Hulme, Kathryn (1900–1981)

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Hulme, Kathryn (1900–1981)

American author who wrote The Nun's Story. Born on January 6, 1900, in San Francisco, California; died on August 25, 1981, in Lihue, Hawaii; daughter of Edwin Page and Julia Frances (Cavarly) Hulme; attended the University of California, 1918–21; attended Columbia University, 1922; attended Hunter College (now Hunter College of the City University of New York), 1923; never married; lived with Marie-Louise Habets (1905–1986); no children.

Selected works:

How's the Road (privately printed, 1928); Arab Interlude (1930); (novel) Desert Night (1932); (fictional autobiography) We Lived as Children (1938); (nonfiction) The Wild Place (1953); (fictionalized biography) The Nun's Story (1956); (fiction) Annie's Captain (1961); (autobiography) Undiscovered Country: A Spiritual Adventure (1966); Look a Lion in the Eye (1974).

Kathryn Hulme is best remembered for her book The Nun's Story, the biography of her companion Marie-Louise Habets (characterized as Gabrielle Van der Mal, or Sister Luke, in the book), a former nun and nurse she met while working overseas following World War II. Habets served in a mental hospital in Belgium and in a Congo bush hospital before seeking release from her vows to fight with the underground Resistance against the Nazis. Hulme's book sold 700,000 copies and in 1959 was adapted into a major film starring Audrey Hepburn .

Hulme was born in San Francisco, California, in 1900. She attended the University of California, Columbia University, and Hunter College before taking her first job as a reporter for the Daily Californian. She lived as an expatriate in Paris during the 1930s but returned to the United States at the outbreak of the war, taking a job as a welder in the Kaiser Shipyards. From 1945 to 1947, she served as a deputy director of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) in a U.S. Occupied Zone in Germany, where she met Habets, and then helped organize and served as deputy director of Wildflecken, a camp for displaced Poles in Bavaria. In 1951, she and Habets moved back to the United States, living in Connecticut, Southern California, and, finally, on the Island of Kauai, in Hawaii.

A keen observer of the world around her, Hulme wrote mostly from her own experiences. Her later works are marked by a deep spirituality, the result of her relationship with the mystic-philosopher Gurdjieff, who also influenced such writers as Janet Flanner, Solita Solano, Djuna Barnes, Jane Heap, Margaret Carolyn Anderson , and Georgette Leblanc . Hulme's experience with Gurdjieff is detailed in Undiscovered Countries: A Spiritual Adventure (1966), which is set in Paris during the 1930s. She credited him with teaching her to "unroll the reels and look at the shadows of forgotten selves buried in the unconscious memory," or, more simply put, "how to believe." This self-knowledge, according to Linda Ludwig in American Women Writers, accounts for the poignancy of the fictional autobiography We Lived as Children (1938). "The self—or selves—that is evoked is androgynous by nature, a wise child—as children tend to be before life dulls them—devastated by an elusive father." Hulme's father also appears in a later work, Annie's Captain (1961), a fictionalized account of her parents' marriage.

Travel provided the basis of two of Hulme's books, Arab Interlude (1930), a collection of North African sketches, and Look a Lion in the Eye (1974), a later work about a safari through East Africa, which is also characterized by Hulme's more "conscious" state. The Wild Place, based on Hulme's work with displaced persons following the war, won the Atlantic Monthly's first prize for nonfiction in 1953. The Nun's Story also garnered numerous awards, including the Commonwealth Club of California Gold Medal, the National Council of Women of the United States Book Award, and The Brotherhood Award of the National Conference of Christians and Jews. The author died in Hawaii, on August 25, 1981.


Contemporary Authors. Vol. 104. Detroit, MI: Gale Research.

Mainiero, Lina, ed. American Women Writers: From Colonial Times to the Present. NY: Frederick Ungar, 1980.