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

Overview

"Once upon a time there were three men who exemplified, without knowing it, my ideal in life. All of them became famous as writers, influential thinkers, and public figures. Their names are Clifton Fadiman, Lionel Trilling, and Jacques Barzun. They met in college, they remained aware of one another as friends or, if less than friends, companions and fellow crusaders on behalf of similar ideals. Although one of them never knew of my existence, the second ignored it, and the third treated me with formal kindness, without them I would have had no

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Overview

"Once upon a time there were three men who exemplified, without knowing it, my ideal in life. All of them became famous as writers, influential thinkers, and public figures. Their names are Clifton Fadiman, Lionel Trilling, and Jacques Barzun. They met in college, they remained aware of one another as friends or, if less than friends, companions and fellow crusaders on behalf of similar ideals. Although one of them never knew of my existence, the second ignored it, and the third treated me with formal kindness, without them I would have had no concrete model in my youth of what I wanted to become. Theirs was the universe in which I wished to have my being."

With these words, Carolyn Heilbrun begins a personal, pointed, and surprisingly moving account of how a woman, destined to become one of the leading feminist critics of her day as well as one of our most popular mystery novelists, found the models for the life she aspired to in men who neither imagined nor countenanced women as their equals or colleagues. Remembering these three figures as they were when she hung upon their printed words and professorial presences, reappraising them now half a century later, Heilbrun vividly evokes what these remarkable individuals had to offer to an admiring young woman who could not acknowledge—and later would not accept—the impossibility of following in their paths.

In the admired anthologies, magazine articles, and introductions through which Fadiman transmitted the world of high culture to an educated general public, he indicated no devotion to questions of female destiny; yet long before Heilbrun could imagine the life in the academy that was denied to Fadiman but would eventually be hers, his was the career to which she privately aspired. Later, in her days as a graduate student at Columbia, it was Trilling who would have the most powerful intellectual effect upon her, formulating as he did the tensions inherent in the desire to salvage what was of worth from a sad, almost moribund culture, even if he frankly admitted to no interest in teaching women or in considering their destinies beyond the domestic sphere. Only the courtly Barzun, also a mentor at Columbia, seemed capable of respecting female accomplishment and eschewing stereotyped views of women. Yet together, all three men unconsciously made Heilbrun's life as a feminist possible, by representing both what she wished to join and what she needed to struggle against.

When Men Were the Only Models We Had is a loving, admiring, but stringent account of youthful enthusiasms, of the romance of ideas, of the intellectual brilliance of three unwitting mentors, and of the hopelessness of female ambition in the years before the feminist movement of the last three decades of the last century. And it is, in the end, a book that offers splendid proof that the models we once had are no longer the only ones before us.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"A tough and lovely memoir, one that stokes deep admiration and gratitude for those who went before."—Kirkus

"A study of the influences of Clifton Fadiman, Lionel Trilling, and Jacques Barzun on Heilbrun's own literary development, but the book is far broader than that—really, a history of Columbia University in the turmoil of the sixties and beyond. And this isn't for women only!"—Maxine Kumin, Ploughshares

"Noted feminist literary critic Heilbrun (who also writes mysteries as Amanda Cross) contemplates how three men shaped her idea of herself as an intellectual. To a younger generation, all three of Heilbrun's mentors Jacques Barzun, Clifton Fadiman, and Lionel Trilling might need identification, though they once loomed over the American literary and academic scene. Their example showed the young Heilbrun how a public life of the mind might be lived. That none of them believed that women were capable of living this life might seem to disqualify them as useful models for an ambitious young female graduate student, but Heilbrun maintains that their basic misogyny saved her from too slavish imitation. . . . Heilbrun is generous in her assessment of the legacy of her mentors; additionally, her recollections of academia in the 1950s and '60s may serve as an explanation of why affirmative admissions to universities were deemed necessary and why they may still serve some purpose."—Publishers Weekly

"Heilbrun's engaging memoir evokes a bygone era of intellectual life, when clarity of language and exacting prose marked lively critical conversations on politics, society, and literature."—Library Journal

Publishers Weekly
As part of the Personal Takes series, in which critics "write about the persistent hold" of certain literary figures on their imaginations, noted feminist literary critic Heilbrun (who also writes mysteries as Amanda Cross) contemplates how three men shaped her idea of herself as an intellectual. To a younger generation, all three of Heilbrun's mentors Jacques Barzun, Clifton Fadiman and Lionel Trilling might need identification, though they once loomed over the American literary and academic scene. Their example showed the young Heilbrun how a public life of the mind might be lived. That none of them believed that women were capable of living this life might seem to disqualify them as useful models for an ambitious young female graduate student, but Heilbrun maintains that their basic misogyny saved her from too slavish imitation. Two of the three were, like Heilbrun, Jews, at a time when her alma mater, Columbia University, viewed Jews with some alarm. Indeed, the English department denied Fadiman a teaching position because Trilling, his classmate, was the chosen Jew, and one was quite enough. Nevertheless, Trilling could not extrapolate from his experience to comprehend why women and members of other excluded groups might demand change in the bland, gentlemanly face of the Columbia graduate school. Heilbrun is generous in her assessment of the legacy of her mentors; additionally, her recollections of academia in the 1950s and '60s may serve as an explanation of why affirmative admissions to universities were deemed necessary and why they may still serve some purpose. (Nov.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Feminist critic and mystery writer Heilbrun (humanities, emerita, Columbia Univ.; Writing a Woman's Life) engages in personal and intellectual reminiscences of three men who provided her with models of the zest and excitement of the intellectual life. From Clifton Fadiman, who never taught in the classroom but whose books such as The Lifetime Reading Plan taught generations how to read "serious" literature, Heilbrun learned that an intellectual could present engaging commentaries to audiences who did not think of themselves as intellectuals. From Lionel Trilling she learned, in spite of his "misogyny and pomposity," the power literature can have in all its complexity. From Jacques Barzun, with whom Heilbrun maintained a close relationship, she saw how one can combine erudition with humanity toward others. Although none of these men actively encouraged women in the study of literature and culture, Heilbrun remembers that they encouraged her, through both their writings and their teaching. Heilbrun's engaging memoir evokes a bygone era of intellectual life, when clarity of language and exacting prose marked lively critical conversations on politics, society, and literature. Yet, because of the narrow focus of the memoir, Heilbrun's book is recommended primarily for larger public and academic libraries. Henry L. Carrigan, Lancaster, PA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A memoir of hero worship lost and a woman's self found. Searching for role models in her formative years, Heilbrun (English/Columbia Univ.; The Last Gift of Time, 1997, etc.) found esteemed intellectuals Clifton Fadiman, Lionel Trilling, and Jacques Barzun. Even though Fadiman never knew her, Trilling ignored her, and Barzun treated her with genteel but distant respect, these men nonetheless represented to her the world of public intellectualism, elegant writing, and cultural sophistication to which she aspired. Coming of academic age in the 1940s and '50s, however, entailed that Heilbrun learned much of the beauty and grace of writing and scholarship from men whose derisive views of women remained unchecked and unbridled. Heilbrun ponders this paradox, delving into the complexities of truly admiring men who would never truly admire her in return, thanks simply to her sex. Coupled with these elements of memoir are Heilbrun's standard and solid lit crit: she examines Fadiman's influential Reading I've Liked (1941) and pokes through its underlying misogyny; she analyzes Trilling's dislike for Edith Wharton's Ethan Frome and what his criticism reveals about himself; and she compares Barzun's bewilderment in the face of female creativity to a scene in Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse. Wrapped in with such moments of analysis, Heilbrun remembers her life with these men through personal anecdotes and sincere reflection, including such moments as shocking Barzun with her pseudonymous identity as mystery author Amanda Cross and eulogizing the career of Trilling's wife Diana, which never received its due. Her goal is not to strip these men of their greatness, for she fully recognizes theirmanifold contributions to the public intellectual world; rather, the pervading sense of the work is one of what-could-have-been if these models had been mentors as well. The story of a woman in a man's world, Heilbrun's life reflects her tenacity and grit. A tough and lovely memoir, one that stokes deep admiration and gratitude for those who went before.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780812236323
  • Publisher: University of Pennsylvania Press, Inc.
  • Publication date: 8/28/2001
  • Series: Personal Takes Series
  • Pages: 168
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Carolyn G. Heilbrun, Avalon Professor in the Humanities Emerita, taught at Columbia for 33 years. She is the author numerous books, including Toward a Recognition of Androgyny, Writing a Woman's Life, and The Last Gift of Time. As Amanda Cross, she is author of twelve best-selling novels featuring the detective Kate Fansler.
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