Lillian Hellman: A Life with Foxes and Scoundrels

Deborah Martinson, Author . Counterpoint $26 (448p) ISBN 978-1-58243-315-8

Martinson, an associate professor of English and writing at Occidental College, aims to capture a "more complex" and "human" Hellman than other biographers have. Her portrait of the famed playwright and memoirist (1905–1984) is more admiring than those of William Wright or Carl Rollyson. Martinson excels in evoking Hellman's forceful presence: the cigarette-husky voice, the galvanic sexuality of a woman who refused to be defined by her plain face or tiny stature. She also grasps the crux of Hellman's romance with Dashiell Hammett, which was his invaluable editing and guidance in shaping her plays, from The Little Foxes through Toys in the Attic . Martinson conscientiously covers the basics, from Hellman's childhood bouncing between New Orleans and New York through her feisty old age. But Martinson is more interested in Hellman the woman than in her controversial political stances. Taking her subject at face value as a courageous opponent of McCarthyism, she goes similarly easy on the nonfiction, praising Hellman for inventing "a new form of the memoir," without examining her carelessness with facts and frequently self-serving political statements. This vivid evocation of a tumultuous life is a good starting place for those unfamiliar with Hellman's achievements (and misdeeds), but the definitive biography remains to be written. 16 pages of b&w photos. Agent, Nat Sobel. (Dec. 5)

Reviewed on: 10/24/2005
Release date: 11/01/2005
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 448 pages - 978-1-58243-723-1
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