Martha Gellhorn was a caricature of the spunky feminist war correspondent. A legendary adventuress who was a match for Hemingway, a seducer of generals, a confidante of Eleanor Roosevelt, her name evokes grit, glamour and style. She is one of those few who can claim to have had a ringside view of the 20th century, and she was deservedly a feminist icon and foreign correspondent's pin-up. But as this excellent biography shows, underneath it all, Gellhorn was all too human.
This close-up of her life shows her to have been by turns selfish, vulnerable, catty, naive, a poor mother and an unenthusiastic sexual partner. Easily bored, she was also fiercely competitive, witty, spirited and absolutely no-nonsense. She had enough gusto to turn a youthful wander overseas into a life of adventure, recorded in magazine articles which turned her into a household name. And when outraged, as she was by injustice in war and the horror she saw at Dachau, she was a whirlwind of determination and indignation.
Caroline Moorehead has succeeded in getting to know her subject thoroughly, turning the myths inside out and showing us the real Martha Gellhorn. The image that is left is of a rather complex and lonely figure, isolated by her own willfulness. Moorehead has done a fine job: I loved this biography, but I'm not sure I could have loved Martha Gellhorn.