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Writing a Woman's Life (1988)

by Carolyn G. Heilbrun

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8101027,418 (4.05)13
Drawing on the experience of celebrated women, from George Sand and Virginia Woolf to Dorothy Sayers and Adrienne Rich, the author examines the struggle these writers undertook when their drives made it impossible for them to follow the traditional "male" script for a woman's life. Refreshing and insightful, this is an homage to brave women past and present, and an invitation to all women to write their own scripts, whatever they may be.… (more)
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English (9)  Dutch (1)  All languages (10)
Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
One more that I don't know how to rate, but which feels true, and in many ways, reassuring.
  KatrinkaV | Jun 18, 2022 |
This book seemed much more dated than it did the first time I read it, shortly after its publication, but the fundamental message remains relevant despite the fact that today's women have far more socially legitimate options than those who provide Heilbrun's examples.

The main reason for the ongoing relevance is the fact that even exceptional women of times past often told their own stories in ways that would conform to the socially acceptable standards of their time rather than tell the blunt truth about what they did. Among other things, Heilbrun exposes the gap between the active, assertive steps women such as Florence Nightengale, Golda Meir and Jane Addams took to advance their goals, as revealed in their personal letters and journals, and the soft-sell story they told in their autobiographies of how their vocations and their achievements somehow found them. They have re-cast themselves as passive rather than the active champions of their own lives. Biographers, female as well as male, have also struggled to reconcile the truth of women's extordinary lives with their own sense of convention, often writing judgements into their histories.

The other message, the one which I have carried with me since my first reading, is that we can only envision futures for ourselves that we have stories to describe. The more honest stories which are told by and about real women and their struggles and achievements, the more possibilities will open up for those who read them.

Heilbrun, an English professor, is also mystery writer Amanda Cross. Her story of how she decided to write those books, and why she chose to do so under a pseudonym, adds a valuable personal element to the book. ( )
  jsabrina | Jul 13, 2021 |
bios and fiction from feminist view, pressure to make a nice story out of women's lives
  ritaer | May 9, 2020 |
Been a long time but I kept the book so it must have been good. Maybe time to reread. ( )
  Karen74Leigh | Sep 4, 2019 |
Heilbrun has been one of the most important critical influences on me; I wrote about her in this post: http://www.openlettersmonthly.com/novelreadings/writing-and-life-influential-cri...
  rmaitzen | Sep 20, 2013 |
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There are four ways to write a woman's life: the woman herself may tell it, in what she chooses to call an autobiography; she may tell it in what she chooses to call fiction; a biographer, woman or man, may write the woman's life in what is called a biography; or the woman may write her own life in advance of living it, unconsciously, and without recognizing or naming the process.
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Drawing on the experience of celebrated women, from George Sand and Virginia Woolf to Dorothy Sayers and Adrienne Rich, the author examines the struggle these writers undertook when their drives made it impossible for them to follow the traditional "male" script for a woman's life. Refreshing and insightful, this is an homage to brave women past and present, and an invitation to all women to write their own scripts, whatever they may be.

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