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Selected Letters of Martha Gellhornby Caroline Moorehead
"Whatever else she was — novelist, travel writer, celebrity wife, socialite — Martha Gellhorn was one of the greatest American war correspondents of her generation or any other....Now that we have a generous selection of her letters, assembled by her biographer, Caroline Moorehead, we can piece together her account of the marriage [to Ernest Hemingway]. She left him because he was a crybaby and got in the way of her work." Christopher Benfey, The New Republic (read the entire New Republic review)
Synopses & Reviews
From Martha Gellhorn's critically acclaimed biographer, the first collected letters of this defining figure of the twentieth-century.
Martha Gellhorn's heroic career as a reporter brought her to the front lines of virtually every significant international conflict between the Spanish Civil War and the end of the Cold War. While Gellhorn's wartime dispatches rank among the best of the century, her personal letters are their equal: as vivid and fascinating as anything she ever published.
Gellhorn's correspondence from 1930 to 1996 — chronicling friendships with figures as diverse as Eleanor Roosevelt, Leonard Bernstein, and H. G. Wells, as well as her tempestuous marriage to Ernest Hemingway — paint a vivid picture of the twentieth century as she lived it.
Caroline Moorehead, who was granted exclusive access to the letters, has expertly edited this fascinating volume, providing prefatory and interstitial material that contextualizes Gellhorn's correspondence within the arc of her entire life. The letters introduce us to the woman behind the correspondent — a writer of wit, charm, and vulnerability. The result is an exhilarating, intimate portrait of one of the most accomplished women of modern times.
"Celebrated American war reporter Martha Gellhorn (19081998) was a prolific letter-writer, sharing with a circle of cherished intellectual friends her declarations against war and poverty; her frustrations in an almost exclusively male profession; her hopes for success as a novelist; and disappointments in love. Gellhorn's biographer organizes correspondence from 1930 to 1996, interspersing brief commentaries that place it in the context of Gellhorn's nonstop global assignments and various international domiciles. Gellhorn's tone is typically warm, forthright and full of spirited analysis. More guarded are letters to her former second husband, Ernest Hemingway, and letters to her adopted son, Sandy, with whom she had a troubled relationship. With Eleanor Roosevelt, a lifelong friend, she shared a passionate liberal outlook; letters to Leonard Bernstein attempt to convey her appreciation of his art. While Gellhorn's unswerving energy and work ethic impress, her love of fierce debate, hard drinking, male company and sunbathing, and her capacity to lose her head in romance render her thoroughly human. Particularly moving is Gellhorn's troubled passage into old age and isolation in the African bush, before being rediscovered as a grande dame of journalism by a young London literary crowd, in whose company she delighted. Gellhorn's letters sparkle to the very last." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Where is the Martha Gellhorn biopic? Why hasn't some enterprising movie producer figured out that this writer's rip-roaring life is the stuff of breathless action-adventure? War correspondent, novelist, short-story writer, playwright: She should be as well known as Truman Capote, but the fact that she's a historical footnote has more to do with the inbred sexism of American mythmaking than with Gellhorn.... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) In a life dense with incident, her five-year marriage to Ernest Hemingway has overshadowed everything else. Caroline Moorehead, the editor of this fascinating volume of letters, tried to rectify the situation with her excellent 2003 biography of Gellhorn. But, alas, it didn't exactly do boffo box office, and so we must now turn to this book in hopes that it will expose the curious reader to the extraordinary thrill ride that was Gellhorn's life. Born into a family of overachievers, Gellhorn at first took the conventional path. She worked hard in school and attended Bryn Mawr but chafed at the regimented academic grind. In search of adventure, she turned to journalism. After a short stint as a cub reporter for a paper in Albany, N.Y., the 21-year-old upstart moved to Paris and began her career as a kind of writing nomad. During her long life, Gellhorn put down stakes in Africa, England, Cuba, Florida and Mexico and traveled to countless other countries for her work. Gellhorn first made her mark during the Spanish Civil War. Sitting down with ordinary citizens and listening to their tales of survival, she filed a series of stories for Collier's magazine that revealed a gift for unflinching observation and unforced pathos. Her stories from Spain — difficult to find today — were much better than Hemingway's. Gellhorn's correspondence from the 1930s and '40s reveals a strong desire to be in the thick of pitched battles. War was an addiction for her; it gave her the motivation to work hard and produce good work. Shortly after her assignment in Spain came to an end, she confessed to her college friend Hortense Flexner that her newfound placidity was dull. 'Nothing in my life has so affected my thinking as the losing of that war. It is, very banally, like the death of all loved things.' Gellhorn was desperate to make her mark as a writer of distinction, and epic global conflicts were the best kind of raw material. She was certainly everywhere she needed to be: Dachau after the liberation of the camps, the beaches of Normandy during D-Day, Vietnam. Disdainful of journalism despite her considerable skills (it was all just rent money to her), Gellhorn also gave short shrift to her fiction but produced a number of very good books, including a World War II novel, 'The Stricken Field.' This collection is punctuated with stinging lashes to her ego. 'I would rather be a writer than anything else on earth,' she wrote to Hemingway's editor Max Perkins in 1941, 'but I am lazy and there are communal demands on time, and then besides, I feel very troubled in the head and heart.' Those troubles could be traced to her stormy relationship with Hemingway. Her letters to Papa from the late 1930s are flush with flirtatious platitudes ('I love you. That's the main thing. That's what I want you to know'), but she later confesses to Flexner that 'Ernest and I, really are afraid of each other, each one knowing that the other is the most violent person either one knows.'The marriage ended in 1945 with a vicious and recriminatory letter from Hemingway: 'Sleep well my beloved phony and pretentious bitch.' Other toxic relationships followed, including a marriage to former Time editor-in-chief Tom Matthews, which collapsed in 1963 when Gellhorn discovered he had been engaged in a long-term affair. Many of these letters are taken up with musings about the impossibility of enduring romance and her futile efforts to find a lasting relationship. To her good friend Allen Grover, she despaired of ever finding 'comforting loving trusting arms that were to be guarantee forever against nightmares.' But romance receded to the background as Gellhorn grew older. Work and old friends sustained her even when she felt 'blind and helpless with unwriting.' Her creative metabolism slowed down only when her body began betraying her. A hysterectomy in 1973 left her feeling like a 'frail, bowed, little old lady, aged 102.' Then, in 1974, while driving along a barren road near her Kenya residence, Gellhorn struck and killed a small child. 'There was absolute silence,' she wrote to her longtime confidante Diana Cooper, 'nothing in the world, only me sitting dazed in the car in the ditch and a little body curled up in the road.' Though she was held blameless, the incident, perhaps more than any wartime ugliness she had witnessed, left an indelible mark on her psyche. Over the next two decades, the intrepid Gellhorn settled down a bit, but never stopped working. In 1996, two years before her death at the age of 89, Gellhorn wrote to her friend Victoria Glendinning that she had completed a 42-page article on Brazil for Granta, even though it had driven her 'into exhaustion and despair. Typing and not seeing, trying to remember what I had already written and trying to get a mass of information when ... I could not read my own handwritten notes.' In 1998, sick with cancer and other maladies, Gellhorn calmly took a pill and ended her life, in control of her destiny until the very end. These letters, which have been placed into their proper historical context by Moorehead's thoughtful annotations, reveal the indomitable spirit of a titan of American letters. It's high time for Gellhorn to emerge from the shadows of 20th-century literature into the bright light of mainstream recognition. Marc Weingarten is a writer in Los Angeles. He blogs from twojakes.blogspot.com." Reviewed by Marc Weingarten, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
(hide most of this review)
"Beyond the illustriousness of her correspondents...what makes this book a literary landmark is that Gellhorn's prose, splendid enough in her 13 published books of fiction, travel writing and reportage, is at its finest in the letter form." Francine du Plessix Gray, The New York Times
"Moorehead now continues her mission to secure Gellhorn her well-deserved place in the pantheon of never-to-be-forgotten writers in this compelling, enjoyable assemblage of letters." Booklist
From the acclaimed biographer of Martha Gellhorn, one of the 20th century's most prolific reporters, comes this collection of Gellhorn's letters that introduces the woman behind the correspondent — a writer of wit, charm, and vulnerability. The result is an exhilarating, intimate portrait of one of the most accomplished women of modern times.
"A literary landmark. Gellhorn's prose . . . is at its finest in the letter form."--Francine du Plessix Gray, The New York Times Book Review
Martha Gellhorn's reporting career brought her to the front lines of virtually every significant conflict from the Spanish Civil War to the end of the cold war. While Gellhorn's wartime dispatches rank among the best of the century, her personal letters are their equal: as vivid and fascinating as her reporting was trenchant. Gellhorn's correspondence introduces us to the woman behind the often inscrutable journalist, chronicling her friendships with twentieth-century luminaries as well as her tempestuous marriage to Ernest Hemingway.
Caroline Moorehead, Gellhorn's critically acclaimed biographer, was granted exclusive access to the letters. This expertly edited volume contextualizes Gellhorn's correspondence within the arc of her entire life; the result is an intimate portrait of one of the most accomplished women of modern times.
About the Author
A distinguished biographer, Caroline Moorehead has also served as a columnist on human rights for two British newspapers. She is the author of Gellhorn and lives in London.
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