Carolyn G. Heilbrun, Feminist in a Tenured Position

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University of Virginia Press, 1997 - Literary Criticism - 262 pages
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Carolyn G. Heilbrun has achieved recognition as a preeminent feminist critic of the culture and (as Amanda Cross) a writer of witty detective novels. Drawing on extensive interviews with Carolyn Heilbrun, her colleagues and friends, Susan Kress illuminates her subject's various public identities: as graduate student and Columbia professor (until her headline-making retirement), as critic whose work moves from the study of an English literary family to the bestselling Writing a Woman's Life, as author of the popular Amanda Cross mysteries, as president of the Modern Language Association, as polemicist, as biographer herself, and as one of the most interesting and influential of late twentieth-century feminists. We see Heilbrun in the New York intellectual world, most particularly struggling with Lionel Trilling's views and influence, and in counterpoint with Betty Friedan and Adrienne Rich as contemporaries in the women's movement. Heilbrun's experience evokes that of a generation of professional women, often isolated and marginalized within inhospitable institutions. The particulars of her history reveal a woman conflicted about her Jewish heritage and her class and rebelling against conventional definitions of womanhood. With moderation at first, but then with greater daring in middle age, Heilbrun pursues her grand subject: a model of selfhood that expands opportunities for female action and aspiration. Her detective fiction, with its possibilities of inventing other selves, offers strategies to cope with anger and survive conflict. Kress weighs the risks of the life Heilbrun has staked out for herself and evaluates her contributions to the ongoing feminist conversation. This important story of one feminist's public career also brings into focus the major debates and transformations of the contemporary women's movement.

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User Review  - rmaitzen - LibraryThing

What an interesting and thought-provoking book, as much a history of and commentary on the history of feminism (especially academic feminism) as a biography, and developing a nuanced analysis of Heilbrun's life in the context of the issues raised in her criticism and fiction. Read full review


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About the author (1997)

Susan Kress is Professor of English at Skidmore College and the author of numerous essays on pedagogy and women writers.

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