A Difficult Woman: The Challenging Life and Times of Lillian Hellman

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As it turned out, Hellman was too weak to make the trip without help, and Abrahams and Feibleman together assisted her onto the stage. And in fact, she did. Hellman read two pages from a new afterword she wrote for Scoundrel Time. And to hell with the fancy reasons they give for what they did.


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Lillian gave everyone trouble in those years, her irascibility and impatience rising with increasing infirmity. Friends withdrew from her withering tongue: embittered by her stubborn refusal to abandon the suit against Mary McCarthy, they stopped seeing her. But many remained loyal, forgiving her temper tantrums and reveling in her continuing ability to make fun of everything and everyone. She persuaded Hellman to hire an aide to relieve her at night.

Pray for me!! Over a period of about eighteen months, Hellman ate less and less and lost weight rapidly until she was down to about eighty pounds.

REVIEW: A Difficult Woman: The Challenging Life and Times of Lillian Hellman - agrarighphofi.cf

Still she accepted invitations, allowed her friends to carry her from cars to restaurants, and invited guests for dinner. Most of her friends thought she survived these last years not on food but on anger. Everyone remembered the anger. To be sure, Lillian had been bad-tempered and irascible all her life. He, among others, bridled at her quarrelsome nature, regularly refusing to speak to her after a spat about one insignificant thing or another. He recalled one such incident over how to cook a Smithfield ham that kept them apart for an entire summer.

To the end, Hellman retained her capacity for fun—the continuing, wicked humor—that her friends cherished. Alex Szogyi, a Hunter College professor, caught her two-sidedness. Deeply funny. Each morning she got up, dressed carefully, and applied heavy makeup and mascara.

Bill Styron recalled that she deducted six or seven years just days before she died.

Though he knew she was close to the end, he had been waiting impatiently in California for the galleys of their coauthored cookbook to arrive. He wanted to bring them to her.


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  • A Difficult Woman: The Challenging Life and Times of Lillian Hellman;
  • A Difficult Woman: the Challenging Life and Times of Lillian Hellman?
  • In some ways, the cookbook, Eating Together , effectively capped her life. Unable to see, she dictated most of it and listened as recipes and portions of it were read back to her.

    A Difficult Woman: The Challenging Life and Times of Lillian Hellman

    Many of the recipes emerged from memories of New Orleans; others came from her travels over Europe and her New England experiences. They were all peppered with commentary, not about food but about the occasions on which she had eaten the dishes and with whom. Peter arrived on the Vineyard two days late, without the manuscript, and just in time to participate in the funeral arrangements. The funeral was an impressive affair. The theme of the day was not her anger or humor or vanity or love, though these were often mentioned, so much as her ability and desire to communicate.

    A residue of ill will, still very much alive, continued to corrode an already damaged reputation. Within days after her death, the quarrels about her name and her reputation resumed. Letters poured into William Abrahams who, in addition to being her editor at Little, Brown and her friend was also one of three literary executors , whose agreement to undertake an authorized biography of Hellman had just been announced.

    The notion that she was a liar not only persisted but took on a life of its own. No one, he thought, would disagree that she was a liar. Hellman did not think of her stories as lies. She was, after all, a dramatist who used the material at hand to invent tales. All her life she used the experiences of friends, wars, and journalistic forays to make up stories. Like Ibsen, she believed that drama was meant to make a point, not just to entertain.

    A Difficult Woman

    She never claimed a good memory; she always said her books were portraits, inventions, so she wrote memoirs that were not memoirs, fulfilling the mandate that memoir is the art of lying. If her work exaggerated or misplaced incidents, or engaged in self-dramatization, she believed that she had lived a life of integrity, honesty, and trust. The difference between her opinion of herself and the opinions of others earned her the tag of hypocrite.

    Then there was the moralism. She was not a lightning rod. She was the lightning. Yet her simplistic romanticizing of the radical politics of the s through the s in America has come to be widely accepted as truth, as has her status as the heroine of the less-than-ennobling HUAC proceedings. The realities, as always, are ever so much more complicated. Tell us what you think. Please upgrade your browser. See next articles. Newsletter Sign Up Continue reading the main story Please verify you're not a robot by clicking the box. Invalid email address. Please re-enter. You must select a newsletter to subscribe to.

    Sign Up. You will receive emails containing news content , updates and promotions from The New York Times. You may opt-out at any time. Kessler-Harris could have employed any other adjective in her title, but clearly, Lillian Hellman was A Difficult Woman. Wisely, Kessler-Harris, a Columbia historian, emphasizes Hellman's social and political contexts, rather than speculating overly much about her personal motivations—contexts that are crucial to understanding Hellman's seemingly contradictory character, and the point of view of a woman who was simultaneously sidelined and center stage.

    Rather, A Difficult Woman is a series of essays on each part of Hellman's life—as a playwright.

    And Kessler-Harris places all of her qualities, both fine and infuriating, in the context of the century in which she lived—the momentous changes wrought in an astonishingly short amount of time. This book is not a defense, an apologia. Rather, it is an un-retouched, balanced look at cause and effect.

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    Written by a woman, about a woman, this book is required reading for women. Along with better understanding Miss Hellman, perhaps this new book will revive interest in her great plays, often dismissed as 'melodramas ,' or seen only as politically-themed. Clearly, I recommend A Difficult Woman. With great empathy and authority, Alice Kessler-Harris uses Lillian Hellman's work and life to illuminate the intellectual and political conflicts of 20th-century America.

    The distinguished historian makes better sense of Hellman's life than Hellman ever made of it herself.

    A Difficult Woman: The Challenging Life and Times of Lillian Hellman

    Kessler-Harris brilliantly demonstrates that fact and fiction were revealingly intertwined in the life story of A Difficult Woman. More than just a biography, A Difficult Woman uses Lillian Hellman's life as a way to explore the often controversial role that writers played in shaping the political life of Hollywood, Broadway, and American society from the anti-fascist struggles of the s through the sexual revolution of the s and beyond.

    This is a must read for anyone who wants to understand the woman rather than the legend. Ross, author of Hollywood Left and Right: How Movie Stars Shaped American Politics "Brilliantly researched and vividly written, Alice Kessler-Harris has gifted us with a splendid biography—relevant and needed—for this embattled moment. Who is American, what is un-American? Who decides? What are the consequences of a life of blunt courage?

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