Mary McCarthy (author)

Mary McCarthy (author)

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Mary Therese McCarthy was an American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 author
Author
An author is broadly defined as "the person who originates or gives existence to anything" and that authorship determines responsibility for what is created. Narrowly defined, an author is the originator of any written work.-Legal significance:...

, critic
Critic
A critic is anyone who expresses a value judgement. Informally, criticism is a common aspect of all human expression and need not necessarily imply skilled or accurate expressions of judgement. Critical judgements, good or bad, may be positive , negative , or balanced...

 and political activist.

Early life


Born in Seattle, Washington
Seattle, Washington
Seattle is the county seat of King County, Washington. With 608,660 residents as of the 2010 Census, Seattle is the largest city in the Northwestern United States. The Seattle metropolitan area of about 3.4 million inhabitants is the 15th largest metropolitan area in the country...

, to Roy Winfield McCarthy and his wife, the former Therese Preston, McCarthy was orphaned at the age of six when both her parents died in the great flu epidemic of 1918. She and her brothers, Kevin
Kevin McCarthy (actor)
Kevin McCarthy was an American stage, film, and television actor, who appeared in over two hundred television and film roles. For his role in the 1951 film version of Death of a Salesman, he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and won a Golden Globe Award for New Star of...

, Preston, and Sheridan were raised in very unhappy circumstances by her Catholic father's parents in Minneapolis, Minnesota, under the direct care of an uncle and aunt she remembered for harsh treatment and abuse.

When the situation became intolerable, she was taken in by her maternal grandparents in Seattle, Augusta Morganstern, who was Jewish, and Harold Preston, a prominent attorney and co-founder of the law firm Preston Gates & Ellis
Preston Gates & Ellis
Preston Gates & Ellis, LLP, also known as Preston Gates, was a law firm with offices in the United States, China and Taiwan. Its main office was in the IDX Tower in Seattle, Washington...

, who was an Episcopalian
Episcopal Church (United States)
The Episcopal Church is a mainline Anglican Christian church found mainly in the United States , but also in Honduras, Taiwan, Colombia, Ecuador, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, the British Virgin Islands and parts of Europe...

. (Her brothers were sent to boarding school.) McCarthy credited her grandfather, who helped draft one of the nation's first Workmen's Compensation Acts, with helping form her liberal views. McCarthy explores the complex events of her early life in Minneapolis and her coming of age in Seattle in her memoir, Memories of a Catholic Girlhood
Memories of a Catholic Girlhood
Memories of a Catholic Girlhood is the autobiography of Mary McCarthy that was published in 1957. The book chronicles McCarthy's childhood including her being orphaned, having an abusive great uncle, and losing her Catholic faith. In the book McCarthy writes details at the end of each chapter that...

. Her brother, actor Kevin McCarthy
Kevin McCarthy (actor)
Kevin McCarthy was an American stage, film, and television actor, who appeared in over two hundred television and film roles. For his role in the 1951 film version of Death of a Salesman, he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and won a Golden Globe Award for New Star of...

, went on to star in such movies as Death of a Salesman
Death of a Salesman
Death of a Salesman is a 1949 play written by American playwright Arthur Miller. It was the recipient of the 1949 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Tony Award for Best Play. Premiered at the Morosco Theatre in February 1949, the original production ran for a total of 742 performances.-Plot :Willy Loman...

(1951) and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956).

Under the guardianship of the Prestons, McCarthy studied at the Forest Ridge School of the Sacred Heart
Forest Ridge School of the Sacred Heart
Forest Ridge School of the Sacred Heart is a private, Roman Catholic, all-girls middle school and high school in Bellevue, Washington, USA. It is located in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle. The school is a member of the Society of the Sacred Heart schools and is part of the global...

 in Seattle, and went on to graduate from Vassar College
Vassar College
Vassar College is a private, coeducational liberal arts college in the town of Poughkeepsie, New York, in the United States. The Vassar campus comprises over and more than 100 buildings, including four National Historic Landmarks, ranging in style from Collegiate Gothic to International,...

 in Poughkeepsie, New York
Poughkeepsie (town), New York
Poughkeepsie is a town in Dutchess County, New York, United States. The population was 42,777 at the 2000 census. The name is derived from the native term, "Uppu-qui-ipis-in," which means "reed-covered hut by the water."...

, in 1933.

Beliefs as an adult


McCarthy left the Catholic Church as a young woman when she became an atheist. In her contrarian fashion, McCarthy treasured her religious education for the classical foundation it provided her intellect while at the same time she depicted her loss of faith and her contests with religious authority as essential to her character.

In New York
New York
New York is a state in the Northeastern region of the United States. It is the nation's third most populous state. New York is bordered by New Jersey and Pennsylvania to the south, and by Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont to the east...

, she moved in "fellow-traveling
Fellow traveller
Fellow traveler or fellow traveller is a term referring to a person who sympathizes with the beliefs of an organization or cooperates in its activities without maintaining formal membership in that particular group...

" Communist circles early in the 1930s, but by the latter half of the decade she repudiated Soviet-style Communism
Communism
Communism is a social, political and economic ideology that aims at the establishment of a classless, moneyless, revolutionary and stateless socialist society structured upon common ownership of the means of production...

, expressing solidarity with Leon Trotsky
Leon Trotsky
Leon Trotsky , born Lev Davidovich Bronshtein, was a Russian Marxist revolutionary and theorist, Soviet politician, and the founder and first leader of the Red Army....

 after the Moscow Trials
Moscow Trials
The Moscow Trials were a series of show trials conducted in the Soviet Union and orchestrated by Joseph Stalin during the Great Purge of the 1930s. The victims included most of the surviving Old Bolsheviks, as well as the leadership of the Soviet secret police...

, and vigorously countering playwrights and authors she considered to be sympathetic to Stalinism
Stalinism
Stalinism refers to the ideology that Joseph Stalin conceived and implemented in the Soviet Union, and is generally considered a branch of Marxist–Leninist ideology but considered by some historians to be a significant deviation from this philosophy...

.

As part of the Partisan Review
Partisan Review
Partisan Review was an American political and literary quarterly published from 1934 to 2003, though it suspended publication between October 1936 and December 1937.-Overview:...

circle and as a contributor to The Nation
The Nation
The Nation is the oldest continuously published weekly magazine in the United States. The periodical, devoted to politics and culture, is self-described as "the flagship of the left." Founded on July 6, 1865, It is published by The Nation Company, L.P., at 33 Irving Place, New York City.The Nation...

, The New Republic
The New Republic
The magazine has also published two articles concerning income inequality, largely criticizing conservative economists for their attempts to deny the existence or negative effect increasing income inequality is having on the United States...

, Harper's Magazine
Harper's Magazine
Harper's Magazine is a monthly magazine of literature, politics, culture, finance, and the arts, with a generally left-wing perspective. It is the second-oldest continuously published monthly magazine in the U.S. . The current editor is Ellen Rosenbush, who replaced Roger Hodge in January 2010...

, and The New York Review of Books
The New York Review of Books
The New York Review of Books is a fortnightly magazine with articles on literature, culture and current affairs. Published in New York City, it takes as its point of departure that the discussion of important books is itself an indispensable literary activity...

, she garnered attention as a cutting critic, advocating the necessity for creative autonomy that transcends doctrine. During the 1940s and 1950s she became a liberal critic of both McCarthyism
McCarthyism
McCarthyism is the practice of making accusations of disloyalty, subversion, or treason without proper regard for evidence. The term has its origins in the period in the United States known as the Second Red Scare, lasting roughly from the late 1940s to the late 1950s and characterized by...

 and Communism. She maintained her commitment to liberal critiques of culture and power to the end of her life, opposing the Vietnam War
Vietnam War
The Vietnam War was a Cold War-era military conflict that occurred in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from 1 November 1955 to the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975. This war followed the First Indochina War and was fought between North Vietnam, supported by its communist allies, and the government of...

 in the 1960s and covering the Watergate scandal
Watergate scandal
The Watergate scandal was a political scandal during the 1970s in the United States resulting from the break-in of the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington, D.C., and the Nixon administration's attempted cover-up of its involvement...

 hearings in the 1970s. She visited Vietnam
Vietnam
Vietnam – sometimes spelled Viet Nam , officially the Socialist Republic of Vietnam – is the easternmost country on the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia. It is bordered by China to the north, Laos to the northwest, Cambodia to the southwest, and the South China Sea –...

 a number of times during the Vietnam War
Vietnam War
The Vietnam War was a Cold War-era military conflict that occurred in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from 1 November 1955 to the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975. This war followed the First Indochina War and was fought between North Vietnam, supported by its communist allies, and the government of...

. Interviewed after her first trip, she declared on British television that there was not a single documented case of the Viet Cong deliberately killing a South Vietnamese woman or child. She wrote favorably about the Vietcong.

Social life


She married four times. In 1933 she married Harald Johnsrud, an actor and would-be playwright. Her best-known spouse was the writer and critic Edmund Wilson
Edmund Wilson
Edmund Wilson was an American writer and literary and social critic and noted man of letters.-Early life:Wilson was born in Red Bank, New Jersey. His father, Edmund Wilson, Sr., was a lawyer and served as New Jersey Attorney General. Wilson attended The Hill School, a college preparatory...

, whom she married in 1938 after leaving her lover Philip Rahv
Philip Rahv
Philip Rahv was an American literary critic and essayist.-Life:...

, and with whom she had a son, Reuel Wilson. In 1961, McCarthy married career diplomat James R. West.

Although she broke ranks with some of her Partisan Review colleagues when they swerved toward conservative politics after World War II, she carried on lifelong friendships with Dwight Macdonald
Dwight Macdonald
Dwight Macdonald was an American writer, editor, film critic, social critic, philosopher, and political radical.-Early life and career:...

, Nicola Chiaromonte
Nicola Chiaromonte
Nicola Chiaromonte was an Italian activist and author. In 1934 he fled Italy for France, after opposing Benito Mussolini's fascist government. During the Spanish Civil War, he flew in André Malraux's squadron, fighting against fascist supported General Francisco Franco...

, Philip Rahv
Philip Rahv
Philip Rahv was an American literary critic and essayist.-Life:...

, F. W. Dupee
F. W. Dupee
F. W. Dupee was a highly distinguished American literary critic, essayist for Partisan Review and the New York Review of Books, and professor emeritus of English at Columbia University. He was an eminent scholar of Henry James, and also wrote on contemporary poetry, fiction, and American culture...

 and Elizabeth Hardwick. Perhaps most prized of all was her close friendship with Hannah Arendt
Hannah Arendt
Hannah Arendt was a German American political theorist. She has often been described as a philosopher, although she refused that label on the grounds that philosophy is concerned with "man in the singular." She described herself instead as a political theorist because her work centers on the fact...

, with whom she maintained a sizable correspondence widely regarded for its intellectual rigor.

Literary reputation


Her debut novel, The Company She Keeps, received critical acclaim as a succès de scandale
Succès de scandale
Succès de scandale is French for "success from scandal", i.e. when a success derives from a scandal.It might seem contradictory that any kind of success might follow from scandal: but scandal attracts attention, and this attention is sometimes the beginning of notoriety and/or other successes...

, depicting the social milieu of New York intellectuals of the late 1930s with unreserved frankness. After building a reputation as a satirist and critic, McCarthy enjoyed popular success when her 1963 novel The Group
The Group (novel)
The Group is a 1963 novel by American writer Mary McCarthy. It made the New York Times Best Seller list in 1963.- Content :In 1933, eight young female friends graduate from Vassar College. The book describes these women’s lives post-graduation, beginning with the marriage of one of the friends,...

remained on the New York Times Best Seller list
New York Times Best Seller list
The New York Times Best Seller list is widely considered the preeminent list of best-selling books in the United States. It is published weekly in The New York Times Book Review magazine, which is published in the Sunday edition of The New York Times and as a stand-alone publication...

 for almost two years. Her work is noted for its precise prose and its complex mixture of autobiography and fiction.

Randall Jarrell
Randall Jarrell
Randall Jarrell was an American poet, literary critic, children's author, essayist, and novelist. He was the 11th Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, a role which now holds the title of US Poet Laureate.-Life:Jarrell was a native of Nashville, Tennessee...

's 1954 novel Pictures from an Institution
Pictures from an Institution
Pictures from an Institution is a 1954 novel by American poet Randall Jarrell. It is an academic satire, focusing on the oddities of academic life, in particular the interpersonal relationships among the characters and their private lives...

is said to be about McCarthy's year teaching at Sarah Lawrence
Sarah Lawrence
Sarah Lawrence may refer to;* Sarah Lawrence College, an Arts college in Westchester County, New York* Sarah Lawrence , wife of Joseph Smith-See also:* Sara Lawrence, who represented Jamaica in the 2006 Miss World Contest...

.

Her feud with fellow writer Lillian Hellman
Lillian Hellman
Lillian Florence "Lily" Hellman was an American playwright, linked throughout her life with many left-wing causes...

 formed the basis for the play Imaginary Friends
Imaginary Friends (play)
Imaginary Friends is a play by Nora Ephron. It includes songs with music by Marvin Hamlisch and lyrics by Craig Carnelia.-Plot:The play focuses on writers Lillian Hellman and Mary McCarthy, who reunite in hell and reflect on their decades-long antagonistic relationship...

by Nora Ephron
Nora Ephron
Nora Ephron is an American film director, producer, screenwriter, novelist, playwright, journalist, author, and blogger.She is best known for her romantic comedies and is a triple nominee for the Academy Award for Writing Original Screenplay; for Silkwood, When Harry Met Sally... and Sleepless in...

. The feud had simmered since the late 1930s over ideological differences, particularly the questions of the Moscow Trials
Moscow Trials
The Moscow Trials were a series of show trials conducted in the Soviet Union and orchestrated by Joseph Stalin during the Great Purge of the 1930s. The victims included most of the surviving Old Bolsheviks, as well as the leadership of the Soviet secret police...

 and of Hellman's support for the "Popular Front" with Stalin. McCarthy provoked Hellman in 1979 when she famously said on The Dick Cavett Show
The Dick Cavett Show
The Dick Cavett Show has been the title of several talk shows hosted by Dick Cavett on various television networks, including:* ABC daytime ...

: Hellman responded by filing a $2.5 million libel suit against McCarthy, which ended shortly after Hellman died in 1984. Observers of the trial noted the resulting irony of Hellman's defamation suit is that it brought significant scrutiny, and decline of Hellman's reputation, by forcing McCarthy and her supporters to prove that she had lied.

McCarthy also engaged in a controversy with USAF General James Risner
James Robinson Risner
James Robinson "Robbie" Risner was a general officer and professional fighter pilot in the United States Air Force.Risner is a double recipient of the Air Force Cross, the second highest military decoration for valor that can be awarded to a member of the United States Air Force...

 over their meeting while he was a POW in North Vietnam.

McCarthy was a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters. In 1973, she delivered the prestigious Huizinga Lecture
Huizinga Lecture
The Huizinga Lecture is a prestigious annual lecture in the Netherlands about a subject in the domains of cultural history or philosophy. The lecture is in honour of Johan Huizinga, a distinguished Dutch historian who worked in the first half of the 20th century...

 in Leiden, the Netherlands, under the title Can There Be a Gothic Literature? She won the National Medal for Literature and the Edward MacDowell Medal
Edward MacDowell Medal
The Edward MacDowell Medal is a prize awarded annually by the MacDowell Colony of Peterborough, New Hampshire, United States to an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to the arts. It was established in 1960, and has been given to writers, composers, and visual artists. Recipients...

 in 1984.

Death


McCarthy died of lung cancer
Lung cancer
Lung cancer is a disease characterized by uncontrolled cell growth in tissues of the lung. If left untreated, this growth can spread beyond the lung in a process called metastasis into nearby tissue and, eventually, into other parts of the body. Most cancers that start in lung, known as primary...

 on October 25, 1989 at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital
NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital
NewYork–Presbyterian Hospital is a prominent university hospital in New York City affiliated with two Ivy League medical schools: Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons and Cornell University's Weill Medical College. It is composed of two distinct medical centers, Columbia...

 in New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

.

Selected works

  • The Company She Keeps (1942), Harvest/HBJ, 2003 reprint:ISBN 0-15-602786-0
  • The Oasis (1949), Backinprint.com, 1999 edition:ISBN 1-58348-392-6
  • The Groves of Academe
    The Groves of Academe
    The Groves of Academe is the title of a novel by American writer Mary McCarthy. Considered to be one of the first academic novels, it concerns the sequence of events that take place after Henry Mulcahy, a literary instructor at the fictive Jocelyn College, learns that his teaching appointment will...

    (1952), Harvest/HBJ, 2002 reprint:ISBN 0-15-602787-9
  • A Charmed Life
    A Charmed Life
    A Charmed Life is a 1955 novel written by American novelist Mary McCarthy.-Setting:A Charmed Life takes place in the small New England town of New Leeds , where "everyone is artistic, but no one is an artist."-Characters:...

    (1955), Harvest Books, 1992 reprint:ISBN 0-15-616774-3
  • Venice Observed (1956), Harvest/HBJ, 1963 edition:ISBN 0-15-693521-X (the 1963 edition lacks the illustrations present in the original book)
  • The Stones of Florence (1956), Harvest/HBJ, 2002 reprint of 1963 edition:ISBN 0-15-602763-1 (the 1963 edition lacks the illustrations present in the original book)
  • Memories of a Catholic Girlhood
    Memories of a Catholic Girlhood
    Memories of a Catholic Girlhood is the autobiography of Mary McCarthy that was published in 1957. The book chronicles McCarthy's childhood including her being orphaned, having an abusive great uncle, and losing her Catholic faith. In the book McCarthy writes details at the end of each chapter that...

    (1957), Harvest/HBJ, 1972 reprint:ISBN 0-15-658650-9 (autobiography)
  • On the Contrary (1961)
  • The Group
    The Group (novel)
    The Group is a 1963 novel by American writer Mary McCarthy. It made the New York Times Best Seller list in 1963.- Content :In 1933, eight young female friends graduate from Vassar College. The book describes these women’s lives post-graduation, beginning with the marriage of one of the friends,...

    (1962), Harvest/HBJ, 1991 reprint:ISBN 0-15-637208-8, adapted as a 1966 movie of the same name.
  • Vietnam (1967)
  • Hanoi (1968)
  • The Writing on the Wall (1970)
  • Birds of America (1971), Harcourt 1992 reprint:ISBN 0-15-612630-3
  • Medina (1972)
  • The Mask of State: Watergate Portraits (1974)
  • Cannibals and Missionaries (1979), Harvest/HBJ, 1991 reprint:ISBN 0-15-615386-6 (novel explores the psychology of terrorism)
  • Ideas and the Novel (1980)
  • How I Grew (1987), Harvest Books, ISBN 0-15-642185-2 (intellectual autobiography age 13–21)
  • Intellectual Memoirs (1992), published posthumously (edited and with a foreword by Elizabeth Hardwick)
  • A Bolt from the Blue and Other Essays
    A Bolt from the Blue and Other Essays
    A Bolt from the Blue and Other Essays is a collection of essays and reviews by Mary McCarthy. Although McCarthy was best known for her novels and memoirs, this collection, which spans from the 1930s to the 1970s, illuminates her prowess as a prolific essayist and critic...

    (2002), New York Review Books
    New York Review Books
    New York Review Books is the publishing house of The New York Review of Books. Its imprints are New York Review Books Classics, New York Review Books Collections, and The New York Review Children's Collection....

    , (compilation of essays and critiques), ISBN 1-59017-010-5

Books about McCarthy

  • Sabrina Fuchs Abrams, Mary Mccarthy: Gender, Politics, And The Postwar Intellectual, (2004), Peter Lang Publishing, ISBN 0-8204-6807-X
  • Frances Kiernan, Seeing Mary Plain: A Life of Mary McCarthy, (2000), W.W. Norton, ISBN 0-393-32307-2
  • Eve Stwertka (editor), Twenty-Four Ways of Looking at Mary McCarthy: The Writer and Her Work, (1996), Greenwood Press, ISBN 0-313-29776-2
  • Carol Brightman (editor), Between Friends: The Correspondence of Hannah Arendt and Mary McCarthy 1949-1975, (1996), Harvest/HBJ, ISBN 0-15-600250-7
  • Carol Brightman, Writing Dangerously: Mary McCarthy And Her World, (1992), Harvest Books, ISBN 0-15-600067-9
  • Joy Bennet, Mary McCarthy; An Annotated Bibliography, (1992), Garland Press, ISBN 0-8240-7028-3
  • Carol Gelderman, Mary McCarthy: A Life, 1990, St Martins Press, ISBN 0-312-00565-2

External links