Alice Koller, Author of the Solitary Life, Dies at 94

Alice Koller, Author of the Solitary Life, Dies at 94


When she completed her dissertation, she brought it to her father, already in the cloud of his disease, and placed it in his hands. As she wrote in her book, he said, “I don’t care about that,” and pushed it away.

There were other hurts: a therapist who was killed in a car accident; affairs with men who slipped away; the casual slights of sexist professors, including one who told her, when she asked a question in class, “Yours was a voice out of the bedroom.”

After “An Unknown Woman” was published, Ms. Koller contributed five essays to the Hers column in The New York Times, lyrical pieces about a life alone with her dogs, and the pleasures of the natural world. In one, in which she delights in the courtship of a pair of cardinals, she writes, “Do you still think I live alone in the country?”

In 1990, she published a second book, “The Stations of Solitude,” a manifesto for and primer to the solitary life. Writing in The Times, Judith Shulevitz found each of its chapters “a beguiling rest stop on the road to self knowledge,” but felt that its author “lingers longer than she should on a rehash of the events that led up to her hermitic existence.”

“She was a complicated woman,” Ms. Koller-Fox said. “ The idea that the solitary life brought one happiness didn’t really hold true in her life.”

It is a paradox that her life provided inspiration for so many, even as she continued to struggle. In 1991, Bantam republished “An Unknown Woman,” now a sought after title on Amazon.

“The default situation for most writers is that they’re going to be forgotten,” said Brad Bigelow, editor of the Neglected Books Page, a website devoted to out-of-print authors. In 2015, Mr. Bigelow exhumed “An Unknown Woman,” likening Ms. Koller as many have, to Henry David Thoreau.

“It takes deliberate acts of remembering to keep them from being lost,” he wrote. “Her book deserves to be read and studied as much as anything by Virginia Woolf.”



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