Lillian Hellman was sixty-four years old when An Unfinished Woman was published. She had had twelve plays produced and published, most of which had been highly successful. The plays had long runs on Broadway, and Hellman was viewed as one of the most important American dramatists. Her last play, however, had been a failure, and she was inclined to think that her playwriting career was over. She had also been a very successful screenwriter in the 1930’s and 1940’s, but that career had been suspended when she was blacklisted in the 1950’s. In addition, her last screenplay, written in the early 1960’s, had not been well received.
As she turned to teaching college classes, Hellman began to think of writing nonfiction. She was not attracted to the form of autobiography, having no wish—as she says in An Unfinished Woman—to be the “bookkeeper” of her life. She did not have the memory or the interest to chronicle her existence from its beginning—but the memoir form was appealing. She could concentrate on the dramatic incidents of her life and narrate her experiences in story form. Early in her career she had tried writing novels and short stories, without success. Memoir writing provided a fresh approach to the narrative prose she had always wanted to write.
Because of her public prominence as a playwright and her participation in politics, Hellman had written a significant amount of journalism. Her first thought...
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