Authors: Carolyn Gold Heilbrun

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American critic and novelist

Identity: Jewish

Author Works


The Garnett Family, 1961

Christopher Isherwood, 1970

Toward a Recognition of Androgyny: Aspects of Male and Female in Literature, 1973 (in Great Britain as Towards Androgyny)

Reinventing Womanhood, 1979

Writing A Woman’s Life, 1988

Hamlet’s Mother and Other Women, 1990

The Education of a Woman: A Life of Gloria Steinem, 1995

The Last Gift of Time: Life Beyond Sixty, 1997

Women’s Lives: The View from the Threshold, 1999

When Men Were the Only Models We Had: My Teachers Barzun, Fadiman, Trilling, 2002


In the Last Analysis, 1964

The James Joyce Murder, 1967

Poetic Justice, 1970

The Theban Mysteries, 1971

The Question of Max, 1976

Death in a Tenured Position, 1981

Sweet Death, Kind Death, 1984

No Word from Winifred, 1986

A Trap for Fools, 1989

The Players Come Again, 1990

An Imperfect Spy, 1995

The Puzzled Heart, 1998

Honest Doubt, 2000

The Edge of Doom, 2002

Short Fiction:

The Collected Stories, 1997

Edited Texts:

Lady Ottoline’s Album, 1976

The Representation of Women in Fiction, 1983 (with Margaret R. Higonnet); Gender and Culture series (with Nancy Miller)


Carolyn Gold Heilbrun proclaims in Reinventing Womanhood, “I had been born a feminist and never wavered from that position.” In a struggle to trace the origin of these feminist leanings, Heilbrun–born both Jewish and female–looks to her childhood and her experience as an outsider. The only child of Archibald and Estelle (Roemer) Gold, Heilbrun grew up in Manhattan and received a private school education. Although she describes her own mother’s life as full of “emptiness and futility,” Heilbrun gained from her mother’s loss. Estelle repeatedly urged her daughter not to make the mistakes she had made and to have her own life and earn her own money, thus anticipating the profound influence that the sentiments of Virginia Woolf would later have on Heilbrun.{$I[AN]9810001858}{$I[A]Heilbrun, Carolyn Gold}{$S[A]Gold Heilbrun, Carolyn;Heilbrun, Carolyn Gold}{$S[A]Cross, Amanda;Heilbrun, Carolyn Gold}{$I[geo]WOMEN;Heilbrun, Carolyn Gold}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Heilbrun, Carolyn Gold}{$I[geo]JEWISH;Heilbrun, Carolyn Gold}{$I[tim]1926;Heilbrun, Carolyn Gold}

When at nineteen Carolyn married James Heilbrun, she kept her marriage a secret to discourage other women from following her lead. Two years later, in 1947, she graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Wellesley College. From there she went to Columbia University, where she earned a Master’s of Arts degree in 1951 and a Ph.D. in English in 1959. While earning her doctoral degree Heilbrun raised three children, Emily, Margaret, and Robert.

In 1959 Heilbrun began her long teaching career in English, specializing in modern British literature, the English novel, biography, and women’s studies, as an instructor at Brooklyn College. From there, she went to Columbia University, moving from instructor in 1960 to full professor in 1972. Over the years she was a visiting professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, Princeton, and Yale Law School, among others. She has been the recipient of countless awards and grants, including a 1966 Guggenheim Fellowship, a 1976 Rockefeller Fellowship, and a 1983 NEH Fellowship. In 1984 Heilbrun served as president of the Modern Language Association and was a member of the executive board of Mystery Writers of America from 1982-1984. She also served on the editorial boards of Signs, Twentieth Century Literature, and Columbia University Press. She has received eleven honorary degrees from colleges and universities including the University of Pennsylvania, Smith, and Brown.

While pursuing her academic career, Heilbrun, under the pen name Amanda Cross, also wrote a collection of detective novels that won for her the Nero Wolfe award. In these books, which feature the brash, beautiful, wealthy, and learned heroine Kate Fansler, an English professor and adjunct sleuth, Heilbrun has created a feminist and highly literary version of the traditional detective novel that has made her a pioneer in the genre. Many of her novels use the murder mystery format as a way of commenting upon the position of women in academia.

Perhaps her most important and influential scholarly contribution is the 1973 work Toward a Recognition of Androgyny. Based on a study of the way heroism is characterized from mythology into nineteenth and twentieth century novels, Heilbrun calls for the reevaluation of gender boundaries in favor of a more fluid and androgynous definition of heroism. She distinguishes between the so-called feminist and the androgynous novel, applauding the latter in its liberating gestures.

Heilbrun’s longtime interest in women’s biography finds voice in her 1988 hybrid Writing A Woman’s Life, in which she includes her own life in a theoretical analysis of women’s biographies and autobiographies. Heilbrun envisions a woman’s life that is no longer defined by a male pen or judged by male standards; instead, she affirms the value of searching for and highlighting the real power at the core of women’s lives. After the feminist Gloria Steinem read this text, she asked Heilbrun to write her biography, a project that was realized in the 1995 The Education of a Woman: A Life of Gloria Steinem. In a change of pace, Heilbrun reflected on three important male mentors in her life–Jacques Barzun, Clifton Fadiman, and Lionel Trilling–in When Men Were the Only Models We Had; while her assessment of their scholarly legacy is generous, her depiction of their ingrained, almost unconscious sexism serves to illustrate why feminism was such an important force in 1960’s and 1970’s academia, and continues to be so today.

Heilbrun has struggled to write in what she terms “plain English that dogs and cats can read,” and she shuns academic jargon in favor of down-to-earth prose. By protesting against tokenism and encouraging women to help one another, Heilbrun became a feminist model. In 1992, acting on her own urgings to women “ to make noise, to be courageous, to become unpopular,” she did just that by leaving Columbia University after thirty years of teaching, in protest of a system that had denied tenure to a woman colleague with feminist views. As Heilbrun has matured, she has become increasingly interested in the aging process and its social and cultural effects on women. She proclaimed that middle age, with its freedom from superficial encumbrances, is “the best part of a female life, something worth looking forward to.”

BibliographyBoken, Julia G. Carolyn G. Heilbrun. New York: Twayne, 1996. Focuses on Heilbrun’s mysteries written as Amanda Cross, with secondary attention paid to her academic work written under her own name.Coale, Samuel Chase. The Mystery of Mysteries: Cultural Differences and Designs. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green University Popular Press, 2000. A study of the mysteries of Amanda Cross, Tony Hillerman, James Lee Burke, and Walter Mosely, showing how these writers use the mystery genre to introduce the concerns of minorities into fiction.“Cross, Amanda.” In Mystery and Suspense Writers: The Literature of Crime, Detection, and Espionage, edited by Robin W. Winks and Maureen Corrigan. New York: Scribner’s Sons, 1998.Klein, Kathleen Gregory, ed. Great Women Mystery Writers: Classic to Contemporary. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994. Contains an essay examining the life and works of Cross.Kress, Susan. Carolyn G. Heilbrun: Feminist in a Tenured Position. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1997. One of the few studies that looks comprehensively at Heilbrun’s oeuvre, as both feminist literary scholar and mystery writer.Lindsay, Elizabeth Blakesley, ed. “Amanda Cross.” In Great Women Mystery Writers. 2d ed. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2007. Contains biographical information and analysis of the author’s works.Malmgren, Carl D. Anatomy of Murder: Mystery, Detective, and Crime Fiction. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 2001. Malmgren discusses Cross’s A Trap for Fools alongside many other entries in the mystery and detective genre. Bibliographic references and index.Reynolds, Moira Davison. Women Authors of Detective Series: Twenty-One American and British Authors, 1900-2000. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2001. Examines the life and work of major female mystery writers, including Cross.Weigman, Robyn. “What Ails Feminist Criticism? A Second Opinion.” Critical Inquiry 25, no. 2 (1999): 362-379. Uses the Amanda Cross story “Murder Without a Text” (1991) as a case study in the tensions between two generations of feminists.
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