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Pentimento (Back Bay Books) Paperback – March 29, 2000

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Product Details

  • Series: Back Bay Books
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books; Reissue edition (March 29, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316352888
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316352888
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.6 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #926,590 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Hellman's 1973 title was the second of three volumes of memoirs written after she had dried up as a playwright. These remembrances have come under fire by many who claim she lifted some of these stories from others, such as the famous "Julia" chapter upon which the film was based, and completely invented others. Whether fact or fiction, begged, borrowed, or stolen, who cares? This book makes for great reading.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

About the Author

"Lillian Hellman (1905-1984) is best known as the author of the plays The Children's Hour, The Little Foxes, Watch on the Rhine, Another Part of the Forest, The Autumn Garden, and Toys in the Attic. She also wrote three volumes of autobiography: An Unfinished Woman, for which she received the National Book Award in 1969, Pentimento, and Scoundrel Time.

Wendy Wasserstein is a Pulitzer Prize winning playwright whose works include An American Daughter, The Sisters Rosenzweig,The Heidi Chronicles, Isn't It Romantic, and Uncommon Women and Others."

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

33 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Gary F. Taylor HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 5, 2007
Format: Paperback
Lillian Hellman's PENTIMENTO, A loose collection of autobiographical essays and stories, has been both controversial and famous, and very specifically so for "Julia." In this particular tale, Hellman describes her attempt to aid a friend by smuggling money to support anti-Nazi efforts in 1930s Germany--and subsequently finding herself unable to protect Julia from the ferocity of the Nazi machine. Powerfully written, it is the centerpiece of the book, and in 1977 was adapted into a very popular and much-praised film starring Jane Fonda and Vanessa Redgrave.

It was at this point, however, that controversy arose. The film caught the attention of Muriel Gardner, who promptly asserted that she was 'Julia' and the story itself was significantly based on her own life and work in pre-World War II Germany. She also stated that she had never met Lillian Hellman--but it transpired that she and Hellman had at one time shared the same attorney, who was well aware of her past and who could have described it to Hellman.

Hellman flatly stated that Gardner was not 'Julia' and insisted that the story, while altered re details and circumstances to protect the identities of those involved, was indeed factual. As more details of Gardner's life came to light, however, it seemed increasingly likely that Hellman had indeed made use of it in creating the story, and the dispute continues to provoke strong feelings even some thirty years after the deaths of both Hellman and Gardner.

It was not the first time Hellman had been accused of literary fraud and it would not be last. During her long love affair with novelist Dashiell Hammett, Hellman was frequently accused of draining his ideas to further her own work.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Deborah Martinson on January 5, 2001
Format: Paperback
Pentimento is a brilliant--and entertaining--portrait of a woman's life seen through the doubleness of "then and now." Hellman sketches the people within her life, now housed in her memory. Although dubbed a memoir, it transcends a mere record of Lillian Hellman's life and portrays instead the way in which a woman's history merges with the memory of it. Each chapter is a portrait of someone or something symbolically important, and each is written in a different style reflecting its content and theme. Not history, not autobiography, not fiction, Hellman tried instead to get the feeling of her life right, to find something individual and universal. Drama, humor, tragedy--it's here, and it's important.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Scott E. Amundsen on September 13, 2002
Format: Paperback
Lillian Hellman, one of the greatest playwrights of the Twentieth Century, bares her soul in this electrifying collection of vignettes about her life in the theatre; her friends and family; her complex relationship with the great Dashiell Hammett; and much more.

Reading this book is like listening to Hellman talk intimately about her life. It is a true memoir; she does not remember details; the conversations tend to be fragmented, and she freely admits that her memories may have been blurred by the passage of time (and in some instances, Hellman's enthusiastic consumption of liquor).

Hellman was an extraordinary writer and an extraordinary woman. In PENTIMENTO she reveals herself as few writers have ever done. She makes no attempt to portray herself as a hero or a villain, but as a real, living, breathing woman with changing views and difficult but fascinating relationships.

One of the vignettes tells of her friendship with "Julia," a woman whom she had known from girlhood who became an anti-Nazi resistance fighter and eventually was murdered by the Gestapo. There have been several cries of "FAKE!" and "LIAR!" concerning the Julia chapter, particularly from a woman named Muriel Gardiner, who claimed to be the model for the Julia character in both Hellmann's book and the subsequent film adaptation (a brilliant one directed by Fred Zinnemann). To be sure, Hellmann was known by her friends and family to be a woman who exaggerated things; it's what made her such a great playwright. But the only thing I can say in Hellmann's defense regarding the "Julia" chapter is that Muriel Gardiner, what ever she herself did or did not do during WWII, it is indisputable that she emerged from it with life and limb intact.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Robert J. Crawford on July 5, 2005
Format: Paperback
I do not have the knowledge or tools to judge whether Hellman has written the truth here. However, what I do know is that it is splendidly written in a quirky style, which I studied when younger, and the stories are full of psychological depth and personal reflection. While I find her plays and scripts somewhat shallow with easy-to-label characters, I admit that I liked this book as a fully realized work of art.

While I do think it matters if she consciously fictionalized her life, whatever the facts this is a good read. I will leave it to scholars and critics to hash out the debate.

There are many memorable scenes that live in my mind: her floating in a storm and remembering an incident of killing a snapping turtle, with reminiscences of Hammett as her great love. The scene wanders into a rumination of death and loss, which I thought was real literature. Of course, there is the story of Julia, but there are many other notable scenes, like Hemingway competing with Hammett over his sppon-bending abilities. It is also a window into the past that is vividly rendered.

Warmly recommended.
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