I just finished listening to an archived interview with hard-boiled wartime writer and activist Martha Gellhorn on the radio and hearing her cultured, richly intellectual way of speaking casually expand on the exciting yet pugilistic life she led has made me feel equal parts impressed, intrigued and unsettled.
Impressed and intrigued because she led such a fascinating, unpredictable and often dangerous life and unsettled because this is a heady cocktail of everything I am not.
I have none of her wanderlust, her confidence or that driving need to be combative (most recently I couldn’t even play a competitive board game at Christmas lest I offend the land occupiers who were good friends!) yet I continue to pretend that had my life turned out differently, I might have been a kick-arse journalist.
Really. Really? I need to shut this fantasy down and resolve to confine myself to writing at least half-way regularly at my middle-class desk where I can safely blog to an audience that rarely exceeds 2 digits … what the heck would Martha say about that …?
I cannot bear to think of it.
Strangely, it’s a truism about myself that I’m often extremely attracted to clever outspokenness as a trait in other people – Noel Gallagher, Denis Leary, Richard Dawkins, The General – but I abhor it in myself; of course, I should also clarify that boorish, uncalled for outspokenness can veer very closely to let’s just say something else, and I have never found someone being a complete asshole even remotely attractive.
Gelhorn’s bravery and her absolute refusal to compromise herself about well, anything, at a time when women were discouraged to pursue any occupation beyond Homemaker is legendary but I think her most valuable talent was to showcase the plight of the everyday person in wartime when she wrote for Collier’s literally, all over the world.
Incidentally, when Collier’s opted to hire Ernest Hemmingway instead of Gelhorn to cover the Allies’ D-Day landing in France, a furious Martha stowed away on a hospital ship anyway and masqueraded as a stretcher bearer in order to cover the event off-the-record, regardless. This elevates stubbornness to a new level which I do relate to and approve of.
Martha Gellhorn was of course famously involved with Ernest Hemmingway and their stormy relationship did culminate in marriage but in order to avoid appearing as a mere “foot note in his life” she refused to discuss any of this in interviews and the one I listened to today was no exception.
And that’s a Good Thing, Martha, I say …
Despite all these adventures, a blazing talent for writing; many, varied lovers; wit and a string of famous friendships, her life does seem to have been overshadowed with a lingering, deep, pervasive sadness and certainly she was never to be lucky in love; after her divorce from Hemmingway she had 2 further marriages which also ended badly.
There’s a movie of course (Hemmingway and Gellhorn starring Clive Owen and Nicole Kidman) but I didn’t care much for it and Kidman is a bit too much of an Arrowroot-cookie for the role.
As the radio interviewer noted today, they really needed to bring back Lauren Bacall or not bother.
My feelings precisely!