Jenny Brown's Reviews > Dangerous Ambition: Rebecca West and Dorothy Thompson: New Women in Search of Love and Power

Dangerous Ambition by Susan Hertog
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Aug 04, 2012

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Read in August, 2012

This is one of those biographies that leaves you quivering with contempt for its subjects.

Though this group biography is obviously the product of much labor and research, the author can't get out of her own way and mars her narration by continually telling us what we are supposed to think about her subjects rather than painting scenes and giving us the information we need to draw our own conclusions.

I'd read the Glendenning bio of Rebecca West, and loved The Fountain Overflows, one of West's novels, so I was saddened by the portrait she paints of West as a hugely narcissistic, snobbish, self-involved person whose style of mothering is summed up by the fact that she sent her son away to boarding school at the age of three.

Thompson, a famed journalist, is also portrayed as a toxic mother who despite her anti-fascist stance before WWII disgraced herself by dedicating her later years to actively promoting an anti-semitic, racist agenda.

I have to wonder if either woman was as selfish, destructive, and repellent as she is painted here. The focus on these women's failure to mother well and their mediocre marriages is not balanced with much insight into what it is about their writings that made them huge public figures in an age where most women lived very private lives.

One feels like the unstated theme of this book is that women can't have it all--and that attempting to have a career requires fatally damaging one's children and alienating one's spouse, which is belied by the lives of other women active in the same time period who managed to write or report and lead reasonably normal family lives.

All in all this was a very unsatisfying read for me, which given my usual soothsaying ability means it will probably be nominated for some major award. Most biographies I dislike are.
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