Nothing Ever Happens to the Brave
Ask any well-read student of American literature who Martha Gellhorn is and the response will surely be, “One of Hemingway’s wives.” That, of course, is true. Gellhorn met Hemingway in Florida in 1936, struck up an intimate relationship almost immediately, and soon supplanted the novelist’s second wife Pauline both in Hemingway’s affections and then in his household. Those familiar with Hemingway’s life know of Gellhorn’s travels with him to Spain to cover the civil war there in the late 1930’s, and of their separate ventures throughout the European war zone during the 1940’s. Some might even recall that she was a journalist.
In some ways those stormy years with Hemingway, and the bitterness which each harbored for the other after their divorce, have colored perceptions of Gellhorn and obscured her contributions to America’s understanding of the people and places ravaged by war throughout the world during this century. It will probably astonish the uninformed to discover exactly how prolific Gellhorn has been, and how respected she has been by fellow professionals. During her long career, she has published nearly 120 articles and stories, supporting herself through her writing (even during the four years when she was dallying with Hemingway before their marriage, and for some time afterward, too). These pieces appeared in the best periodicals in America: Collier’s (for whom she worked during the years of the Spanish Civil War and during World War II), The Saturday Evening Post, The New Republic, The Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, the Guardian, Story, the Paris Review, The Observer, The New Statesman. Dozens of these pieces have been collected, and added to, in six volumes of short stories and three of nonfiction. Additionally, Gellhorn produced six novels, which, though not universally lauded, were nevertheless received quite well by many contemporary reviewers. That none has found its way into the canon of twentieth century American literature may in part be attributed to the fact that she has been considered too close to Hemingway to be truly original. Since most information about Gellhorn is generally gleaned from biographies about Hemingway or works that focus on his close male associates, it may be some time before the link is broken and Gellhorn is allowed to emerge in her own right among the literary figures who have shaped America’s image of itself.
Carl Rollyson’s Nothing Ever Happens to the Brave: The Story of Martha Gellhorn is a major step forward in helping to correct Gellhorn’s damaged image. Though significant attention is given to Gellhorn’s years with Hemingway, this biography covers her entire life. Beginning his narrative with a brief discussion of Gellhorn’s grandparents and parents, Rollyson gives careful attention to all of Martha’s hectic life: from her childhood as the only daughter of prominent St. Louis activist Edna Uellhorn to her years as a working journalist and world traveler. He tries to capture the independent spirit of the young woman who bent (or broke) rules at school, who spoke up for what she believed in even before she struck out on her own, and who left Bryn Mawr before graduation to seek a career in New York (much to the chagrin of her anguished father). Without question, Rollyson finds much to write about when dealing with the years after Gellborn had established herself as a journalist and novelist and before she separated from Hemingway and began a life that might be described as semirecluse; from the beginning of the 1930’s until after World War II she flitted across America and all over the globe, writing about what she saw and making headlines in her affairs with...
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