Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Lillian Hellman & Scoundrel Time

I ran out of new books to read, having reached the library in Orleans five minutes late Saturday, so dug out this oldie.  It was a great re-read, an account of her disheartening experiences during the McCarthy-era in the early fifties; she was one of those called to testify: was she a Communist? ... did she know anyone who was or had been a Communist?  The only response, in order not to rat out one's friends or colleagues, was to take the Fifth Amendment.  Lillian Hellman hated having to do this, wishing to speak only for herself, but if you opened your mouth even about yourself you became obliged to answer other questions.  She is famous for having said in a letter (before her appearance before it) to the House on Un-American Activities Committee, "I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year's fashions."

I did keep in mind that, since reading this book the first time, Mary McCarthy had (on The Dick Cavett Show) said of Hellman: "Every word she writes is a lie, including and and the."

Whom to trust?  As much as I admire McCarthy -- a great essayist and a mediocre novelist -- I think I'll trust Hellman for truth before trusting McCarthy. 

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