Lillian Hellman: An Imperious Life

Dorothy Gallagher. Yale Univ., $25 (184p) ISBN 978-0-300-16497-8
Unafraid to question Hellman’s idealized memoirs, Gallagher (Hannah’s Daughters) meets the “unflaggingly famous” dramatist head on in this pithy biography. Gallagher scrutinizes the “only woman playwright of her generation” from multiple angles, but only converges on the sharp projections and recesses in Hellman’s haughty character that interest her most: Hellman’s Bavarian great-grandfather Isaac Marx, who immigrated to antebellum Alabama; her analyst Dr. Gregory Zilboorg; the writer’s defiance before the House Committee on Un-American Activities; and her spiteful lawsuit against Mary McCarthy. The portrait that develops, from Hellman’s failed early marriage, endless sexual escapades, and longtime love affair with writer Dashiell Hammett is not altogether surprising: her poor relatives embarrassed her; money attracted her but she expressed contempt for the rich; she based the Hubbards in Little Foxes overtly on her family; she lied in her memoirs. If Gallagher places an undue focus on Hellman’s “lack of beauty” but “very active sexual life,” she also struggles to maintain a line of critical distance from Hellman that reveals the author’s investment in the “dogmatic, irritable, mean, jealous, self-righteous, angry” subject, a dance that mirrors Hellman’s own two-step with fact and truth. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 11/25/2013
Release date: 01/01/2014
Open Ebook - 184 pages - 978-0-300-16639-2
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