President Barak Obama’s declaration the other day that he believes marriage is an institution for all was an extraordinary act of courage and it had particular resonance for me, not least because I was in the process of reading A Difficult Woman, the new biography of Lillian Hellman by Alice Kessler-Harris. For those who may not be familiar with the noted playwright and activist Miss Hellman, to say that she was a woman who spoke her mind, no matter the consequence, is an understatement. To have the conviction of one’s beliefs is always admirable in this reader’s humble opinion, and Lillian Hellman had that in spades. During the McCarthy witch hunts of the 1950’s she was one of the very few who stood up and absolutely refused to cave in to the paranoia of the times with her simple declaration “I will not cut my conscience to fit this year’s fashions.”
Bravo Miss Hellman. And bravo Mr. President for telling us what is on your mind no matter the consequences, especially in a closely contested election year. Whether one is standing up to the House Un-American Activities Committee or the Tea Party — and, is there a difference — it takes a tough, uncompromising, and absolutely fierce belief in what is just to speak your mind.
And might I also say, of course it makes an excellent read. I heartily recommend A Difficult Woman to any fan of Hellman or any person who admires the absolutely blunt courage it takes to take a stand, no matter the consequences.
“I was raised in an old-fashioned American tradition and there were certain homely things that were taught to me: to try to tell the truth, not to bear false witness, not to harm my neighbour, to be loyal to my country, and so on. In general, I respected these ideals of Christian honor and did as well as I knew how. It is my belief that you will agree with these simple rules of human decency and will not expect me to violate the good American tradition from which they spring. I would therefore like to come before you and speak of myself.” — Lillian Hellman, Scoundrel Time