Novelist, short-story writer, essayist, drama critic, and poet, Mary Therese McCarthy was born the first of four children to Therese Preston and Roy Winfield McCarthy on June 21, 1912, in Seattle, Washington. Although the first six years of her childhood were nurtured within her close-knit family, McCarthy’s life changed abruptly when her parents died in the 1918 flu epidemic.
For the next five years, McCarthy and her brothers were forced as orphans to live in a deceit-filled, irrational, abusive Minneapolis house. This atmosphere, as well as the never-mentioned death of her parents, conditioned McCarthy to detach from her emotions, to distrust others, to see herself as an outsider, and to avoid intimacy. She also learned to depend upon her Roman Catholic religion and her mind in order to survive. At eight years old, she began writing poetry. Satire became her weapon against despair.
The children were rescued in 1923 by their grandfather Preston; the boys were separated from their sister, who joined the Protestant Preston household before attending a Catholic boarding school, Forest Ridge Convent. Again, McCarthy was isolated. This isolation continued throughout her college preparatory education as she struggled to discover the means to acceptance. Exploring options that ranged from joining a convent to committing suicide, the adolescent repeatedly reinforced her self-antagonism by trying to conform. During McCarthy’s one year in a...
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