Tenured Death

Nina AuerbachUniversity of Pennsylvania
Vol. 24, No. 2 (Fall 2005), 265-268.

Undaunted by mystery, this essay cross-examines two of Heilbrun’s best known Amanda Cross novels, Poetic Justice (1970) and Death in a Tenured Position (1981), and offers an unflinching critique of the mentorships disclosed by these novels. In Poetic Justice, the University College, which is dedicated to providing education for older, less wealthy students, including many women, is threatened by the main campus, which woos the laziest preppies. Within university corporate economics, the patronage system has remained entrenched, and this system both deadens the patronized and kills off the patrons in a never-ending petrifying reproduction of itself. Thus Heilbrun’s later, bleaker novel dwells upon the humiliation of isolated, fictional Professor Janet Mandelbaum, whose suicide is not a triumph of choice but a grotesque defeat. In focusing on such humiliation, this essay argues, Heilbrun missed what mattered, namely, exploitation, a snare Amanda Cross never explored. What these novels inadvertently disclose about the vicious core of academia is the murder within the patronage system. The presence of women has brought none of the healing or altered rituals that Heilbrun imagined, but rather a perpetuation of the loneliness of tenured women, including Heilbrun, and a perpetuation of the inequities and exploitations inherent in patronage—the murder or suicide produced by mentoring.

This article is part of a special issue of personal and scholarly reflections on the life of Carolyn Heilbrun.

Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]