Alice Kessler-Harris: A Difficult Woman

Desley Deacon


A Difficult Woman: The Challenging Life and Times of Lillian Hellman
by Alice Kessler-Harris
Bloomsbury, $39.99 hb, 439 pp, 9781596913639


Why, Alice Kessler-Harris’s friends kept asking her, are you writing a biography of Lillian Hellman – a good question of one of the world’s leading historians of women and work, who has just stepped down as president of the American Historical Association. If Hellman is remembered at all today, it is as a mediocre playwright, an ugly, foul-mouthed harridan whose luxurious comforts were provided by ill-treated employees, a blind supporter of an evil political system – and, above all, as a liar and thief who appropriated someone else’s life to make her own seem more heroic.

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Desley Deacon

Desley Deacon

Desley Deacon is an academic and writer living in Sydney .She has just completed a biography of Australian-born actress Judith Anderson and is currently exploring aspects of feminism before Feminism in the early 1960s. She is currently revising a manuscript, Four Husbands, a Lover, and a Friend: Mary McCarthy’s Experiments in Heterosexuality, for University of Chicago Press. She was formerly Professor of History at the Australian National University, where she is now Professor Emerita, and taught for a number of years at the University of Texas at Austin. She is the author of Elsie Clews Parsons: Inventing Modern Life (University of Chicago Press), and Managing Gender: The State, the New Middle Class, and Women Workers 1830-1930 (OUP), and has co-edited, with Penny Russell and Angela Woollacott, two volumes on transnational biography.

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