The Next Chapter

Martha Gellhorn was more than an ex-wife of Ernest Hemingway — Janet Somerville tells her story in a new book

The life of the American novelist and war journalist is explored in Yours for Probably Always.
(Firefly Books)

Martha Gellhorn had a storied career as a foreign correspondent, was a contemporary and friend of notable people such as Orson Welles, Eleanor Roosevelt and Dorothy Parker, and is considered one of the best writers of her generation. 

But the American writer and journalist is best known for her brief marriage to Ernest Hemingway. 

Toronto author Janet Somerville spent three years immersed in Martha Gellhorn's life and writing. She is the editor of Yours for Probably Always, a nonfiction book that details Gellhorn's life and personal correspondence.

Somerville dropped by The Next Chapter to talk about Yours for Probably Always.

Novel no more

"I was originally planning to write a novel about Martha Gellhorn, until Paula McLain announced that she had sold a book called Love and Ruin, which is about Martha's relationship with her husband Ernest Hemingway. 

"I knew that I couldn't compete with McLain. I wrote to Martha's literary executor, who had given me permission to have access to her papers at Boston University, and gave him a list of books that I could write instead of the novel that I had hoped to finish.

I think correspondence and letters create a kind of intimacy about the writer and about the writer's voice.- Janet Somerville

"We agreed that I would work on a book that was grounded in the correspondence that had never been published before. I think correspondence and letters create a kind of intimacy about the writer and about the writer's voice. You get this genuine way of being in the world at that very moment."

Without fear

"Martha was fierce and fearless. She was entirely her own person, always. And I think that comes across in all of her letters. It also brings out that kind of genuineness in all of her correspondence as well. It's important for Martha's voice to be heard again because she was an ardent antifascist.

Martha was fierce and fearless. She was entirely her own person, always.- Janet Somerville

"Much of what she wrote is not only for our time now — as fascism rises up around us and threatens democracies worldwide — but also for all time. She would say things and write things about the citizen's job to make a fuss, to complain and to protest. Many of these letters were written 80 years ago; they could have been written this week."

Janet Somerville's comments have been edited for length and clarity.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?