Mary McCarthy — or at least conversations about her — will make a cameo appearance in my dissertation. What does Mary McCarthy have to do with the canon wars at Stanford? That’s an interesting story (for me, anyhow), and I think it will make for an interesting chapter. In the meantime, I have been puzzling over a different but somewhat related problem.
It has seemed to me that Mary McCarthy often makes “cameo appearances” in scholarly works about the New York intellectuals as a group or as individuals. She shows up here and there in Jumonville’s Critical Crossings, and she is one of the few heroes in Pells’s The Liberal Mind in a Conservative Age. But her fiction and non-fiction writing have not received the same level of scholarly attention that intellectual historians have accorded to other members of the various circles to which she belonged or to other works arising from the various moments from and to which she spoke. Or so it has seemed to me.
In 1963, Mary McCarthy published The Group — the same year in which Friedan published The Feminine Mystique, in which Hannah Arendt published Eichmann in Jerusalem, in which James Baldwin published The Fire Next Time. I haven’t been able to ascertain whether Arendt’s book made the NYT bestseller list that year, but the other three did, and stayed on it for weeks at a time. McCarthy’s book was on the list for over a year. In any case, 1963 was a good year for big books, texts that intellectual historians (and others) continue to look to in order to unpack the ideational currents swirling through the culture.
The oeuvre of McCarthy — a considerable amount published and unpublished writing that spanned decades and genres and various political positions and persuasions, and four marriages, and lots and lots of social rivalries and scandals and intrigues — seems like it might provide a fairly rich resource for looking at how ideas moved through a much broader and perhaps more diverse readership than most of McCarthy’s fellow New York intellectuals generally managed to reach. But it seems to me that McCarthy’s work has been an underutilized resource, and I’m not altogether sure why.
This is not a question I can answer for myself or anyone else at present, because dissertation! But I asked readers of my blog to help me compile a list of works that devote significant space to Mary McCarthy’s work, because this is a question that I’d like to come back to later. Here is the reading list we have come up with so far. As soon as I can, I plan to take a look at the books by Abrams, Keyser and Schreyer — they look like an interesting place to start. In the meantime, I invite our readers here to add their own suggestions in the comments to this post.
Abrams, Sabrina Fuchs. Mary McCarthy: Gender, Politics, and the Postwar Intellectual. Modern American Literature. New York: Peter Lang International Academic Publishers, 2004.
Ackerman, Alan L. Just Words: Lillian Hellman, Mary McCarthy, and the Failure of Public Conversation in America. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011.
Bennet, Joy, and Hochmann, Gabriella. Mary McCarthy: An Annotated Bibliography. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1992.
Brightman, Carol. Writing Dangerously: Mary McCarthy and Her World. New York: Random House, 1992.
Keyser, Katherine. Playing Smart: New York Women Writers and Modern Magazine Culture. The American Literatures Initiative. Piscataway, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2010 (paperback, 2011).
Gelderman, Carol. Mary McCarthy: A Life. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1988.
Laskin, David. Partisans: Marriage, Politics, and Betrayal among the New York Intellectuals Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001.
Ring, Jennifer. The Political Consequences of Thinking: Gender and Judaism in the Work of Hannah Arendt. SUNY Series in Political Theory. Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1997.
Saunders, Frances Stonor. The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters. New York: New Press, 2000.
Schryer, Stephen. Fantasies of the New Class: Ideologies of Professionalism in Post-World War II American Fiction. New York: Columbia University Press, 2011.
Stwertka, Eve, et. al. Twenty-Four Ways of Looking at Mary McCarty. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1996.
Teres, Harvey M. Renewing the Left: Politics, Imagination, and the New York Intellectuals. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.
Wald, Alan. The New York Intellectuals: The Rise and Decline of the Anti-Stalinist Left from the 1930s to the 1980s. Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 1987.