In the new London Review of Books, Deborah Friedell has a great article about the life and times of Dorothy Thompson. It’s really fascinating stuff and you should give it a read. A towering journalist at the time, Thompson was the second most famous woman in America in the 1930s (after only Eleanor Roosevelt) and she was one of the main driving forces of getting the US into World War II as a defender of democracy. She was famously the first American journalist who was expelled from Nazi Germany, after she offended Hitler by portraying him as “the quintessential small man” and assuring the world that a maniac like him could never become a dictator, since the powers that be would never allow it.
I’ve also linked to an LRB podcast that features Friedell talking about Thompson, her life and career, that’s well worth a listen, if that’s more your jam.
Coincidentally, a fictionalized version of Dorothy Thompson makes a couple cameos in my new novel–The War Begins in Paris, out this November, by the way. I’m working on getting permission to use an excerpt from Thompson’s famous column about Herschel Grynszpan and the November Pogrom inside the novel as a way to ground the fiction in history while paying homage to pioneering journalists like Thompson and others. Fingers crossed that this comes together.
The broken marriages, unsatisfying affairs, alcoholism and psychoanalytic adventures of her male subjects kept blurring into one another, while Thompson stands apart, and not only because she was a woman. She had her breakdowns too (and three marriages), but she seemed tougher than her peers, and they knew it. ‘She could always step over the corpses and go on, steadily, resolutely,’ Sheean claimed in the book he wrote about Thompson and Lewis, Dorothy and Red (1963). Thompson almost never talked about sexism – she often pretended it didn’t affect her – though in one of her columns she admitted that if she had had a daughter, she probably would have told her not to try to have a career: it cost too much. Besides, ‘society’ had a ‘greater need of good mothers’ than it did of writers of the ‘second-rate novel’. But she never thought of herself as a second-rate anything. On the radio, she was introduced as a ‘cross between Harriet Beecher Stowe and Nurse Edith Cavell’. She didn’t disagree. She wrote that her father had taught her that the world was in a ‘continual struggle between good and evil, virtue and sin’, and that ‘progress was furthered only through creative individuals, whose example and achievement leavened and lifted the mass.’ All her life, she had wanted to be one of those individuals; now everyone was telling her that she was. She had a platform; she wanted to see what she could do with it.