I have not written much this week. Partly because I have been spending time reading about a writer, Martha Gellhorn. I had seen the recent HBO film, “Hemingway and Gellhorn”. Then I went online to research a little. I was more interested in Martha Gellhorn, so I ordered two books from the Adirondack Library System: “Gellhorn. A Twentieth – Century Life” by Caroline Moorehead, and
“Selected Letters of Martha Gellhorn”, edited by Moorehead. Her biography interests me not only because of the character and life and times of Martha Gellhorn, but because Martha was born at the beginning of the 20th century (1908) prior to WWI; she died in 1998 at the end of that century. Her life spans the same time period and important world events of my mother’s, Mary Connolly Leisz, born in 1917, died 1997.
Throughout my childhood, teen years, and young adulthood, I heard my mother’s stories of being born and raised in Hell’s Kitchen, New York. Of the Depression and how people would choose to visit neighbors at dinnertime on the hope that there would be some food to share. My mother met my father in Washington, D.C. just prior to WWII. Her letters to him from that time period (1941-42) have survived. They tell the home front story. One of the letters was written by my mother shortly after hearing about the bombing of Pearl Harbor. She had no idea of where my father’s ship was (he was in the navy), just that he was on a ship somewhere in the Pacific. The letters had to be sent to a general dispatch U.S. Navy address.
As I read the story of Martha Gellhorn’s very dramatic life as a War Correspondent, so much of what my mother talked about, what affected her life and thinking, and therefore mine, comes to life in intense detail. The book is very well researched and documented. More than a very interesting life to read about, it is also very much a writer’s story. What compels a person to write?
Martha Gellhorn felt most alive when she was witnessing an event that she knew was important, that she had the energy and means (usually created by her own ingenuity) to be there to experience while it was happening, and report on to Collier’s Magazine. People on the home front, like my mother and maybe yours, were kept informed by courageous women writers who were not as welcome on the battlefront as their male counterparts.
I am becoming more careful these days of NOT putting others on pedestals. But I do think that a degree of admiration for a person who lived a flawed, brave, and very interesting life during a pivotal human century is to be noted and applauded. And so I applaud Martha Gellhorn for a twentieth century life lived her way; and I applaud Caroline Moorehead for her research and for writing a good biography about an important time period.
for a short period of time Hemingway was lucky enough to be married to GELLHORN.