A posthumous tribute to May Sarton and Carolyn Heilbrun

May Sarton 1912-1995

At the close of Hellman's Children's Hour, tears ran down my face as I remembered other stories of female friendship, misunderstood and more often than not, distorted.

One such story stands out: May Sarton's "A Reckoning ."

Delicately described, the protagonist Laura Spelman reflects on her relationships with women, and in particular a childhood friendship with Ella. Critics knowing that Sarton had "come out" immediately dismissed the book as lesbian literature. Sarton was, as I recall, distraught at the reviews and disappointed in the assumptions drawn from the fabric of intimacy she described in her novel.

I, too, was disappointed, perhaps even angered, by the mis-labeling of the critics, and the general misunderstanding of the dominant gender on the power and relevancy of female friendship.

Women have suffered rather much in some circles, but those I understand the best are in academic settings, and in camaraderie, I've so enjoyed reading Carolyn Heilbrun, who I recently learned had been named Sarton's literary executor.

Carolyn Heilbrun 1926-2003

A better executor I couldn't image, and although I am uncertain, it is likely that Heilbrun included Sarton in one or more of her analyses of women's literary criticism, "Writing a Woman's Life," "Reinventing Womanhood" or "Hamlet's Mother and Other Women." All three books are worth reading!

Carolyn Heilbrun, a former Columbia professor, also wrote under the pen-name Amanda Cross, something I was unaware of until a decade ago. I didn't catch on until I read Death in a Tenured Position--something both Heilbrun and I struggled to obtain.

And, somewhat out of touch with academics, I missed reading about her death.

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