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Feisty Grand Dame

December 12, 2011

Martha Gellhorn: 8th November 1908 – 15th February 1998

Alison & John

Martha Gellhorn was an American novelist, travel writer and journalist, considered to be one of the greatest war correspondents of the 20th century. A leggy, well educated, blonde with a lot of sass she reported on virtually every major world conflict that took place during her 60-year career. Martha was the third wife of Ernest Hemingway. Her trademark was a battered straw hat. This hat in the photo above is my Martha Gellhorn hat.

Martha Gellhorn

I have just finished reading Selected Letters of Martha Gellhorn edited by Caroline Moorehead. The letters themselves show the mind and loves of a woman, creative, fiery, hard-working, and unconcerned with what others thought. Her unswerving energy and work ethic impress you, her love of fierce debate, hard drinking male company and sunbathing with her one obligatory battered sunhat, her capacity to lose her head in romances is endearing. She acknowledged she didn’t like sex. “I started living outside the sexual conventions long before anyone did such dangerous stuff and I may say hell broke loose and everyone thought unbridled sexual passion was the excuse. Whereas I didn’t like sex at all … all my life idiotically, I thought sex seemed to matter so desperately to the man who wanted it that to withhold was like withholding bread, an act of selfishness….. I daresay I was the worst bed partner in five continents.”

Selected Letters of Martha Gellhorn by Caroline MooreheadHer addiction to truth telling could be merciless. Like Nancy Cunard another foreign correspondent she could be fierce and uncompromising in this competitive sexist men’s world because she was brave, beautiful and clever. Her fellow male correspondents seem to hold her natural glamour and charm against her.

From 1937 she covered the civil war in Spain, and then moved to Germany, chronicling Hitler’s dictatorship and the onset of World War II. In 1940, she became the third wife of the writer Ernest Hemingway.

Martha Gellhorn

The marriage lasted five years. “Hemingway hated his mother, with reason… Now I know enough to know that no woman should ever marry a man who hated his mother.”

In 1962 in a letter to then presidential hopeful Adlai Stevenson she writes that the “people of the United States of America need suffering to learn dignity; but I hope to Christ they are spared it, simply because they would not suffer alone and the rest of the world has had enough.

Gellhorn reported from virtually every theatre of war: Czechoslovakia, Finland, Britain, Burma, Singapore and Hong Kong. Amazingly in 1989, at the age of eighty-one, she was still out at the front — reporting on the US invasion of Panama. After a botched cataract operation at the age of 89, ill and nearly completely blind, she ended her life by taking a poison pill. She had no regrets about the life she lived.

Hem’s Scary CocktailTo fortify you against all the injustice in the world I suggest you try “Hem’s Scary Cocktail” Martha’s Favourite.

Lucas Bols Oude Genever
4 dashes Angostura
1 lime
Add crushed ice to a thin tumbler. Lace the ice with 4 dashes of Angostura and add the juice and crushed peel of 1 lime. Nearly fill the tumbler with Genever.

Further reading : Authorized Biography – Gellhorn: A Twentieth-Century Life by Caroline Moorehead

main photograph: john hoerner
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