In the following review, Emsley compliments Heilbrun's portrayal of the challenges that women face in the modern world in Women's Lives, but concludes that the work's conclusion is incomplete and unsatisfying.]

Carolyn G. Heilbrun's Women's Lives is composed of the four Alexander lectures she delivered at the University of Toronto in 1997. The University of Toronto Press summary and introduction to Heilbrun's lectures (i-ii) lists her as part of “a line of distinguished scholarly work with such...

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Carolyn Dever (essay date summer 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Dever, Carolyn. “The Feminist Abject: Death and the Constitution of Theory.” Studies in the Novel 32, no. 2 (summer 2000): 185-206.

[In the following essay, Dever comments on the state of feminism through an exploration of the relationship between academic and personal life in Marilyn French's The Women's Room and Heilbrun's Death in a Tenured Position.]

The corpse (or cadaver: cadere, to fall), that which has irremediably come a cropper, is cesspool, and death; it upsets even more violently the one who confronts it as fragile and fallacious chance.

—Julia Kristeva, The Powers of...

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Publishers Weekly (review date 6 November 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Review of Honest Doubt, by Amanda Cross. Publishers Weekly 247, no. 45 (6 November 2000): 74.

[In the following review, the critic asserts that the plot in Honest Doubt draws from many autobiographical elements of Heilbrun's own life.]

In her 13th Kate Fansler novel (after The Puzzled Heart), Cross lets her mask of pseudonymity slip [in Honest Doubt], building her plot and characters out of the myriad impressions of vicious, small-minded academic infighting she has amassed as the real-life Carolyn C. Heilbrun, Columbia University humanities prof and past president of the Modern Language Association. Introducing a new investigator,...

(The entire section is 295 words.)

Daphne Merkin (review date November-December 2001)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Merkin, Daphne. “A Fantasy of Empowerment.” New Leader 84, no. 6 (November-December 2001): 43-5.

[In the following review of When Men Were the Only Models We Had, Merkin praises the work's scholarship, commenting that Heilbrun “affords us an inside look at the conflicted and not always straightforward route she took in carving out a piece of intellectual turf to call her own.”]

Since the beginning of post-Gutenbergian time, when the first young woman with a writerly gleam in her eye looked up from her loom and gazed pensively into space instead of attending to her weaving, it has been hard for both men and women to reconcile intellectual...

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Jeffrey Hart (review date January 2002)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Hart, Jeffrey. “A Lost Lady.” New Criterion 20, no. 5 (January 2002): 65-8.

[In the following review of When Men Were the Only Models We Had, Hart provides a scathing indictment of Heilbrun's book, asserting that “we witness the melancholy sight of a mind in ideologically induced disintegration.”]

This is an extraordinary book [When Men Were the Only Models We Had], I am relieved to say. If Mr. Kurtz had kicked free of the earth, as Conrad wrote, the Columbia English professor Carolyn Heilbrun has kicked free at least from common sense and immensely shared human experience. The “woman's movement,” she tells us, struck her as an...

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