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Martha Gellhorn (1908 – 1998). “ Serious, careful, honest journalism is essential, not because it is a guiding light but because it is a form of honorable behavior, involving the reporter and the reader.”. A wonderful life …. Martha Ellis Gellhorn born 1908, St Louis to liberal,

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Martha Gellhorn (1908 – 1998)

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martha gellhorn 1908 1998

Martha Gellhorn (1908 – 1998)

“Serious, careful, honest journalism is essential, not because it is a guiding light but because it is a form of honorable behavior, involving the reporter and the reader.”

a wonderful life
A wonderful life …
  • Martha Ellis Gellhorn born 1908, St Louis to liberal,

upper-class activist parents

  • Attends Bryn Mawr College, St Louis, Missouri (but drops out)
  • Begins career writing for the New Republic, 1929
  • Launches career as foreign correspondent by talking her way into free passage to Europe; leaves US with $75 in her pocket and works freelance, culminating in a position at the United Press bureau, Paris
  • Returns to US and finishes first novel, What Mad Pursuit, 1934
  • Works as relief investigator for the US Federal Emergency Relief

Administration and forms lifelong friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt

"I'm over-privileged. I've had a wonderful life. I didn't deserve it but I've had it."

Publishes acclaimed novellas on Depression-hit America,

The Trouble I’ve Seen

  • Returns to Europe as war correspondent for Colliers Weekly, 1937
  • Becomes Ernest Hemingway’s third wife, 20 November 1940 (divorced 1945);

he dedicates his novel For Whom The Bell Tolls to her, 1940

  • Travels to China to report on the China-Japan war, 194, for Colliers
  • Returns to the United States, 1947, but soon leaves, disillusioned, to continue career abroad
  • Adopts son Sandy Gellhorn from Italian orphanage
  • Covers Vietnam War for The Guardian, 1966

(later refused Vietnam visa by US govt)

  • Ends war reporting career by covering US invasion of Panama, 1989, aged 81
  • Dies in London, 16 February 1998, aged 89

‘She will get up earlier, travel longer and faster and go where no other woman can get and few would stick it out if they did.' Ernest Hemingway

the war correspondent
The War Correspondent
  • Gellhorn’s career as a war correspondent covered the wars in Spain, Finland, China; World War Two in England, Italy, France and Germany; Java; Israel; Vietnam; and Central America.
  • She focused on war’s civilian victims and those fighting to survive.
  • She saw herself as “a witness” and her war reporting “partial testimony on … wars and partial explanation of my own motives and emotions”.

“War happens to people, one by one. That is really all I have to say and it seems to me I have been saying it forever.”

“I belonged to the Federation of Cassandras, my colleagues the foreign correspondents, whom I met at every disaster. They had been reporting the rise of fascism, its horrors and its sure menace, for years.
  • “If anyone listened to them, no one acted on their warning. The doom they had long prophesied arrived on time, bit by bit. In the end we became solitary stretcher-bearers, trying to pull individuals free from the wreckage.”

“There is a hard, shining, almost cruel honesty to Gellhorn’s work.” Guardian

“One of the great war correspondents of the century; brave, fierce and wholly committed to the truth of the situation.”The Telegraph

blending journalism with art
Blending journalism with art
  • During her lifetime, as well as creating ground-breaking journalism, Gellhorn wrote five novels, 14 novellas, a play and two collections of short stories.

“Reading Martha Gellhorn for the first time is a staggering experience. She is not a travel writer or a journalist or a novelist. She is all of these, and one of the most eloquent witnesses of the 20th Century.”

Bill Buford, fiction editor, The New Yorker



  • The Trouble I've Seen (four novellas), Morrow, 1936
  • The Stricken Field (novel), Duell, Sloan & Pierce, 1940,

published with a new afterword by Gellhorn, Virago, 1986.

  • The Heart of Another (short stories), Scribner, 1941.
  • Liana (novel), Scribner, 1944

with new afterword by Gellhorn, Virago, 1987.

  • The Wine of Astonishment (novel), Scribner, 1948, published as

Point of No Return, with a new afterword by Gellhorn, New American library, 1989.

  • The Honeyed Peace (short stories), Doubleday, 1953.
  • Two by Two (four novellas), Simon & Schuster, 1958
  • His Own Man (novel), Simon & Schuster, 1961.
  • Pretty Tales for Tired People (short stories), Simon & Schuster, 1965.
  • The Lowest Trees Have Tops (novel), M. Joseph,

1967, Dodd, 1969.

  • The Weather in Africa (three novellas),

Penguin, 1978, Dodd, 1980.

  • The Short Novels of Martha Gellhorn,

Sinclair-Stevenson, 1991.

  • The Novellas of Martha Gellhorn, Knopf, 1993.

"Have a new housemaid named Martha and it certainly is a pleasure to give her orders. Marty was a lovely girl though. I wish she hadn't been quite so ambitious and war crazy..." Ernest Hemingway, post divorce

Non Fiction
  • The Face of War

(collected war reporting), Simon & Schuster, 1959, revised edition,

Atlantic Monthly Press, 1986.

  • Travels With Myself and Another

(autobiography and travelogue), Penguin, 1978, Dodd, 1979.

  • The View From the Ground

(collected peacetime reporting), Atlantic Monthly

Press, 1986.


  • Author with Virginia Cowles of play,

Love Goes to Press, 1946.

"I wrote fiction because I love to, and journalism from curiosity which has, I think, no limits and ends only with death."

the face of war
The Face of War
  • A selection of war reports, from Spain in 1937 to Panama in 1990
  • Originally covered reporting on wars in progress and wars “about to be”, during eight years in 12 countries
  • Mirrored by The View from the Ground, a collection of peacetime correspondence
  • Published 1959, updated 1967, 1986, 1988 with new material, introductions and appendices
  • Introduction, 1959, famously analyses journalism and its meaning

“I had no idea you could be what I became … an unscathed tourist of wars.”

“The people in these articles are ordinary people, anyone; what happened to them happened to uncounted others.”
  • “The pictures are small but there are many, and it seems to me that they merge finally into one crowded appalling picture.”
  • “There is a single plot in war; action is based on hunger, homelessness, fear, pain and death… War is a horrible repetition.”
  • “I wrote very fast, as I had to; and I was always afraid that I would forget the exact sound, smell, words, gestures which were special to this moment and this place.”
  • “The point of these articles is that they are true; they tell what I saw. Perhaps they will remind others, as they remind me, of the face of war. We can hardly be reminded too much or too often. I believe that memory and imagination, not nuclear weapons, are the great deterrents.”

(Appendix, The Face of War, 1959)

“All politicians are bores and liars and fakes. I talk to people… ”

A highly personal volume:
  • “I hold to the relay race theory of history; progress in human affairs depends on accepting, generation after generation, the individual duty to oppose the evils of the time. The evils of the time change but are never in short supply and would go unchallenged unless there were conscientious people to say: not if I can help it.”
  • “We must always remember that we are not the servants of the state.”
  • “There has to be a better way to run the world and

we better see that we get it.”

  • “Painfully honest … a writer and reporter deserving of serious attention in her own right, not just a woman once married to a famous man. ” The Atlantic Monthly
It took nine years, and a great depression, and two wars ending in defeat, and one surrender without war, to break my faith in the benign power of the press.
  • Gradually I came to realize that people will more readily swallow lies than truth, as if the taste of lies was homey, appetizing; a habit.
  • Journalism at its best and most effective is education
  • Journalism is a means; and I now think that the act of keeping the record straight is valuable in itself.
  • We still have the right and duty, as private citizens, to keep our own records straight.

“You go into a hospital and it's full of wounded kids, so you write what you see and how it is. You don't say there's 37 wounded children in this hospital, but maybe there's 38 wounded children on the other side. You write what you see.”

men of action
Men of action
  • Ethical beliefs about writers’ responsibilities:
  • "We have the obligation of seeing and understanding what happens, of telling the truth, of fighting constantly for a clarification of the issues...”
  • Politically engaged:
  • “A writer must be a man of action now. Action

takes time, and time is what we need most. 

But a man who has given a year of his life,

without heroics or boastfulness, to the war in Spain,

or who, in the same way, has given a year of his life

to steel strikes, or to the unemployed, or to the

problems of race prejudice, has not lost or wasted time. 

He is a man who has known where he belonged. 

If you should survive such action, what you have to

say about it is the truth, is necessary and real, and

will last.”

“Though notably lacking in political analysis, her dispatches have a piercing clarity largely absent in the work of modern embedded correspondents.” Nicola Walker, The Age

critical analysis
Critical analysis
  • Style according to the critics:
  • “A camera-like objectivity” Angelia Hardy Dorman, A history of American Women
  • Focuses on details and the senses (influenced by George Orwell)
  • Clear and passionate
  • Sharpness and truthful observation
  • Strong authorial presence
  • An introduction to history in human terms and on a human scale
  • First-hand accounts
  • Subtle and effective messages
  • Profoundly influenced by her experiences in the Second World War
  • Politically engaged (although some consider her lacking in political analysis)

“[Gellhorn] writes with a cold eye and a warm heart.“

James Cameron, British journalist

the war in china background
The War in China - Background
  • “No one [in 1940] knew or cared much about the war in China, but Japan had become an Axis partner and what Japan did held a new menace. I wanted to see the Orient before I died; and the Orient was across the world from what I loved and feared for. Journalism now turned into an escape route.”
  • “My China articles were not entirely candid. They did not say all I thought, and nothing of what I felt. There was a severe censorship in China, but I was more troubled by an interior censorship, which made it impossible for me to write properly.”
  • “I had been included … in luncheon parties given by the Chiangs… I had accepted their hospitality, and since they owned China, it would be as if I had visited them as a guest and thanked them by writing unpleasant things about their house. I have never again accepted hampering hospitality.”
  • (The War in China, 1959)
Gellhorn was sent to China by Colliers in 1941, to report on the Sino-Japanese war
  • She was accompanied by Hemingway, described throughout as U.C. (Unwilling Companion)
  • The piece was later published in Travels with Myself and Another and The Face of War
  • She was horrified by the state of Chiang’s China: “I was sure this China had always been drowning in hopeless poverty and disease,

and war only made the normal state somewhat worse.”

“The notion that China was a democracy under the Generalissimo is the sort of joke politicians invent and journalists perpetrate.”

  • Major theme:

“The Japanese can never conquer China by force. People who can move their capital three times, carry factory machinery and university equipment over the mountains to safety, supply a front by sampan and coolie carrier, burrow into rock and survive endless bombing, build a thousand-acre airfield in a hundred days without machinery will endure to the end.” (penultimate para, p91)

“Time does not matter in China” (last para, p91)

  • High concept sentence:

“Well, Mr Ma,” I said, “in the long run, I’d hate to be Japanese.” (last para, p92, and concluding sentence of the piece)

  • Voice:

First person (“I”)

Member of unidentified group (“We”)

A participant, as well as a keen observer and historian –

certainly meets Mark Kramer’s requirement for “felt life”

Figurative language:

Rich in both metaphor and simile

“Kicking like a baby with a tantrum” (p79);

“He looked like a cheerful Buddha” (p80)

  • Language:

Lean, vivid, detailed and descriptive

“The gait of the horses was like the bucking, jerking movement of an electrical-horse machine in a gymnasium.” (p79)

Uses precise detail to paint pictures; juxtaposes surprising details

“An emaciated, filthy man wearing a rain cape made of dried grass, like a hula skirt, paused to look at us …

He was one of their secret agents.” (p88)

The Third and Fifth brigades of the Guangdong People's Anti-Japanese Guerrilla Detachment

Deceptively simple, crisp – without excess - absence of purple prose or melodrama

“The wind blew wildly all night, and it was too cold to sleep, but in the morning the sky was swept clean and we could see ahead the

curving mountains, blurring in the distance.” (p87)

  • Thumbnail sketches

“His grandson was a tiny mysterious boy,

like a Chinese version of Jackie Coogan in

The Kid, with the same cap and the same

enchanting, wistful face” (p83)

  • Tone:

Affectionate, intimate, opinionated, gently ironic (viz. her hotel, a ramshackle “palace”, p80)

occasionally humorous (viz. Mr Ma’s vegetarian tiger, p87)

Includes direct speech (p87; p89; p90; p91; p92)

Sense of the authentic – factual reporting

“It was very cold but there were plenty of mosquitoes, that frail slow-moving kind with the curled-up hind legs, the malarial mosquito” (p80)

“A common soldier earns four and a half Chinese dollars a month (or twenty-three US cents) and he has a rice allowance” (p86)

  • Anecdote

The Group of Devils play (p89);

How they burn of the hilltop to get rid of tigers (p87)

  • Prophetic

Gellhorn is “an author making what might have seemed a bold declaration, but which history proved to be true” (Gene Mustain):

“In the long run, I’d hate to be Japanese” (p92)

“The late journalist Martha Gellhorn is remembered for her radical openness and bravery in discussing controversial political issues. Sadly, Gellhorn, a model for female journalists, has few followers who dare write articles with principled insights and honestly expose the truth behind the news.”

John Pilger, New Statesman

Many paragraphs have a nut sentence – effectively, an end sentence that serves as “an exclamation point on the paragraph” (GM)

“This strange system of military under-pay, and the tragic lack of provision for the wounded, are the two greatest misfortunes of the Chinese Army. Always excepting war, which is a misfortune for everyone.” (p86)

Postscript …
  • “A writer publishes to be read; then hopes the readers are affected by the words, hopes that their opinions are changed or strengthened or enlarged, or that readers are pushed to notice something

that they had not stopped to notice before.” 

  • “All of my reporting life, I have thrown small

pebbles into a very large pond, and have

no way of knowing whether any pebble caused

the slightest ripple.  I don't need to worry about

that.  My responsibility was the effort.”

“Martha was passionate and political, glamorous and exciting. She loved to drink and gossip and smoke and flirt. She was hugely entertaining. She was motivated by a deep-hearted, deep-seated concern for justice; she was the friend of the dispossessed, the oppressed, the neglected. And she was a good writer.” Bill Buford, fiction editor, The New Yorker