Stranger in Two Worlds

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Jean Struven was born in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, to an upper-middle-class family. Her early years were uneventful, in 1941, she went to Smith College, and after graduation married James Harris. They moved to affluent Grosse Pointe, Michigan, where Jean followed in the traditional path of housewife and mother. Her marriage lasted nineteen years and ended in divorce at her request. In order to support her two sons, she moved the family to Philadelphia and took a job as a headmistress at a private girl’s school, and thus began a career in school administration.

Shortly after her divorce in 1966, Harris met Dr. Herman (Hy) Tarnower at a party given by mutual friends. There was immediate attraction, followed by a period of courtship, and two months later they became engaged. Hy, however, was unwilling to follow through with the marriage plans; although Harris was disappointed, she continued the relationship on his terms. During a trip to Europe, she became aware of letters addressed to Hy and began to suspect that he was involved with another woman--a suspicion that was soon confirmed.

Deep depression and a sense of futility drove Harris to despair and thoughts of suicide. It was while in this frame of mind that she went to Hy’s house with the intent of killing herself after their meeting; through a series of unfortunate events, Tarnower was killed instead.

This lengthy book provides an interesting look into the character of Jean Harris and raises some pertinent questions as to the handling of the trial by the prosecution. Also note-worthy is Harris’ concern for prison reform and the children of women inmates.