Although Louise Bryant was one of the most respected international journalists of her day, her story, unlike that of her second husband, the journalist and political radical John Reed, has been "overlooked by traditional history and nearly lost to legend." Mary Dearborn's thoughtful, concise biography recovers the full dimensions of Bryant's achievement-filled, passionate, and often tragic life -- that of "a true twentieth-century heroine." For readers acquainted with Bryant only though Diane Keaton's portrayal of her in Warren Beatty's film Reds, Dearborn's book arrives as a welcome reassessment.
A true "child of the West," Bryant was born in 1885 in Reno, Nevada to a working-class family, and she learned early on her talent for reinvention. Although one contemporary complained that she "had no right to have brains and be so pretty," Bryant was also unabashedly independent, a professed suffragist since college. While married to a dentist in Portland and writing for a local newspaper, she met and fell in love with Reed and was soon living with him in a "free love" arrangement in Greenwich Village. During their stormy relationship she focused on her writing career, becoming a front-line war correspondent in World War I. She and Reed worked together in Russia during the Revolution, and her book, Six Red Months in Russia, made her an authority on Russian politics and socialism
Reed's sudden death left Bryant distraught, and her personal life grew reckless. She married the wealthy diplomat William Bullitt, embarking on a self-described "useless" bourgeois life. Her affair with a lesbian, and her development of an incurable disease that deformed her body with painful lumps, ended the marriage in a bitter divorce. Bryant spent the rest of her days as a writer and sculptor in Paris. Despite her disease, she took up solo flying.
Along with clear, elegant prose, Dearborn brings to this extraordinary narrative both an empathetic understanding of Bryant's egotistical personality and a firm sense of historical context. At a time when "women were striving to find a place that transcended becoming muses to their men," Dearborn ultimately shows how Bryant's profound will to "carry on," despite myriad social constraints, made her triumphs that much more extraordinary. -- Salon
Escaping what she saw as her bourgeois existence as the wife of an Oregon dentist, Louise Bryant (1885-1936) ran off to New York City's Greenwich Village with radical journalist John Reed, who became her second husband. They preached and practiced free love, although her affair with Eugene O'Neill led to explosive quarrels. In revolutionary Russia, while Reed wrote Ten Days That Shook the World, Bryant produced Six Red Months in Russia, a highly sympathetic account of the Bolshevik coup and the communist attempt to mold a new society. Reed died in Moscow in 1920, and four years later, Bryant, a leading Hearst reporter, married William Bullitt, formerly President Wilson's assistant secretary of state. Their move to Paris introduced Bryant to a lesbian subculture, and her affair with English sculptor Gwen Le Gallienne led to a bitter divorce in 1930, with Bryant denied custody of her daughter, Anne. Bryant's long, tragic decline was marked by heavy drinking, paranoia, mental confusion and weight gain, all of which are associated with Dercum's disease, a rare disorder with which she was diagnosed in 1928. Dearborn (The Happiest Man Alive: A Biography of Henry Miller) is much too uncritical of Bryant's role as cheerleader for the Bolshevik cause, and she seems caught up in the romantic saga of her subject's life. Even so, this is a vivid biography of a charismatic woman. Photos not seen by PW. (Jan.)
Dearborn (The Happiest Man Alive: A Biography of Henry Miller, LJ 4/15/91) has written a nonjudgmental and compassionate biography of Louise Bryant. Considered too middle class and attractive by the Greenwich Village friends of her second husband, radical John Reed, and too bohemian by the family and friends of her third husband, Bill Bullitt, Bryant struggled to prove herself as a writer and journalist and as a person in her own right. Dearborn is as candid about her problems as about her successes. Based on original research and the papers of the late Virginia Gardner (Friend and Lover: The Life of Louise Bryant, LJ 10/15/82. o.p.), Dearborn's work is more focused on Bryant and covers some topics such as Bryant's liaison with Gwen Le Gallienne, to which Gardner merely alludes. Recommended for public and university libraries.-Sharon Firestone, Ross-Blakley Law Lib., Arizona State Univ., Tempe
Radical feminist journalist Louise Bryant (1885-1936) has never been accorded the attention and respect she deserves. When she is remembered, it is solely as the wife of communist journalist John Reed, but Dearborn, a biographer of unwavering perception, intelligence, and eloquence, proves that Bryant was of tremendous importance in her own right. An adventurous child, Bryant became a startlingly beautiful and determinedly unconventional woman. She was married and pursuing a commercial art career when she experienced a passionate political awakening. Shortly thereafter, she met Reed and abruptly transformed her life. Bryant and Reed were astute, intrepid, mercurial, and devastatingly attractive people. Their romance with each other and with the Russian Revolution inspired them each to achieve distinctive journalistic greatness. Bryant never toed the party line; instead, she wrote vividly about the texture and spirit of life in Russia. As Dearborn chronicles Bryant's remarkable, influential, and dramatic life--from her interviews with Lenin and Mussolini to her triumphant speaking tours, traumatic losses, and tragic illness--she astutely analyzes the complexities of Bryant's dynamic personality and the pettiness of her critics. This is an unforgettable and profoundly affecting story of a genuine modern trailblazer and heroine.