Martha Gellhorn

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Mark Schorer

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 567

[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 New Republic, Inc.), Vol. 110, No. 9, February 28, 1944, pp. 286, 288.∗

[Two by Two] consists of four long short stories, or four short novels, depending on how you look at it. "For Better for Worse," "For Richer for Poorer," "In Sickness and in Health," "Till Death do us Part"—these are the themes and titles. All four are extremely readable, for Miss Gellhorn has a brisk narrative style, her writing is founded on the sure belief that human relationships are the essentials of life, and she is able to judge women through men's eyes as realistically and dispassionately as she is able to examine the male ego with the torn feelings of the woman.

Miss Gellhorn has been a newspaper correspondent and these stories move about the important capitals of the world with an easy familiarity. London, New York, Paris, Rome, come to life not as tourist centres, holiday stop-offs, but as places of work, where roving men and roving women have to subordinate emotion to career. Miss Gellhorn's characters are high-level professionals, politicians, war photographers, journalists, and she manages to suggest the urgency of their lives, bound up with the times, and the consequent disruptions of their marriages. For these four stories are analyses of the marriage relationship, in each of which money, ambition, sickness, career play crucial parts.

The final story, a running report on the life and loves of a photographer who races towards his death from one war-spot to another, is a remarkably sustained and moving affair. Miss Gellhorn creates in Tim Bara a faithful symbol of our time; it is a portrait that goes deep, is rich in revealing touches, and is formed with great technical mastery. Two by Two is not always successful, but the characterization, even when at its glossiest, shows a true understanding of what hazards disturb the rarely calm waters of marital love.

"For Better for Worse," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1958; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 2923, March 7, 1958, p. 125.∗

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