Black and white photograph of critic and novelist Mary McCarthy.

Mary McCarthy

(1912 - 1989)

At the start of Memories of a Catholic Girlhood, Mary McCarthy wrote, “One great handicap to this task of recalling has been the fact of being an orphan. The chain of recollection—the collective memory of a family—has been broken.” She lost her parents at the age of six during the influenza pandemic of 1918, living first with relatives in Minnesota and then with her grandparents in Seattle. Attending Vassar College at the same time as Elizabeth Bishop, she graduated in 1933 and soon began writing for The New Republic and The Nation. McCarthy published The Company She Keeps in 1942 and The Group in 1963, and she edited her friend Hannah Arendt’s The Life of the Mind after Arendt died in 1975.

All Writing


Ahead of a visit from Hannah Arendt in 1971, Mary McCarthy purchased anchovy paste, which she knew Arendt enjoyed. When McCarthy pointed out where to find it in her cupboard, Arendt looked displeased. “She had a respect for privacy, separateness,” McCarthy later wrote. “I knew I had done something wrong in my efforts to please. She did not wish to be known, in that curiously finite and, as it were, reductive way. And I had done it to show her I knew her—a sign of love, though not always—thereby proving that in the last analysis I did not know her at all.”

Whenever in history equality appeared on the agenda, it was exported somewhere else, like an undesirable.

—Mary McCarthy, 1971

The happy ending is our national belief.

—Mary McCarthy, 1947

Issues Contributed