Read Pentimento by Lillian Hellman Online


In this widely praised follow-up to her National Book Award-winning first volume of memoirs, An Unfinished Woman, the legendary playwright Lillian Hellman looks back at some of the people who, wittingly or unwittingly, exerted profound influence on her development as a woman and a writer. The portraits include Hellman's recollection of a lifelong friendship that began in cIn this widely praised follow-up to her National Book Award-winning first volume of memoirs, An Unfinished Woman, the legendary playwright Lillian Hellman looks back at some of the people who, wittingly or unwittingly, exerted profound influence on her development as a woman and a writer. The portraits include Hellman's recollection of a lifelong friendship that began in childhood, reminiscences that formed the basis of the Academy Award-winning film Julia....

Title : Pentimento
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780316352888
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 320 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Pentimento Reviews

  • Kenny
    2019-04-02 18:17

    "Old paint on canvas, as it ages, sometimes becomes trasparent. When that happens it is possible, in some pictures, to see the original lines: a tree will show through a woman's dress, a child manes way for a dog, a large boat is no longer on an open sea. That is called pentimento because the painter "repented," changed his mind. Perhaps it would be as well to say the old conception, replaced by a later choice, is a way of seeing and then seeing again." This is how Lillian Hellman starts her memoir Pentimento."That is all I mean about the people in this book. The paint has aged now and I wanted to see what was there for once, what is there for now." I read this as a teenager and fell in love with Lillian Hellman. I was 16 and devoured everything I could find by Hellman that Summer. Pentimento made for great reading. Revisiting Pentimento was like revisiting a long lost friend. Yes, I know the controversies surrounding the stories. Was Julia really based upon the life of Muriel Gardiner, a woman Hellman never met? Were other stories inventions of a dried up playwright's mind? Why did Hellman smooth over her Stalinist past? I know them all, but frankly my dear, I don't give a damn. Lillian, my old friend, Pentimento still makes for great reading.

  • K.D. Absolutely
    2019-04-10 19:42

    The concept behind this memoir, as hinted by its title, is unique if not an original.A pentimento (plural pentimenti) is an alteration in a painting, evidenced by traces of previous work, showing that the artist has changed his or her mind as to the composition during the process of painting. The word is Italian for repentance, from the verb pentirsi, meaning to repent.Then the author applied it to her life by writing this memoir of the people she used to know. Really used to know.Lillian Hellman (1905-1984) was an American author of plays, screenplays and memoirs, including this one. She was a Communist. She was the partner of Dashiell Hammett (1894-1961), a popular author of hard-boiled detective novels and short stories. Hellman was 67 when she finished writing this memoir. Her memory was starting to fade and I am not sure if this was the reason why she was not certain of what she was saying in many parts of the book: "I don't know", "I believe" or "possibly" but for me that is part of the design - to convey honesty. As she peels off the old paint, as she tries to recall what exactly happened, she found herself struggling. However she was still clear on some aspects including this usual blunder that memoir writers are normally guilty of (p. 91):"Childhood is less clear to me than to many people: when it ended it turned my face away from it for no reason that I know about, certainly without the usual reason of unhappy memories. For many years that worried me, but then I discovered that the tales of former children are seldom to be trusted. Some people supply too many past victories or pleasures with which to comfort themselves, and other people cling to pains, real and imagined, to excuse what they have become."Lillian Hellman was one hell of a lady. Her most famous work was the play The Children's Hour (1934) about two lesbians who are high school teachers who fall in love with each other but are sacked by the school authorities when they discover the affair. One of them kills herself out of shame. The other is sacked afterwards.The highlight of the book is her life-long friendship (Hellman wrote that they did not have sexual intercourse) with "Julia" who was an anti-Fascist woman in Russia during World War II. This chapter in the book became the basis of the 1977 movie that was nominated for 11 awards in Oscars and brought home three awards:If you look closely at the caption of the above movie poster, it says "The story of two women whose friendship suddenly became a matter of life and death." This is true. You will hold your breath in that train scene. To think that this really happened and not some kind of spy fiction thriller.This is a well-written memoir. Again, just like the , or I would not have picked this memoir if this were not included in the.Thanks again to my brother for suggesting that we read all the books included in the 501 and 1001 book lists. My life becomes more meaningful having read so many wonderful books!

  • Georgia Gibbs
    2019-04-17 13:24

    Many times I buy a book based on the first page. This is what I found in this book, why I read it and why I love it still:"Old paint on a canvas, as it ages, sometimes becomes transparent. When that happens it is possible, in some pictures, to see the original lines: a tree will show through a woman's dress, a child makes way for a dog, a large boat is no longer on an open sea. That is called 'pentimento' because the painter 'repented,' changed his mind. Perhaps it would be as well to say that the old conception, replaced by a later choice, is a way of seeing and then seeing again." -from the introduction to Lillian Hellman's Pentimento

  • Dvora
    2019-03-28 16:35

    This was a re-read. I knew I liked the book but couldn't remember much about it except that Dashiell Hammett had been persecuted by Joe McCarthy. Now I know why I liked it. It's a gem. It presents numerous people from Hellman's life -- well drawn but with details missing, as they would be in normal life; we never know everything about another person. Hellman doesn't fill in those gaps. She lets us see for ourselves and judge for ourselves. There are hilarious parts (the condoms!) and wrenching ones (Julia) and intriguing and fascinating parts. This is a wonderful book.

  • Debs
    2019-04-13 19:38

    I loved this book. Every single page of it. It's not about Hellman's great successes and failures, her great loves or her true heart breaks. It is about people that touched her life at times when she, for whatever reason (too young, too busy, too worried, too heartbroken, too drunk), could not figure them out. Which is to say, she didn't understand at the time of the relationship what motivated these people to do what they did, or how they did what they did or why. Mixed in with actual people is also her relationship with the theater, which was indeed as fickle a lover for Hellman as Hammett ever was. The book is so lovely because she merely describes what she saw at the time she saw it, without saying, "Now, that I have lived, I understand why." She simply lets the stories float on the page, as they float in and out of her own memory throughout her life. The stuff of history she is best known for, The Children's Hour as well as her love of Hammett and her ruin at the hands of the McCarthy hearings are just background to the narratives of these other people she loved and misunderstood and pondered. It's like a B-side record. Not the billboard hit, but the other side, which sometimes you end up loving even more than the popular song. I think more people SHOULD write books like this: Leave the big brush strokes to the critics, and write about people who really changed how you thought, even if it's years after they are dead when you realize it. It made me think about people I've known who were mysteries to me at the time, but who I look back on every now and again. And now, I will always think of Hellman when I think of them.

  • Ruth
    2019-04-04 14:31

    I have a 40 year old copy of this book in paperback. My Mother gave it to me. Lillian Hellman writes vividly of her life and times. She was a distinguished playwright during the era of Dorothy Parker and Tallulah Bankhead.Every time I read it, I am transported back in time.

  • Sketchbook
    2019-04-11 19:28

    Let brevity be the soul of this crit : pimento in baloney.

  • Mommalibrarian
    2019-03-23 12:20

    "Old paint on canvas, as it ages, sometimes becomes transparent. When that happens it is possible, in some pictures, to see the original lines: a tree will show through a woman's dress, a child makes way for a dog, a large boat is no longer on an open sea. That is called pentimento because the painter "repented," changed his mind. Perhaps it would be as well to say that the old conception, replaced by a later choice is a way of seeing and then seeing again."This book consists of several long sketches from the author's past. The pieces are informal. She is scrupulously honest in only recording what she is certain she remembers. This means big areas are not discussed. You can see this tendency in the opening lines of the book above, "sometimes", "it is possible", "in some pictures". She is very careful. She is not an easy person to understand. Her point of view is not simple and she does not represent herself as being consistent over time. The main time period covered is before WWII although there is some from her childhood as well. I wanted more. I wanted to know more about her life and her point of view. She is amazingly honest in her observations.Here is another bit that really grabbed me. She has had a surprising conversation with a man she thought of as a friend. "I had not slept much that night, waking up to read, and to think about Arthur. I was what he wanted to want, did not want, could not ever want, and that must have put an end to an old dream about the kind of life that he would never have because he didn't really want it. We have all done that about somebody, or place, or work, and it's a sad day when you find out that it's not accident or time or fortune but yourself that kept things from you."

  • Janellyn51
    2019-03-30 18:34

    Maybe 5 stars is a little over the top, but I'm on a Lillian Hellman bender at the moment. I did really love this book. I love the style of her writing and the way she speaks. You feel like you're sitting in a room with her having a drink and listening to her. Turtle made me laugh out loud. I'm not in any way shape or form into harming turtles you understand, it's the conversations between her and Hammett. "the turtle's gone"! "you drink too much in the morning". I loved the one about Arthur Cowan, maybe because it's impossible to read about him, and not remember poor old Billy Ruane, who was actually filthy rich, but nutty as a fruitcake. Of course, they differed in that Arthur drove a Rolls and Billy an old jaguar. Julia was quite good and then I watched it again on Netflix, ad quite enjoyed the film, and comparing the screen play with the short story. Jane Fonda was too pretty maybe, and not raspy or rude enough, and still she did a pretty good job. Mary McCarthy may have caused herself no end of trouble when she said on Dick Cavett that nothing Lillian Hellman said was true including and, and the....maybe you have to take this memoir with a grain of salt as to whether things happened or didn't. Hellman says more than once that she doesn't exactly remember what happened when, but reading Pentimento just for itself, I would find it hard not to enjoy her observations on the Theater, tales of Tallulah, and drunken back and forths with Hammett.

  • Jan C
    2019-04-14 15:29

    Another set of memoirs from Lillian Hellman. Probably another pack of lies and half-truths from what I have read and heard in the last few years. This is the book the story "Julia" came from. Somewhere along the way I figured out that by comparing this and her previous book of memoirs you could figure out what Julia's real name was or at least who she was in the first book. Because when she first wrote the first book, she may not have known that she was going to write the second book.

  • Laurel
    2019-04-04 14:27

    This memoir by Lillian Hellman is one of my all time favorite. I still cherish my original copy from the 1980's. Each chapter reads like a short story. She was a fabulous writer. I first heard of her in medical school. Some friends and I went to Hancher Auditorium to see a woman who did a one-person show based on the book (like Hal Holbrook doing Mark Twain).

  • Karen Wellsbury
    2019-04-13 18:34

    I love this book so much. I first read it when I was 16, obsessed with the relationship between Hellman and Dashiell Hammett. This is a snapshot into her life, people who touched her emotionally at varying times. I have read this pretty much every year, and it always moves me.

  • Chelsea
    2019-03-23 15:37

    Very good book with historical value. Remarkable woman who showed courage during a time when most men hid their tails and ran.

  • Michelle Manuel
    2019-04-14 14:46

    An intimate conversation with a sometimes brutally honest Hellman—that’s how this book read to me. The title, Pentimento, refers to the “original lines: a tree will show through a woman’s dress, a child makes way for a dog, a large boat is no longer on an open sea” that appear once old paint fades and reveals what was drawn or painted under the painting. Hellman writes that it is a “way of seeing and then seeing again.” She uses this analogy to describe the way she looks back on her experiences with special people in her life. One of the more poignant stories in the book was that of the snapping turtle that unbelievably survived being shot in the head and having his head nearly severed by the blow of an axe wielded by Hellman’s longtime boyfriends and author Dashiell Hammett. In a particularly lurid description of the turtle leaving a trail of smeared blood as it managed to move itself from the stove to somewhere in the bushes on the property, Hellman creates an unforgettable image of this horrific, yet heroic, fight for life. It causes her to question what life is. It causes the reader to do the same. So profoundly impacted, she refuses to allow Hammett to cook the turtle, instead burying the turtle herself. The idea that such a visceral fight to preserve one’s life should be honored is the impetus for Hellman’s burying of the turtle. Just as pentimento is a “way of seeing and then seeing again,” I suspect that I will read this book again at another time in my life and see it through the lenses of greater maturity and richer life experiences that hopefully come with advanced age.

  • Christian Engler
    2019-04-17 16:19

    Pentimento: A Book of Portraits is electrfying in its earnestness and candor, incisive in its tone, acerbic in its wit and picturesque in its mental imagery - a memoir (unlike An Unfinished Woman) that is a bit more honed and focused and less formless in how the recollections and diary entries jump from one to the next. Be that as it may, let it not mitigate the merit of An Unfinished Woman, for in its own right, it is a very worthy read and most deserving of its National Book Award. Each chapter in Pentimento is framed, each segment representing a person, place or experience that had a certain signifigance to Lillian Hellman's life and development not only as a playwrite but as a person. The book chapters are listed as thus: Bethe, Willy, Julia, Theatre, Arthur W.A. Cowan, Turtle, and Pentimento. The writing fluidity is fragmented, almost jarring, but the fierce, explicit prose enhances the flavor of the volatile, broken mishmash of truth and hyperbole, a choice style that is not a detriment to what Hellman has to say. With magnetic intimacy, the portraits all have something meaningful to declare; they range from the profound to the wittily bizarre. The latter is best represented in the portraits entitled "Arthur W.A. Cowan" and "Turtle." It is in these two portraits where Hellman's mordant humor especially shines.From Arthur W.A. Cowan:I said, "Oh, shut up, Arthur."And he did, but that night as he paid the dinner check, he wrote out another check and handed it to me. It was for a thousand dollars.I said, "What's this for?" "Anybody you want."I handed it back.He said, "Oh, for Christ sake take it and tell yourself it's for putting up with me.""Then it's not enough money." (P.235)AndFrom Turtle:Toward afternoon I telephoned the New York Zoological Society of which I was a member. I had a hard time being transferred to somebody who knew about turtles. When I finished, the young voice said, "Yes, the Chelydra serpentina. A ferocious foe. Where did you meet it?""Meet it?""Encounter it?""At a literary cocktail party by a lake." (P.278)Considering the period, the one-liners are quite sharp; the portrait that obviously stands out the most is "Julia," the 'supposed' friendship that developed between Hellman and a Freud disciple who happened to be an anti-facist supporter - a 'friendship' that later formed the basis for the Academy Award-winning film of the same title. Whether the story is fact or fiction, that is up for the reader to decide. Whether "Julia" represented a single woman or a group of dedicated individuals fighting to stop/lessen the evils of war whom Hellman truly admired and who thus wanted her name associated with, may also never be known. But what can be said of the Julia portrait is that it is a written down homage to a person or persons who tried to make a positive difference in that dark epoch of our global history.

  • Tristy
    2019-04-03 12:31

    I loved this. The title itself is so brilliant - "pentimento" being when you are able to see the ghost traces of previous work in a painting, showing that the artist has changed his/her mind and painted over a previous idea. The word is Italian for "repentance," and in this book, Lillian is looking back and trying to find the old traces of memories of her past and the people she interacted with. There is a kind of repentance present, as well as a deep care for showing all sides of these complicated characters in her life. Her writing style is a perfectly delicious blend of Dashiell Hammett and Dorothy Parker, all while listening to New Orleans jazz during high tea at Oxford. I loved the beginning, when she wends her way back to her childhood and tickles us with the exploits and adventures of a young, wild Lillian. Things go a bit darker as she ages and has to face the heartbreaking darkness of dealing with Nazism, alcoholism and the McCarthy Hearings, but even then, her brilliantly witty voice guides us through it all and helps us remember that we all can get through our own darkness. I had never read anything of hers before, and I'm going to remedy that right away. She's truly a treasure of an author.

  • Alpha Bet
    2019-04-19 11:46

    "Old paint on a canvas, as it ages, sometimes becomes transparent. When that happens it is possible, in some pictures, to see the original lines: a tree will show through a woman's dress, a child makes way for a dog, a large boat is no longer on an open sea. That is called pentimento because the painter "repented," changed his mind. Perhaps it would be as well to say that the old conception, replaced by a later choice, is a way of seeing and then seeing again. That is all I mean about the people in this book. The paint has aged and I wanted to see what was there for me once, what is there for me now."

  • Russell Sanders
    2019-03-29 16:25

    Beautifully written, compellingly told. The book is less an autobiography than it is a collection of personal essays. While I found it interesting to read about her fascinating life, further research says that most of this book is a lie. The famous tale of Julia (made into the wonderful movie with Jane Fonda and Vanessa Redgrave) apparently is total fiction, with Hellman appropriating a woman's persona (whom she didn't even know) and calling her Julia, then fabricating a story.

  • Donna
    2019-04-13 17:30

    Not sure if it’s her writing or her life that would not let me put the book down. She was a most unusual woman that mixed with some history makers. She made some of that history herself.I’ll have to reread An Unfinished Woman now and watch a few of her movies.

  • Jill Stevenson
    2019-03-24 18:34

    I loved every sentence in this book. Now I'll read everything she wrote!

  • Melissa Delbridge
    2019-04-04 17:18

    Remarkable memoir, stories told exquisitely.

  • Tess
    2019-04-08 14:29

    Her relationship with Julia and Arthur Cowan were the most interesting characters in her book.

  • Martin
    2019-04-09 18:39

    Excellent -- the only reason I give it four stars is because some stories (per usual) are better than others. However, like Faulkner's "Go Down Moses", there is a makeshift chronology in the ordering of the stories, although the stories themselves can go back and forth at will. I am accustomed to this, however by many of my favorite authors anyway, such as Toni Morrison and Faulkner. A few years ago, around age 37, I read Proust. I was, at that time, finally equipped to grasp the act of deeply looking back at one's life and culture in such a broad scope. A few years later, age 40 and having weathered a few storms in the intervening years (though nothing like Hellman and Hammett's survival of McCarthyism), I can better understand her writing style here, which is also the whole point: that one can look back with different eyes than one used previously, see different connections, which may then structurally require temporal digressions to get the story told properly with extreme focus on whomever the subject may be. And then wondering whether these things are really connected or whether we are just telling "ourselves stories in order to live," as Joan Didion stated in her similarly themed essay, "The White Album". Things I enjoyed: anytime anyone has anything to say about Dorothy Parker, James Thurber, or Gerald & Sara Murphy, I'm delighted to know more. Hellman describes Gerald Murphy as fastidious and also tells of drinking with Dottie (Parker) and the Murphys all day during the premiere of "The Little Foxes". She writes deliciously (or suspiciously?) of its star, Tallulah Bankhead, who vaguely amuses Hellman when she's not thoroughly exhausting her. I love Hellman's observations about homosexuals, such as their preoccupation with the size of the male organ -- "if things aren't too bad in other ways I doubt if any woman cares very much." My favorite quote is in the story 'Julia': "I was pleased that she thought that I knew the excellence of Toulouse-Lautrec, because I didn't, and had to be told about him by a fellow student who used to buy me hamburgers in order, I think, to tell me about his homosexual experiences." She also writes very movingly about the long decline of Dash Hammett through McCarthyism and TB/lung cancer. She is also very interesting when she positions herself between the Lost Generation, which she doesn't really understand with all their doomed romanticism, and the 'Greatest Generation' who, after WWII were often defined by going along to get along. I think she appreciated the leftism in the late 1960s, particularly those who derided the people who named names to HUAC, although she was too generationally removed and didn't have the material security or energy to be able investigate the youth quake. After all, she states, "The time of doing what I liked was over in 1952." The point of this book, in many ways, is to take us "roaming through a churchyard and picking out names of old friends on the tombstones." One of my favorite activities.

  • Ruth
    2019-03-30 18:23

    Presented as second volume of Hellman's memoirs. This one is 'A Book of Portraits'. She 'approached the idea of the self portrait obliquely, using portraits of others to imply a picture of herself'. I liked parts of this one. Tainted a bit with the Julia chapter. I thought the Arthur W. A. Cowan chapter revealed little to nothing of Lillian Hellman, but I thought the remainder made for an interesting read. I loved all the references of Dorothy Parker. Not sure much was revealed of Lillian, too oblique. Some phrases / sentences I marked:'the humiliation of vanity''I revenged myself on myself''afraid of being afraid''kind of outward early-learned passive quality that in women so often hides anger''a giant tangled time-jungle''It is a mark of many famous people that they cannot part with their brightest hour' - don't think it's limited to famous people - I think we all cling to our glory years'Someday I'll pay you back unless the dear God helps me conquer the evil spirit of revenge''the righteousness that belongs to a certain kind of aging sinner''sadness often looked like temper, often turned into it, as is … rejecting despair for something healthier'

  • Will
    2019-04-17 18:37

    On Tallulah Bankhead and The Little Foxes: "She had been 'wild' about the play, wild enough to insist the consultation take place while she was in bed with John Emery and a bottle. [Herman] Shumlin said he didn't think Emery liked [it] that much, but he was certain that poor Emery was unprepared for Tallulah's saying to Herman as he rose to go, 'Wait a minute, darling, just wait a minute. I have something to show you.' She threw aside the sheets, pointed down at the naked, miserable Emery and said, 'Just tell me, darling, if you've ever seen a prick that big.'"

  • Ray Hubley
    2019-04-17 18:42

    Is there anywhere another writer so routinely vilified for being outspoken, heartfelt, incorrigible and ... oh yes, a woman?This amalgam of memories, of reveries and wisdom cut loose from chronology, but girded by wit, feeling and fierce intelligence deserves a far more respectful appraisal than it generally gets.Too bad for the saps, I say.

  • Aimé Corona
    2019-04-21 15:41

    Lillian, la verdad no puedo con tu vida.

  • Bruce
    2019-04-15 17:38

    I would have enjoyed the book more if I hadn't looked it up on wikipedia halfway through and learned there are questions about its truthfulness.

  • The RN Doula Officiant
    2019-04-05 15:39

    Again very slow reading. Didn't enjoy.

  • Ginger Stephens
    2019-03-26 11:40

    This was the second book that I read by Lillian Hellman and I think it is my favorite. It is one of the few memoirs where I actually hear the author's voice as she relates her memories of the people from her younger days. I did not get that sense in the other book that I read, An Unfinished Woman. The only memory remaining from that book is that it seemed to be about spending time at literary/theatre festivals in the Soviet Union and drinking a lot.My desire to read Pentimento was initially inspired by the move Julia, with Jane Fonda playing Lillian and Vanessa Redgrave as Julia. I was surprised that the movie followed Julia's story very closely, but there was not a lot of additional information about Julia nor any indication that her daughter had ever been located.I was most amazed at Hellman's openness about her own faults as she had grown to know herself. As she remembered the people whose stories make up this book, she related how her own personality quirks and temper affected her relationship with them. I found this to be the most interesting part of the book. I hope I am able to take the time to develop that sort of self-knowledge and acceptance of fate that only time brings.