The Jean Harris Story: Stendhal’s Daughter Adrift in Scarsdale

The Jean Harris Story: Stendhal’s Daughter Adrift in Scarsdale

The Jean Harris trial has mesmerized Americans. It has received an unprecedented amount of publicity. Diana Trilling, Shana Alexander, and Lally Weymouth, daughter of Katherine Graham, owner of the Washington Post, have been commissioned to write books on the subject; in a Columbia University elevator was scrawled FREE JEAN HARRIS. Immediately after the trial Ellen Burstyn starred in a TV drama, The People vs. Jean Harris. Jennifer Jones has contracted to do a movie on the subject. Why has this case aroused so much furor? An ordinary despondent, rejected middle-aged woman goes to the home of her lover, who has replaced her with a younger woman—she makes a distraught attempt to kill herself—the only question to be solved is whether this was indeed a suicide attempt gone wrong, or whether it was a more conventional case of crime passionel. How does this tragic mess end up becoming first-page news over a period of three months?

The Harris case shatters several American myths. Despite the cool instructions given to American women by modern analysts, by group therapy, sex therapy, and that last great breed of valiant optimists—the American feminists—the human condition of the average American woman is closer to the universal condition of woman than most
observers of the American scene would like to believe.

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