- Series: Personal Takes
- Hardcover: 168 pages
- Publisher: University of Pennsylvania Press; First Edition edition (August 31, 2001)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0812236327
- ISBN-13: 978-0812236323
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 1 customer review
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,451,213 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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When Men Were the Only Models We Had: My Teachers Fadiman, Barzun, Trilling (Personal Takes) Hardcover – August 31, 2001
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From 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.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
From 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 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top customer reviews
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This book is not my favorite, and compared to other titles such as Writing Women's Lives, it does indeed gets slow and heavy here and there. There are parts where even those in the same line of work as Heilbrun's would go, "Who cares?" or "Why bother?" Yet, largely, it is accessible and *fun*. Read as an intellectual memoir, it is a story about how Heilbrun was gratefully influenced by three men, how she resisted and embraced their influence, and how she finally grew out of it. There are many interesting anecdotes coming from her encounters with these men (Barzun, Fadiman, and Trilling) and her life as a graduate student in the 50s at one of the most highly regarded universities in the US. Students of today would gasp at the nightmarish inconvinience of having only two copies of their papers, and painfully taking turns in reading other student's papers due to the lack of copies.
Heilbrun devoted a chapter to Diana Trilling, which wasn't her plan when he planned on the book. She was fascinated and gained admiration for her in the process of research for the book, and readers would clearly see why in the chapter on her. In sum, according to Heilbrun, Diana Trilling is a woman whose insights on her life come largely from feminism ("the most successful revolution of our century," Trilling herself called it), yet who was not herself a feminist. She accepted a life of belittlements from others, while having penetrating understanding of those belittlements.
Early in the book, Heilbrun notes that perhaps one of the most palpable influences she got from Lionel Trilling would be the notion that "tragedy is what most marks us if we are thinkers." This is what Trilling shares with Freud, and this is what Heilbrun shares with Trilling, despite her distrust of Freud, and to some extent, of Trilling as well. This comment comes after an anecdote about Trilling's inspiring lecture on Henry James, from which young Heilbrun took the idea that "the essence of literature was in the tensions of the thinking life." This part of the book is strangely moving, and makes me think hard about the interplay among "tension," "thinking life," "tragedy," and "literature." A small and not really an ambitious book, but contains much fun and insights.