Martha Gellhorn Mark Schorer - Essay

Mark Schorer

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[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.)