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Mary McCarthy (Mary Therese McCarthy) Biography

(1912–89), (Mary Therese McCarthy), Memoirs of a Catholic Girlhood, Partisan Review, The New Republic, The Nation

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American novelist, essayist, and teacher, born in Seattle, Washington. Her parents died when she was six, and she was brought up by relatives, in Minneapolis, Seattle, and Tacoma. McCarthy's early life is recorded in Memoirs of a Catholic Girlhood (1957). She attended Vassar College, where she knew Muriel Rukeyser and Elizabeth Bishop. She taught literature at Sarah Lawrence and Bard Colleges and became theatre critic for Partisan Review. Among other journals she wrote reviews for The New Republic and The Nation, which were collected in Sights and Spectacles (1956). Through her involvement with the non-Stalinist left, she married (and later divorced) Edmund Wilson. Her short stories of this period are collected in Cast a Cold Eye (1950). She achieved early success with her first book, The Company She Keeps (1942), a novel which experiments with narrative perspective and concerns young New Yorkers in the political and social milieu of Greenwich Village. This was followed by The Oasis (1949; UK title, Source of Embarrassment, 1950), a satire about the failure of liberalism; The Groves of Academe (1952), a cutting depiction of a college president struggling with the politics of his English department; and A Charmed Life (1955), about retirement from the world into a life of aestheticism. After producing two art histories, Venice Observed (1956) and The Stones of Florence (1959), she published her most famous work, The Group (1963), a fictionalized account of a group of friends who met a Vassar, whose diverse histories are unified by the story of Kay Strong, and marked by McCarthy's characteristic acidic satire and sharp observation. Her strong political views are recorded in essays collected in On the Contrary (1961), and in a trilogy about the US involvement in Vietnam (see Vietnam Writing): Vietnam (1967), Hanoi (1968), and Medina (1972). Her final novels, Birds of America (1971) and Cannibals and Missionaries (1979), deal with the crisis of liberal and humanitarian values in the face of violent activists and terrorism. A further volume of critical essays about the state of the USA during these years appeared under the title The Writing on the Wall (1970), while other aspects of the modern political world, particularly Watergate, figure in The Mask of State (1974) and The Seventh Degree (1974). In her later years, she was involved in a bitter controversy with Lillian Hellman. Her later works which demonstrated her balanced commitment to fiction and critical prose, include The Hounds of Summer and Other Stories (1981), Occasional Prose: Essays (1985), and the autobiographical works, How I Grew (1987) and Intellectual Memoirs (1992).

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