Writing a Woman's Life (Ballantine Reader's Circle)

by Carolyn G. Heilbrun

Paperback, 1989




Ballantine Books (1989), Edition: Reprint, 144 pages


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.


(71 ratings; 4.1)

User reviews

LibraryThing member bordercollie
The author, professor of English literature and writer of mysteries as Amanda Cross, discusses the lives (stories) women lead in western society. Great writers, such as Virginia Woolf, illustrate her conviction that women need another story to follow instead of the traditional romance that leads
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either to marriage or to death (the same result: death of a person). Thought-provoking and profound.
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LibraryThing member fglass
"Time and trouble will tame an advanced young woman, but an advanced old woman is uncontrollable by any earthly force."
-Dorothy L. Sayers
LibraryThing member skwoodiwis
Writing a Woman’s Life

Carolyn G Heilbrun

“Instead, we should make use of your security, our seniority , to take risks, to make noise, to be courageous, to become unpopular.”
“It is hard to suppose women can mean or want what we have always been assured they could not possibly mean or
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After reading this book – I must say, I cannot write reviews anymore – arrogant really – very arrogant that I even put on my website “review.” From now on I can only write my impressions of books.
My impression of this book is very favorable – and timely.
On November 8th 2012, I turned 48. I’ve been looking forward to this, simply because 8 is my number – with every decade I always look forward to my 8th year .
I will state here that I’m the baby of my generation. I’ve buried grandparents, I’m watching parents, uncles, Aunts, brother, grow older – and I’m enjoying watching the generation after me grow up.
My birthday has never bothered me – I simply don’t like everyone else’s birthday. I tell all of my nieces (I have three – and a niece-in-law) don’t leave me – don’t go away – but keep changing keep growing. I tell my son and my nephew the same – don’t go, don’t move away from me but keep growing, keep changing.
Strange isn’t it?
“Writing a Woman’s Life,” has challenged me; challenged me in the final chapter. Throughout the work I must say – I agree, I agree and yes I agree. I cringe at the thought of any woman at any time who had to dress as a man to experience life. This is a condemnation of our culture and of the men and women who demand that our dreams and aspirations are divided into a female and male context.
I cringe that both men and women write their literary aspirations within gender guide lines – in other words that a woman with “male,” dreams are hailed as revolutionary – rather than inspirational; inspirational on a human footing rather than a female or male footing.
I will say here I believe in the female and the male role. I believe women should show pride in the pursuit of love. He should pursue and she should let him down quickly or enjoy the pursuit. I say this now for I have little interest in romance and the dance it demands. Romance for me now is to be peaceful or not at all – up front and with as little pain as possible or never mind. I say this for younger women – as if I were talking to my nieces. I believe in the male role of chivalry and to give no man the egotism that he craves – she wants me.
Other than that – I want and crave individualism. Who are you? Where did you come from? What do you like, what don’t you like – will we be friends if so why, if not – why not?
These are the challenges this book has given me as an individual.
As a writer?
Frankly I’m not sure. Thankfully the book is short and I read it with care – I’ve highlighted, made notes, scribbled my impressions and all this because early on I understood this will be a handbook, a guide as I write – as I write until I die.
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LibraryThing member jsabrina
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
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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.
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Original publication date



034536256X / 9780345362568

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