Martha Gellhorn Essay - Critical Essays

Gellhorn, Martha


Gellhorn, Martha 1908–

Gellhorn is an American novelist, short story writer, journalist, playwright, and essayist. Stylistically as well as thematically, her fiction shows strong evidence of years spent as a war correspondent. Gellhorn's is a skillfully crafted, frequently reportorial prose, often compared for its hard-edged clarity to that of her late ex-husband, Ernest Hemingway. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 77-80.)

Diana Trilling

["Liana"] is for me reminiscent of … "Tropic Moon" by the French writer Simenon, not only because both novels are triangular love stories of the French tropics and share a sophisticated concern for the way colored people are treated in the colonies, but because they both manage to achieve an emotional, almost a literary, effect quite beyond their literary merits. Possibly this is the result of their non-intellectuality—or rather, of their perfect blending of intellectual and emotional pitch. There is more atmosphere, for instance, in Miss Gellhorn's book than the author seems to work to produce, and more suggested meaning in the human relationships than characters such as hers usually yield. On the surface, or even several layers down, "Liana" is not much more than another stereotyped, not-so-lush-as-it-could-have-been narrative of tropical miscegenation…. Still, there are reverberations from Miss Gellhorn's simple story, as there were reverberations from Simenon's novel, which must be recorded on the credit side of the ledger; it is always a good thing when a novel gives off more effects than can be readily accounted for. (p. 104)

Diana Trilling, "Fiction in Review: 'Liana'," in The Nation (copyright 1944 by the Nation Associates, Inc.), Vol. 158, No. 4, January 22, 1944, pp. 104-05.∗

Mark Schorer

[In "Liana"] Miss Gellhorn, who is a sober and skillful rather than a powerful novelist, challenged herself to bring to life the most worn materials of cheap fiction: a beautiful native girl in a lush tropical setting, a brutal white man to whom she is tied, a beautiful and sensitive white man who is hired to teach her and who is promptly gripped by the conflict of love and honor. In 1944, the beautiful and sensitive white man is, of course, sensitive to fascism; specifically, this one is a Frenchman who has fled Vichy and determines to return to fight Vichy, a sound and obvious conclusion which leaves Liana in the familiar dilemma of Madame Butterfly…. Miss Gellhorn is pitiless: she does not hesitate to include even the heroine's heartbroken letter which, by misrepresenting her true feelings, releases the hero from his scruples about her. Where she breaks sharply with her trite materials is in the handling of the relationship between the two men: they come to understand, almost to love, each other, and Liana is faced with utter exclusion. This is a delicate psychological situation which Conrad, for example, would have developed with circumspection; but most of Miss Gellhorn's novel is devoted to blackening her villain, and her last chapters hardly give him time to take off his mustache. (p. 286)

Mark Schorer, "Exotics," in The New Republic (reprinted by permission of The New Republic; © 1944 The...

(The entire section is 567 words.)

David Dempsey

One accepts [the characters in "His Own Man"] as artificial, polished and pleasantly unreal; their problems are not real problems, but those of a novelist experienced enough to know that all's well that ends badly…. "His Own Man" is sensibly restricted to less than 200 pages, and is written with such verve, such an effervescence of wit, that it is like taking a bubble bath, with a well-iced absinthe on the side. One emerges refreshed—and a little groggy.

David Dempsey, "All's Well That Ends Badly," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1961 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), August 6, 1961, p. 4.

Charles Rolo

[Martha Gellhorn's His Own Man,] an elegant entertainment which is also a morality tale, is felicitously conceived and executed with wit, gaiety, toughness of mind, and perfect control. The story is a topical variation on the theme of the American abroad. Its hero—or, rather, antihero [Ben]—belongs to a new class which is the contemporary counterpart of the intellectuals of an earlier era who lived abroad on small private incomes. (p. 101)

Ben is a thoroughly convincing, if unusual, amalgam of pride, irresponsibility, and the Puritan conscience, and Miss Gellhorn shows with finesse and humor how such a man gradually, reluctantly makes compromises with his precious principles and drifts into corruption. The other characters are impeccably drawn, and there is a rich fund of high comedy. The book is a delight. (p. 102)

Charles Rolo, "La Dolce Vita," in The Atlantic Monthly (copyright © 1961 by The Atlantic Monthly Company, Boston, Mass.; reprinted with permission), Vol. 208, No. 3, September, 1961, pp. 101-02.

Mary Hope

Martha Gellhorn is curiously dated and sentimental [in The Weather in Africa]. The three stories are set in Kenya before and just after Independence…. In all three stories, Africa changes the lives of people; but somehow, the resolutions are achieved in spite of the characters' interactions which remain on the most basic level, and in their recounting seem to me to retain the crudest of racial assumptions. Love scenes are either stilted, if between whites … or torrid, if between black and white … which is a cue for disaster). However, the heart is in the right place.

Mary Hope, "Books: 'The Weather in Africa'," in The Spectator (© 1978 by The Spectator; reprinted by permission of The Spectator), Vol. 241, No. 7828, July 15, 1978, p. 25.

Emily Hahn

Martha Gellhorn is a gentleperson. For 42 pages in ["Travels with Myself and Another"] she writes about an Unwilling Companion on her trip into China's interior in 1941, always referring to him as U. C. and never mentioning that he was in fact her husband, Ernest Hemingway. This—at a time when to have been Hemingway's wife … seems excuse enough to publish every possible remembrance of the great man—entitles Miss Gellhorn to a medal, at least. But her excellence does not stop there. She renders U. C. justice: she makes him a sympathetic as well as amusing figure, although perhaps a wee bit maddening….

U. C. apart, Miss Gellhorn can be exceedingly funny on her own. Often, reading of her...

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Aaron I. Michelson

[Martha Gellhorn's Travels with Myself and Another] is written with a piquant wit and a fervent compassion for human folly and suffering.

Yet, whether by accident or choice, Travels with Myself and Another is a depressing travelogue of disasters and exasperating hardships somewhat savagely narrated in an almost continuous account of frustrations, crises and even horrors. With the termination of each trip the reader will find it difficult to feel any glowing sensation of vicarious satisfaction; contrariwise, he will more likely sigh, "Thank God it's over!" Perhaps our traveller is deliberately following her own advice that the only aspect of travel guaranteed to hold an audience is...

(The entire section is 204 words.)