MARTHA GELLHORN is one my heroines. Travel writer, war reporter, wit and hard drinker – basically an all round great dame. Oh, and she was also married to Ernest Hemingway.
His third wife, they started a relationship behind the lines during the Spanish Civil War. One of the first women journalists to cover WW2, she crossed the channel on D-day stowed away on a hospital ship. She trekked across China with Ernest. She was in Vietnam, with the Nicaraguan Contras, and went on reporting until the US invasion of Panama – at 81.
However, she objected to people always referring to her as Hemingway’s wife. “I was a writer before I met him and I have been a writer for 45 years since,” she said later. “Why should I be a footnote in someone else's life?”
She loved him (though she once admitted he wasn’t that great in bed). She admired his writing, those wonderful pared down sentences, but she refused to be the subservient wife. In her book, “Travels With Myself and Another” she refers to Hemingway as U.C., “Unwilling Companion.”
Funny and feisty, a good dresser and a chain smoker, best friend of Eleanor Roosevelt, she was the only one of his wives who left him. After another brief marriage she chose to live on her own, writing stories from Cuba, Italy, France, Mexico and Kenya. “Nothing is better for self-esteem than survival.”
Bill Buford ( fiction editor or The New Yorker) once said, “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.”
I couldn’t agree more.