Martha Gellhorn was one of America’s premier magazine journalists in the 1930’s and 1940’s, and her work as a wartime correspondent ranks with the very best journalism produced during the Spanish Civil War and World War II. A prolific author, Gellhorn published nearly 230 articles and stories, though none of her writing has made its way into the canon of American literature.
Heretofore, most information about Gellhorn has been gleaned from biographies about Hemingway and his associates; Carl Rollyson’s biography is a major step forward explaining Gellhorn’s rightful place in American letters. Rollyson highlights her many friendships with influential people, including Eleanor Roosevelt, and describes her relationships with the three men who were her husbands. Because Gellhorn made her living as a writer, Rollyson provides some criticism of her work, interpreting most of it autobiographically. Throughout, he presents a balanced portrait of this complex woman who struggled to place her career in perspective with her personal relationships. Gellhorn emerges as a reformer, with an independent spirit, perhaps born too soon to benefit from the feminist revolution of the latter half of the century.
On the whole, Rollyson’s work is honest and comprehensive, striking a careful balance between what Gellhorn says about her life and what others have observed about her. Rollyson does not seem to have been able to get close to his subject, but he has done a commendable job in bringing to light Gellhorn’s contribution to American life and letters.
Sources for Further Study
Kirkus Reviews. LVIII, October 15, 1990, p.1443.
Library Journal. CXV, November 15, 1990, p.76.
Los Angeles Times Book Review. December 16, 1990, p.2.
The New York Times Book Review. XCV, December 30, 1990, p.6.
Publishers Weekly CCXXXVII, October 26, 1990, p.61.
The Washington Post Book World. XXI, January 6, 1991, p.3.