Saturday, July 21, 2012

Amanda Cross' Death in a Tenured Position

I knew nothing about Amanda Cross' Death in a Tenured Position except that it was a murder mystery set in academia with a really lurid title. I did not know, for example, that it served as a statement against the sexism and homophobia that characterized Harvard (the book was published in 1981 and takes place in 1979). I also did not know that Amanda Cross was a psuedonym for Carolyn Heilbrun, who was a prominent professor of English at Columbia and wrote a series of mysteries starring Kate Fansler, an amatuer sleuth and--naturally--an English professor.

The story (which is entirely fictional) centers on the persecution of the first full professor of English at Harvard. She is isolated from the patriarchal department yet also angry that other women want her to be a role model. Therefore there is resentment on all sides, so when she is found dead from poison there are plenty of possibilities.

It's a good read. My only quibble is that the characters sound English, using words like "beastly" and "dotty." Who knows, maybe everyone did sound like the law professor in The Paper Chase.


Lillie Langtry 11:00 AM  

What ho, old chum!

We don't use words like that either anymore, sadly.

Sounds like a good read though!

RAJ 2:55 PM  

When I discovered it while an untenured female faculty member at Harvard in the late 1980s, it rang all too true. Had not noted consciously the archaisms (which is what I think they were, more than Britishisms) but either would have been fine at that anglophile, steeped-in-tradition, and definitely unready to deal with women faculty institution.

The other Kate Fanslers are also worth a read. One thing to keep in mind: she adjusts the style to mimic the style of the author(s) whose works are the backdrop-- so when her victim is a Freudian, you get a Freudian tone. It can be jarring and seem affected if you are not prepared for it.

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