Maybe – 3/5 Stars
Maybe is a short novella, and possibly the only in Hellman’s career. It’s hard to know exactly what the book is because it’s written as a mini-biography circulating around a specific interaction. Normally I wouldn’t think too much about this distinction but Hellman wrote three quite famous and quite popular memoirs later in her career, so this little book coming out about 10 years later and just two years before she died raises a few small questions.
The book itself begins when our initially unnamed narrator possibly sees an old acquaintance going into a hotel. She begins to think about how to possibly track this person down that she hasn’t seen in more than 40 years and whose name she doesn’t know for sure. She knew her maiden name, and then her married name, but she’s convinced that that will be enough information to go on or that those names are this person’s name anymore. So while she tries to work through how she might contact her and, the biggest question, whether she wants to contact her, she remembers. The memories involve being roommates with this woman when they were both starting out, Lillian Hellman as a writer. This relationship involves going out together, meeting men, taking men home, drinking (lots of drinking), and the relationships they ended up forming and sticking with when they fell apart. Ultimately the novella, looking back on a lifetime of interactions, but now alone late in life ponders the question about what women readily sacrifice to be with men, in regards the women in their life.
I want to say it reminds me of The Seven Lives of Evelyn Hugo, but I don’t want to confuse the point if you’ve read that one (especially since that in part that novel is based on Hellman’s books or the books that were inspired by her books), but only in terms of the form of a celebrity life looked back upon with as many questions as revelations. And of course as Americans, we eat that up.
The Children’s Hours – 4/5 – Spoilers, by the way on this one
This early play of Hellman’s takes place in an all-girls school. Our two headmistresses are friends working together and one of them is about to be married. A fight between the teacher and a student (a relatively benign one ultimately) leads the girl to run home to her grandmother and tell her a dark “secret”. We end the scene with the girl crying in her arms and saying “I don’t ever have to go back do I?” and the grandmother telling her “No no, you never have to go back.” I actually felt at that moment that the secret would be dark. The next scene involves the grandmother telling her nephew who is engaged to one of the headmistresses that he cannot marry her, when he asks why, she tells him that the girl came home and told her that she saw the two headmistresses kissing. He doesn’t understand (we do of course) and the scene follows with the girl telling what she saw.
This leads to the confrontation with the two women, who by the way were not kissing. The girl’s story immediately falls apart because details don’t line up at all (plus it’s not true) but the damage is done. The women sue for slander and lose because a friend of their fails to appear in court. Now everything in disarray, and lives torn apart, there’s several moments of aftermath that happen.
It’s always curious, and usually painful to look at how homosexuality is handled in different eras. There’s plenty of gay panic in this play, and mostly Lillian Hellman avoids committing it herself, though there’s gay tragedy as well. Just having lesbians be something so scary that it could devastate everyone is enough (and yeah, it still happens). It’s also curious the way the play handles the accusations as well, and how my own reactions to the details. I of course thought, who knows if it’s true and also who cares. But I also was worried it was going to be abuse being accused. What leads me to believe is wholly separate from the truth it turns out.