Desensitized for a long time to the stressful pain of the infamous McCarthy period, Scoundrel Time must have been a most cathartic memoir for Lillian Hellman to write; it is, of the autobiographical trilogy, the most unfeigned and succinct of the three books. Her voice resonates, echoes, and behind hers, the voices of other 'Red Scare' victims closely follow. This is not her book alone; it is a book belonging to a past, present and future generation of people who were, are, and regrettably will be, victims of slanderous tales and virulent gossip. Scoundrel Time searchingly delves into a dark time in our country when Freedom of Speech, Religion, Press, Assembly and Petitioning of government was on a gossamer threshold to nonexistence. This memoir was also clearly the most difficult one for Lillian Hellman to write, for as she herself says, "...I had a strange hangups and they are always hard to explain. Now I tell myself that if I can force them, maybe I can manage. The prevailing eccentricity was and is my inability to feel much against the leading figures of the period, the men who punished me. Senators McCarthy and McCarran, Representatives Nixon, Walter and Wood, all of them, were what they were: men who invented when necessary, maligned even when it wasn't necessary. I do not think they believed much, if anything, of what they said: the time was ripe for a new wave in America, and they seized their political chance to lead it along each day's opportunity, spit-balling whatever and with whoever came into view." (P.37) That 'new wave' hurt a lot of innocent people, human beings who were not spared the iniquitous rod of economic, career and social deprivation all because they, like Hellman, would not name names, who would not cede their code of conviction, honor and belief(s). The irony of this period is a true slap-in-the-face, for the Constitution and Bill of Rights, the most revered parchments of this country were verbally shaken into dust by those who wanted to shout and search out communistic evils where none existed in the first place. Like the Civil War of 1861 - the period of McCarthyism, name dropping, The House Un-American Activities, The Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, it turned brother against brother, friend into foe (Elia Kazan and Clifford Odets are perfect examples), rich people into poor. And in the end - the true tragedy is - nothing came out of the whole mess except a lot of miserable people who, by not subscribing to Truman's loyalty program or proposition of Americanism, sacrificed either their material luxury or worse, their character and integrity. Should a horrid 'craze' of this political and social nature (which really was a political subterfuge) ever arise in this land of republicism/democracy, I would subscribe to the very wise words of Lillian Hellman, "I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year's fashions." (P.30)
Desensitized for a long time to the stressful pain of the infamous McCarthy period, Scoundrel Time must have been a most cathartic memoir for Lillian Hellman to write; it is, of the autobiographical trilogy, the most unfeigned and succinct of the three books. Her voice resonates, echoes, and behind hers, the voices of other 'Red Scare' victims closely follow. This is not her book alone; it is a book belonging to a past, present and future generation of people who were, are, and regrettably … more
In 1952, Hellman joined the ranks of intellectuals and artists called before Congress to testify about political subversion. Terrified yet defiant, Hellman refused to incriminate herself or others, and managed to avoid trial. Nonetheless the experience brought devastating controversy and loss. First published in 1972, her retelling of the time features a remarkable cast of characters, including her lover, novelist Dashiell Hammett, a slew of famous friends and colleagues, and a pack of "scoundrels" -- ruthless, ambitious politicians and the people who complied with their demands.