Author: Susan Hertog

Publisher: Random House Publishing Books
ISBN: 978-0-345-45986-2

In her unassuming introduction to this biography of two noted women writers who were both born in the late Victorian era, Susan Hertog expresses the temerity that she felt in assuming to dare attempt to portray the similarities and differences between two outstanding women of their day who both felt compelled to confront the pressing issues of the societies in which they lived, the famed American journalist and radio broadcaster Dorothy Thompson both in America and as the first female head of a news bureau permanently stationed in Berlin and the strongly anti-fascist and profoundly humanitarian (ultimately Dame) Rebecca West in the UK and also on the European continent. Biography, Hertog acknowledges, “is a fascinating game that requires intense and far-ranging research from a myriad of vantage points, the discerning of patterns, and the synthesizing of the chaos of experience into a comprehensible, meaningful, and entertaining narrative that captures the essence of an individual.” That she does a remarkably fine job of it is, no doubt at least in part, due to her ability to flesh out the lives of the two women, making them accessible to the average reader in their roles as friends, lovers and wives, in addition to that of being great intellectual pioneers and insightful societal analysts of the first half of the twentieth century.

As Hertog states, “[t]o understand these women and their men in the context of the social and political forces that determined the thrust and contour of their lives, and to draw lessons relevant to our lives and times, is the end toward which I have written this book.” Hertog’s firm academic grounding in an M. F. A. from Columbia University, as well as her previous authorship of the biography Anne Morrow Lindbergh: Her Life have both put her in good stead for writing such an ambitious and thoroughly well-researched book as this, to which she appends over 430 endnotes and 10 densely packed pages of selected bibliography. The text is, in addition, illustrated with numerous black-and-white photographs that provide empathetic insight into the lives of both Thompson and West.

Hertog’s affinity for her subject has enabled her to condense six years of research into a work that does her subject proud, and in which she is able, from the perspective of a woman who takes great care in her own writing to attain accuracy and meaningful insight, to provide an in-depth analysis of these two great intellectuals. The liveliness of Hertog’s spirited writing can clearly be seen in her vivid use of imagery throughout the text, which is enhanced by the authors’ own metaphoric bent. Witness, for example, her retelling of how Thompson once revealed to a friend that, prior to meeting and marrying the expatriate writer Joseph Bard, “she had lived the solitary life of a wildcat, ready to pounce on the next big story, scavenge a revolution, and feed on the carcasses of people and events.”

This lively account of two women, who, despite being separated by geographical distance, were so much alike in their undaunted spirit and in their conscientious probing of human rights issues, should find a ready audience among all who are interested in, and concerned with, both contemporary and historical women’s issues.

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