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Lunch » Tags » Book » Reviews » An Unfinished Woman: A Memoir (Back Bay Books) » User review

A crisp, dynamic, theatrical, literary memoir.

  • Aug 27, 2001
Rating:
+5
A life where no living is done is a life not worth living. Like O'Neil, Shaw, Williams and Isben, Lillian Hellman (1905-1984, scriptwriter, playwrite, social and political activist and critic) wrote some of the most enduring and thought-provoking drama for the theatre in the 20th century, and the above 'proverb' could very easily have been her epitaph. An Unfinished Woman (Winner of the 1969 National Book Award for biography/Autobiography), the first memoir in her autobiographical trilogy (the two others being Pentimento: A Book of Portraits and Scoundrel Time), showcases a woman who had a 'steel rod' for a spine, a woman of stark liberty who would not compromise her beliefs nor truckle in the presence of those political, military and literary higher-uppers (Hemmingway is a case-in-point) whom she encountered who expected a cowering reaction due to their 'clout.' But that was something she never offered, for as Lillian Hellman said of herself when asked the question, "What are you made of, Lily?" Her cool response was, "Pickling spice and nothing nice." This 'confession' of glued-together memories and eloquent journal entries shimmers with quiet, concentrated reflection and introspection. Each chapter gleams and flashes like a beacon, slowly proffering insights into not simply a remarkable life but a frozen portrait of a bygone era - a period of class, dignity, wisdom, self-learning, an endless stream of wonderful things that are presently no more. She hobnobbed with the best and brightest, luminaries like: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemmingway, William Faulkner, Dorothy Parker, John Hersey, Averell Harriman, and of course, above them all, her truelove and literary confidant, Dashiell Hammett. As a globe-trotting cultural attache' to Russia, France, Germany, and other European lands, she lived and saw intrigue with those of her like mind. She was on the front lines (or very close to them) during World War II. She witnessed bombed out villages and destroyed lives, all the emotional and physical calamities that the horrors of war can funnel forth, broadcasting them for all to hear and imbibe. She participated (with some trepidation) in the PEN (Poets, Playwrites, Essayists and Editors and Novelists) Center Conference, conversing with intellectuals on the pressing issues of the time, but her reluctance was most unequivocal, for intellectual chitchat can, and for her, did quickly evolve into a bombastic mess on hyperbolic, pretentious proportions. She saw B.S., and she saw truth, not hesitating in the least to speak her mind or to write about it. From her reminiscences of her New Orleans girlhood with her beloved caretaker Sophronia, to her shuffling to New York, to her failed marriage and her father's infidelity, Hellman's life only crescendos. With corrosive verve, 'salty' wit and profound insight, Lillian Hellman lets the past truly come alive. In the end, she showed one and all that she was an 'empowered' woman before many thought that could ever be possible.

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review by . May 11, 2013
A crisp, dynamic, theatrical, literary memoir.
A life where no living is done is a life not worth living. Like O'Neil, Shaw, Williams and Isben, Lillian Hellman (1905-1984, scriptwriter, playwrite, social and political activist and critic) wrote some of the most enduring and thought-provoking drama for the theatre in the 20th century, and the above 'proverb' could very easily have been her epitaph. An Unfinished Woman (Winner of the 1969 National Book Award for biography/Autobiography), the first memoir in her autobiographical trilogy …
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Christian Engler ()
Ranked #652
Not much to say; my info section and likes pretty much says it all. Cheers.
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Hellman didn't pull any punches in this 1969 autobiography in which she reminisces about her unhappy upbringing in New Orleans and her literary relationships, especially that most famous one with master whodunit writer Dashiell Hammett. Though many critics and biographers claim that Hellman invented half of her life stories, these tales do make for interesting reading, so who cares. (LJ 6/15/69)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Details

ISBN-10: 0316352853
ISBN-13: 978-0316352857
Author: Lillian Hellman
Genre: Biographies & Memoirs
Publisher: Back Bay Books
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