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A Difficult Woman: The Challenging Life and…
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A Difficult Woman: The Challenging Life and Times of Lillian Hellman (edition 2012)

by Alice Kessler-Harris

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Member:Citizenjoyce
Title:A Difficult Woman: The Challenging Life and Times of Lillian Hellman
Authors:Alice Kessler-Harris
Info:Bloomsbury Press (2012), Edition: 1, Hardcover, 448 pages
Collections:Wishlist
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Tags:Biography, Communism

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A Difficult Woman: The Challenging Life and Times of Lillian Hellman by Alice Kessler-Harris

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Why has provocative author Lillian Hellman, who was admired during her lifetime for being blunt and outspoken, now become the archetype for lying hypocrisy? That’s one of the questions historian Alice Kessler-Harris pursues in A Difficult Woman, a detailed and fascinating examination of Hellman’s life with the aim of gaining a better understanding of the quirks and conundrums of the artistic, political and intellectual spheres of America in the twentieth century. Rather than a strictly chronological account, A Difficult Woman is organized by topics that range from Hellman’s unconventional love life with Dashiell Hammett, the various stages of Hellman’s writing career which are all united by the desire to shed light on moral issues, the ongoing allegations that Hellman was a communist including her celebrated appearance before the House Un-American Activities Committee, and Mary McCarthy’s infamous accusation that every word Hellman wrote is untrue, even including “and” and “the.”

Hellman was and is considered “difficult” because her public persona was determined, uncompromising, controlling and relentless, but when people met her they were often surprised by her lady-like softness. Her large heart drew friends to her, but her irascibility, especially after her first stroke in 1974, pushed them away. Though publically linked with many liberal political causes in her life, Hellman was not someone to blindly follow a party line. She often found herself in a no man’s land between powerful competing ideologies and worldviews such that even today, more than a quarter century after her death, the mention of her name can unleash a surprising amount of caustic vitriol. Hellman was one of a group of people in the 1930s who thought communism could bring about a more perfect egalitarian democracy. When she finally changed her mind about that, she still believed the extremes of American anti-communism were a greater threat to personal liberty and freedom of speech than communism itself, a viewpoint that offended even liberals like Mary McCarthy and that led to charges from both the left and right that Hellman was a Stalinist. A Difficult Woman is a well-researched and persuasive portrait of a catalytic twentieth century personality. ( )
  Jaylia3 | Feb 20, 2012 |
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A provocative assessment of the controversial playwright challenges the opinions of her detractors while exploring contradictions in her character, from her non-practice of Judaism and her impassioned but nonpartisan political views to her sexual freedom in spite of a scorn for the women's movement and her writing of memoirs that repeatedly questioned the authenticity of memory.… (more)

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