SILENCE HAS A NAME - Poetry Chapbook and CD, with Music by Mark Hanley

Thursday, April 3, 2014


Martha Gellhorn might have been the best journalist of World War II, her reporting exceeding in excellence even that of her husband Ernest Hemingway. That's an arguable point, although the fact she was heroic is not. She beat Hemingway to cover the D-Day landings and was there when the infamous concentration camp, Dachau, was liberated, an experience she never forgot.

The Trouble I've Seen, based on Gellhorn's reports on the Great Depression, was published in 1936, only a few months before she met Hemingway, but it was her coverage of World War II in Spain and other parts of Europe that secured her place as a great journalist. She was unflappable covering the horrors of war on the front, and also brought attention to the ravages of war in its aftermath.

In a report from Rome on how children pay for war, published August 1949 in the Saturday Evening Post, and collected in A View From the Ground, Gellhorn wrote:

…”A nun led up a small brown-haired boy with beautiful but frightened eyes. He would look at no one and kept turning away his head, and you could see the cords standing out in his neck. He was mumbling or whispering something. Then I realized that this child was telling how the Germans came to arrest his father, a Partisan, but his father was not home and the Germans were angry, so they took his mother and his aunts and his grandmother into the streets and shot them. He was with his mother, but she fell on top of him and he was hidden by her skirt and the Germans thought he was dead, so they went away.”

She was influenced by Hemingway's writing style, but her independence, intelligence and compassion were her own and became distinguishing trademarks of her career. Born in 1908 to cultured, socially prominent parents--her father was a doctor and her mother, a graduate of Bryn Mawr--Gellhorn grew up in a progressive household, encouraged to acquire an education and uphold her views. But the independent-mindedness that became a hallmark of her career was a liability in her marriage to Hemingway, who abused her ruthlessly.

One of the fullest accounts in print of the horrors of her life with Hemingway, was in a letter to David Gurewitsch, one of her lovers, written in 1950, six years after Gellhorn had left Hemingway and right after he had included an unflattering caricature of her in his mediocre novel, Across the River and Into the Trees. Gellhorn wrote, “... I beg you to understand this. Ernest had a theory that brutality was all women understood; if they seemed recalcitrant (like me) they only needed to be beaten more… I had honestly thought that Ernest would drive me mad with cruelty.”

She continued her life as a journalist after leaving Hemingway, covering Vietnam, the Six-Day War in the Middle East and Nicaragua and was known as much for the quality of her reporting as her fearlessness. At the age of 79, while walking near her house in Nyali, outside Mombasa, she was assaulted and raped. According to Lesley McDowell in Between the Sheets, Literary Liaisons of Nine 20th Century Women Writers, Gellhorn “simply dusted herself down, walked back to her house, treated her cuts and bruises, then drove herself to a nearby doctor.”

Determined to control her path, even at its end, she took her own life. After being diagnosed with terminal cancer, she took care of her business, cleaned her flat in London and took a pill she had been saving for just such an occasion, and, after downing some whiskey quietly passed away. Gellhorn had never been afraid of death. 

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