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Heilbrun, Carolyn Gold

The Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States

Martha Stoddard Holmes

Heilbrun, Carolyn Gold 


Born in East Orange, New Jersey, Carolyn G. Heilbrun graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Wellesley College (1947). Heilbrun earned her M.A. (1951) and Ph.D. (1959) from Columbia University, where she has been a full professor of English since 1972. She and James Heilbrun (m. 1945) have three children.

After two biographical studies (The Garnett Family, 1961, and Christopher Isherwood, 1970), Heilbrun wrote her best-known critical works, all essays that develop their theses through extensive literary examples. Toward a Recognition of Androgyny (1973), which was inspired by Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own, problematizes social constructions of gender and suggests ways of escape. Reinventing Womanhood (1979) explores women's difficulty imagining themselves as autonomous beings and suggests women appropriate some models of masculine behavior. Writing a Woman's Life (1988) examines the shaping of women's lives in biography, autobiography and their own imaginations. Heilbrun's refusal of an impersonal academic style and articulation of her personal relation to her scholarly material make all three books accessible to a variety of readers.

Amanda Cross's detective novels evoke and often satirize literary-academic milieus (particularly English departments) through protagonist Kate Fansler, English professor and sometime sleuth. All ten novels are marked for their multi-layered literariness, from allusive dialogue to plots equally concerned with manuscripts and murder. Cross's attention to the manners of the socially and intellectually privileged works as an affectionate parody of classic detective novels, especially those of Dorothy L. Sayers. Cross's most famous novel is Death in a Tenured Position (1981), in which Fansler investigates the apparent murder of Harvard's only tenured woman English professor. The others are In the Last Analysis (1964), The James Joyce Murder (1967), Poetic Justice (1970), The Theban Mysteries (1971), The Question of Max (1976), Sweet Death, Kind Death (1984), No Word from Winifred (1986), A Trap for Fools (1989) and The Players Come Again (1990).

The fact of a pseudonym whose secrecy has expired invites comparisons between Heilbrun and Cross, who might seem on opposite ends of the continuum from elite to popular culture. In fact, there are significant overlaps. The two writers share a sustained interrogation of gender issues—most significantly, women's lives, friendships and self-images after the age of fifty—and a concern with the process and genre of biography. Most recently, Heilbrun's Hamlet's Mother and Other Women (1990) includes essays on gender and genre in detective fiction, and Cross's The Players Come Again is more concerned with feminine authorship and the lives of a group of remarkable women than with detection per se.


Steven R. Carter, Amanda Cross, in Ten Women of Mystery, ed. Earl Bargainnier (1981), pp. 269–296.Find this resource:

    Diana Cooper-Clark, Designs of Darkness: Interviews with Detective Novelists (1983).Find this resource:

      Laura Marcus, Coming Out in Print: Women's Autobiographical Writings Revisited, Prose Studies 10, no. 1 (May 1987): 102–107.Find this resource:

        Maureen Reddy, Sisters in Crime: Feminism and the Crime Novel (1988).Find this resource:

          The Feminist Counter-Tradition in Crime: Cross, Grafton, Paretsky, and Wilson, in The Cunning Craft: Original Essays on Detective Fiction and Contemporary Literary Theory, ed. Ronald G. Walker, June M. Frazer, and David R. Anderson (1990), pp. 174–187.Find this resource:

            Martha Stoddard Holmes

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