Heilbrun, Carolyn G(old) 1926-2003 (Amanda Cross)

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HEILBRUN, Carolyn G(old) 1926-2003 (Amanda Cross)


See index for CA sketch: Born January 13, 1926, in East Orange, NJ; died of an apparent suicide October 9, 2003, in Manhattan, NY. Educator and author. Heilbrun was a leading feminist critic and author of a series of mystery novels featuring Kate Fansler. Completing her undergraduate work at Wellesley College in 1947, she attended graduate school at Columbia University, where she earned an M.A. in 1951 and a Ph.D. in 1959. She then taught at Brooklyn College for a year before joining Columbia's faculty as an instructor in 1960. Heilbrun would spend the rest of her career there, becoming Avalon Foundation professor of humanities in 1986 and retiring as professor emeritus in 1993. Her career at Columbia was not without its difficulties, however, as she felt that the male-dominated faculty resented her feminist interpretations of literature and resisted her rise through the ranks. In fact, the reason she finally retired from Columbia was to protest the denial of a female colleague's application for tenure. Her colleague shared Heilbrun's teaching philosophy and interest in feminism, a field that Heilbrun helped spearhead with such feminist critical studies as Toward a Recognition of Androgyny: Aspects of Male and Female in Literature (1973), Reinventing Womanhood (1979), Writing a Woman's Life (1988), and Hamlet's Mother andOther Women (1990). Heilbrun's interest in women writers—she helped make Virginia Woolf work part of Columbia's curriculum, for example—also extended to women writers of mystery novels, such as Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers. After reading everything that they had written, she decided to write her own mysteries. These novels feature Kate Fansler, a feminist scholar at a major university who bore an obvious resemblance to her creator. Fansler appeared in thirteen novels, including In the Last Analysis (1964), The Question of Max (1976), Death in a Tenured Position (1981), and Honest Doubt (2000). Other important works by Heilbrun include The Education of a Woman: The Life of Gloria Steinem (1995), The Last Gift of Time (1997), and When Men Were the Only Models We Had, My Teachers: Barzun, Fadiman, Trilling (2002). In addition to her work as a teacher and author, Heilbrun was a member of the Modern Language Association of America, where she was elected president in 1984. Her death, while a surprise to her family and friends, may be seen as the fulfillment of a promise she had made years before to take her own life when she felt she had completed her life's journey.



Directory of American Scholars, tenth edition, Volume 2: English, Speech, & Drama, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2002.


Chicago Tribune, October 12, 2003, Section 4, p. 9.

Los Angeles Times, October 15, 2003, p. B10.

New York Times, October 11, 2003, p. B15.

Times (London, England), October 13, 2003, p. 28.

Washington Post, October 14, 2003, p. B6.

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Heilbrun, Carolyn G(old) 1926-2003 (Amanda Cross)

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