The Face of War Analysis

Form and Content (Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

The Face of War is a collection of articles about several wars Martha Gellhorn on which reported after becoming a war correspondent in Spain in 1937. The book is divided into sections on wars in Spain, Finland, Europe (World War II), Java, Vietnam, the Middle East, and Central America, plus a section called “Interim,” which is about efforts for peace. The 1988 American edition of The Face of War includes the original 1959 introduction and a revised introduction published in the 1986 British edition. Each section of the book also comes with its own introduction, usually presenting autobiographical information that explains how Gellhorn came to cover these wars as well as fascinating insights into her attitude toward war, in the course of which she reveals many other aspects of her life and her feelings about writing.

Gellhorn thinks of herself as a war correspondent first, not as a woman writer. Inevitably, however, she finds herself in a male-dominated world and must contend with prejudices against allowing women to report at first hand on combat. She explains how she resorted to various stratagems in order to cover the D-Day landing on the beaches of Normandy in World War II and the Allied campaign in Italy in the later stages of that war.

The contrast between Gellhorn’s introductions and her reportorial articles is fascinating. In the introductions she is opinionated and confidential; in the articles she is objective,...

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The Face of War Context (Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Martha Gellhorn has become an increasingly important figure in women’s literature. Virago Press, which has specialized in reprinting important women’s fiction, has republished two of her novels, A Stricken Field (1940) and Liana (1944) and Alfred A. Knopf has published a collection of her novellas. In addition to The Face of War, Atlantic Monthly Press has published her collection of peacetime articles, The View from the Ground (1988). Her novel of World War II, The Wine of Astonishment (1948) has been reprinted in paperback under the title she originally gave it, Point of No Return.

Gellhorn has never identified herself as a feminist. Indeed, she has not wanted any special consideration as a woman. Her journalism does not explicitly present a woman’s point of view, and yet her attention to everyday domestic detail and her gripping accounts of what war does to civilian populations carry a resonance and insight not often found in the reports of her male contemporaries. A comparison, for example, between her reports on Spain and on World War II with the dispatches of Ernest Hemingway (to whom she was married between 1939 and 1945) reflects a different set of values that are arguably a woman’s.

In Gellhorn’s fiction, feminist issues are more explicit. A Stricken Field is obviously based on her own experience as a journalist. The main character is modeled after her, and the novel dramatizes what it is like for a woman to work in an all-male atmosphere. Similarly, Liana is feminist in tone, for it deals with a young, beautiful woman who is sacrificed to the interests of her two male lovers.

The Face of War Bibliography (Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Gellhorn, Martha. “The Real Thing.” Interview by Victoria Glendinning. Vogue 178 (April, 1988): 358-359, 398. One of Gellhorn’s rare interviews, conducted by a distinguished biographer.

Kert, Bernice. The Hemingway Women. New York: W. W. Norton, 1983. Contains a long, revealing chapter on Gellhorn, based on an interview with her.

Meyers, Jeffrey. Hemingway: A Biography. New York: Harper & Row, 1985. Contains the fullest account in a Hemingway biography of Gellhorn’s years with him.

Rollyson, Carl. Nothing Ever Happens to the Brave: The Story of Martha Gellhorn. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990. The only full-length biography of Gellhorn, exploring both her work and life, with extensive notes, a chronology of her writing, and an index.