Lillian Hellman was a giant of twentieth-century letters and a groundbreaking figure as one of the most successful female playwrights on Broadway. Yet the author of The Little Foxes and Toys in the Attic is today remembered more as a toxic, bitter survivor and literary fabulist, the woman of whom Mary McCarthy said, "Every word she writes is a lie, including 'and' and 'the.'" In A Difficult Woman, renowned historian Alice
Kessler-Harris undertakes a feat few would dare to attempt: a reclamation of a combative, controversial woman who straddled so many political and cultural fault lines of her time.
Kessler-Harris renders Hellman's feisty wit and personality in all of its contradictions: as a non-Jewish Jew, a displaced Southerner, a passionate political voice without a party, an artist immersed in commerce, a sexually free woman who scorned much of the women's movement, a loyal friend whose trust was often betrayed, and a writer of memoirs who repeatedly questioned the possibility of achieving truth and doubted her memory.
Hellman was a writer whose plays spoke the language of morality yet whose achievements foundered on accusations of mendacity. Above all else, she was a woman who made her way in a man's world. Kessler-Harris has crafted a nuanced life of Hellman, empathetic yet unsparing, that situates her in the varied contexts in which she moved, from New Orleans to Broadway to the hearing room of HUAC. A Difficut Woman is a major work of literary and intellectual history. This will be one of the most reviewed, and most acclaimed, books of 2012.
About Alice Kessler-HarrisSee more books from this Author
Ms. Kessler-Harris acknowledges Hellman's prevarications only grudgingly, resorting to a tedious postmodern explanation that writers are entitled to their own version of "truth"...Read Full Review of A Difficult Woman | See more reviews from WSJ online
Kessler-Harris is right to argue that the life Hellman led “illuminates the world she confronted,” most importantly the worlds of emerging women and of political fear and contention.Read Full Review of A Difficult Woman
Kessler-Harris defends her well, but the structure of her biography, while it works hard to exonerate her subject, makes it difficult for us to get close to, and thus sympathise with, Lillian Hellman herself.Read Full Review of A Difficult Woman
...the approach could have been made sharper by more aggressive editing.Read Full Review of A Difficult Woman
The strength of the historical current diminishes Hellman’s place in it.Read Full Review of A Difficult Woman
Kessler-Harris has written a biography that balances Hellman's achievements against her shortcomings.Read Full Review of A Difficult Woman
There is no lack of drama covered in this book, yet it reads a little dull.Read Full Review of A Difficult Woman
That this book combines so many elements reflects its breadth and strength as history, biography, and cultural criticism.Read Full Review of A Difficult Woman
The chapters are deeply insightful and dig deeper than most of Hellman’s other biographers.Read Full Review of A Difficult Woman
Kessler-Harris succeeds in giving us what she promised in her introduction, “a book about a woman, about the idea of a woman, and about the world that formed and shaped her.”Read Full Review of A Difficult Woman
Kessler-Harris places all of her qualities, both fine and infuriating, in the context of the century in which she lived...Read Full Review of A Difficult Woman
A Difficult Woman avoids the chronological approach... As the reader struggles to match up these divergent strands, Hellman becomes even trickier to graspRead Full Review of A Difficult Woman
...she displays great courage in producing a sympathetic portrait of Hellman that will likely receive some of the condemnation and righteous indignation once leveled at the playwright.Read Full Review of 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...Read Full Review of A Difficult Woman
Kessler-Harris succeeds at exonerating her subject.Read Full Review of A Difficult Woman
"A Difficult Woman" brings nothing new to the table.Read Full Review of A Difficult Woman
A Difficult Woman gives us an infinitely more complex Hellman than the popular image that has survived her.Read Full Review of A Difficult Woman
A Difficult Woman by Alice Kessler-Harris is a highly worthwhile read that might draw readers to seek out copies of this storied playwright’s memoirs.Read Full Review of A Difficult Woman
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