Mary McCarthy (1912-1989) is one of the leading American women intellectuals of the twentieth century who is known for her sharp wit and keen perception of the American intellectual landscape. A fiction writer, cultural critic, and political commentator, McCarthy is associated with the anti-Stalinist liberal magazine, Partisan
Review, in the 1930s and 40s. From her early autobiographical writing, including Memories of a Catholic Girlhood (1957)and the collection of autobiographical sketches The Company She Keeps (1942), to her political satire of anarcho-pacifist movements of the 1940s in The Oasis (1949) and of fellow-traveling liberal intellectuals in the 1950s in The Groves of Academe (1952),to her best-selling mock- chronicle novel of a group of Vassar graduates of the class of 1933, The Group (1963), and her later political commentary on the war in Vietnam and the Watergate trials, Mary McCarthy looks at the changing political, cultural, and social scene with a critical eye.
McCarthy is perhaps best known for her open treatment of what were considered taboo subjects of sexuality, from contraception to abortion to infidelity and sexual promiscuity, presenting both the comic overtones and the complex psychological and moral undertones to issues of female sexuality. McCarthy’s caustic wit has earned her the reputation among certain male critics of being a “modern American bitch” with a “devastating female scorn” while some feminists have criticized her for not creating stronger female characters and not taking a stronger stand on women’s issues.
McCarthy’s life has been the subject of numerous biographies, including Doris Grumbach’s The Company She Kept (1967), Carol Gelderman’s Mary McCarthy: A Life (1988), Carol Brightman’s Writing Dangerously: Mary McCarthy and Her World (1992), and Frances Kiernan’s Seeing Mary Plain (2000). Her writing has been the subject of several critical studies, including Barbara McKenzie’s Mary McCarthy (1965) and Sabrina Fuchs Abrams’ Mary McCarthy: Gender, Politics and the Postwar Intellectual (2004). On this, the centennial of Mary McCarthy’s birth, Mary McCarthy’s contribution as a fiction writer and cultural critic are worthy of revival and reappraisal.