Muriel’s War: An Amer­i­can Heiress in the Nazi Resistance

  • Review
By – August 31, 2011
An Amer­i­can heiress who left behind a life of priv­i­lege to study med­i­cine in Vien­na at a time when that was still unusu­al for women; study psy­cho­analy­sis in Freud’s inner cir­cle; and become a Resis­tance fight­er who saved count­less Jews and anti-Fas­cists dur­ing World War II, Muriel Gard­ner is a fas­ci­nat­ing sub­ject for a biog­ra­phy. She may have been the woman, as Isen­berg claims — as had oth­ers before her, includ­ing writer Mary McCarthy — who inspired the title char­ac­ter in the film Julia,” even though play­wright Lil­lian Hell­man denied it.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, Muriel Gar­diner doesn’t come to life as vivid­ly as the many men the beau­ti­ful Gar­diner had affairs with — includ­ing her lover and lat­er hus­band, Josef Buttinger, who was the head of the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Social­ists in Aus­tria, and the poet Stephen Spender. 

Although these rela­tion­ships are prob­a­bly overem­pha­sized, they do pro­vide the spark that might bet­ter have derived from the dan­ger­ous res­cue work in which Gar­diner was engaged and from her dar­ing and rebel­lious nature. As Hell­man sensed, there’s a great sto­ry to be told.
Bar­bara Train­in Blank is a free­lance jour­nal­ist and arts previewer/​reviewer, as well as some­time play­wright based in Har­ris­burg, PA.

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