Memories of a Catholic Girlhood, the most deeply passionate of McCarthy’s published writings, is a moving chronicle of her early years, through her adolescence. Beginning her account with a careful, italicized address to the reader, the author sets the tone for the following eight chapters by philosophizing that “to care for the quarrels of the past . . . is to experience a kind of straining against reality, a rebellious nonconformity that, again, is rare in America.” Although this was written within the context of discussing the merits of Catholic education, it is also a skillful summary of Memories of a Catholic Girlhood, her other writings, and her life.
Discriminating between what she remembers but cannot be corroborated, what has been corroborated, and what is in conflict with her memories, McCarthy painstakingly pieces together the fragments of her early history. Following each chapter except the last, she acknowledges, again in italicized print, the substantiations and the contradictions to her story. This technique imbues Memories of a Catholic Girlhood with an almost indisputable credibility.
Although McCarthy’s presentation is essentially chronological, as with all memories, there occurs an associational movement back and forth in time. Gradually the full picture emerges. Recollections of a favored beginning reveal a period of delightful surprises and unconditional love. Her father, at home because of a chronic heart problem, was an irrepressibly joyful companion. Both parents, deeply in love and married against their families’ wishes, willingly shared that love with their children.
The flu epidemic in 1918 raged through her family when her father’s parents withheld his monthly stipend...
(The entire section is 724 words.)