The Mysterious Life of Kate Fansler

Susan Kress, Skidmore College
Vol. 24, No. 2 (Fall 2005), 257-264.

This essay takes on the form of a mock biography of Carolyn Heilbrun’s protagonist Kate Fansler, focusing on the gaps in her life. In order to do this, the essay examines Heilbrun’s nonfictional books Writing a Woman’s Life (1988) and The Last Gift of Time (1997), her novels No Word from Winifred (1986) and Sweet Death, Kind Death (1984), and her short stories “Tania’s Nowhere,” “The Disappearance of Great Aunt Flavia,” and “Murder Without a Text,” for clues to the disappearing and invisible women in Heilbrun’s fiction and to Heilbrun herself. This essay returns in particular to work written around 1986 when Heilbrun turned sixty, began to speak of herself as old, and publicly plotted her suicide, which she set for ten years later at age seventy (a date she did not keep because she found life still compelling). This paper also takes the lead in setting aside Heilbrun’s dismissals of dreams and the unconscious. Instead, it seeks traces not only of the mysterious life of Kate Fansler, but also of the life Heilbrun led at a level far below consciousness. Focusing on “Tania’s Nowhere,” this essay teases out several conclusions about Kate’s life and Heilbrun’s death.

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]