Mary McCarthy Additional Biography


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

ph_0111226267-Mccarthy_M.jpg Mary McCarthy Published by Salem Press, Inc.

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...

(The entire section is 554 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

McCarthy’s literary career was fraught with controversy. Her novels that earned the greatest public acclaim received the worst critical response. Nevertheless, through satire, she continued to fictionalize the people and the events in her life out of her fascination with human motivation.

Writing primarily about the intelligentsia, she has nevertheless managed to capture the imagination of the American public and the attention of honored American literary institutions. Her attention to detail, her painstaking research, her rapier wit, and her understated use of humorous devices fuse into a literary style uniquely her own.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Mary Therese McCarthy’s biography is unusually significant for understanding her fiction, since various clusters of biographical details seem to generate all her stories and characters. McCarthy’s childhood began in Seattle with a doting, extravagant mother and a romantic, imaginative father. Her early life was an eden of picnics, parties, and stories that ended abruptly in 1918, when the flu killed both her parents within the same week. McCarthy was then remanded to the harsh and punitive custody of her Aunt Margaret and Uncle Myers, but she survived in this new environment, which included beatings and deprivation, by excelling in school. These early triumphs led her to Vassar College, the crucible of her imaginative life and scene of her most popular work, The Group. All these details can be variously found in the lives of her fictional heroines, principally in that of Meg Sargent, the recurring figure in The Company She Keeps (indeed, Sargent was her great-grandmother’s maiden name).

On her graduation from Vassar College, McCarthy married an actor, Harold Johnsrud, and at the same time she became drama critic for the Partisan Review; the marriage lasted three years, her career ten. By 1938, she had branched out into fiction and had a new marriage with Edmund Wilson. After six cataclysmic years and one son, Reuel, McCarthy divorced Wilson and married Bowden Broadwater, from whom she was divorced in early 1961. Later in that year, McCarthy married James Raymond West, a State Department official, in Paris. She and West spent half of each year in their Paris home and half in Maine. During the last few years of her life, McCarthy had several operations for hydrocephalus but continued to work on her memoirs, plan a study of gothic architecture, teach literature at Bard College, study German, and write literary criticism and commentary. She died in New York City on October 25, 1989, of cancer.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Mary Therese McCarthy was born into an affluent family of mixed Irish and Jewish heritage on June 21, 1912, in Seattle, Washington, and had a segmented childhood. After six years of what she called a “fairy-tale” existence of happiness, both parents died of influenza in 1918 during a move to Minneapolis. McCarthy and her three younger brothers, placed with their grandaunt and uncle, then entered a bleak phase of intense, strict Catholicism, which McCarthy described in Memories of a Catholic Girlhood.

In 1923, McCarthy’s grandparents moved her to a convent school in Seattle for the seventh and eighth grades; she spent her ninth grade year in a public school and then her remaining high school years at the...

(The entire section is 567 words.)


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Mary McCarthy was a gifted, controversial writer. Admired by many for her intellectual perception and blunt honesty, she also aroused intense dislike in those who felt the sting of her candor. She had been praised for her writing talent throughout school. After graduation from Vassar, she married Harold Johnsrud and moved to New York, where she began her career, writing reviews for magazines such as The Nation and The New Republic.

She was a demanding critic, analyzing each work without deference to the author’s reputation. She first came to the attention of the literary world in 1935 with a series of essays for The Nation, criticizing some of the most prominent book reviewers in the country for ignorance about modern literature. McCarthy, used to the role of an outsider from childhood, had no qualms about challenging the establishment.

During the 1930’s, McCarthy became increasingly involved in left-wing politics, eventually becoming an active Trotskyite. She became drama editor of Partisan Review, although she felt somewhat of an outsider in the male-dominated literary group involved with that magazine. After having divorced Johnsrud in 1936, she married Edmund Wilson, the critic. They had a tempestuous, even abusive, relationship; however, he encouraged her to write fiction, and her first story, “Cruel and Barbarous Treatment,” was published in 1939. McCarthy’s fiction makes use of her own experiences; she was often merciless in exposing the foibles and weaknesses of everyone, including herself. Throughout her career, she offended friends and acquaintances who saw themselves reflected, often unfavorably, in her stories. McCarthy and Wilson separated in 1945.

In 1946, she married Bowden Broadwater, who also encouraged her writing. Her final marriage, in 1961, was to James West, a career diplomat. This marriage suited her. McCarthy was an active critic of the Vietnam War, traveling to South Vietnam and Hanoi. Several of her books explored the political turmoil in the United States during the 1960’s and 1970’s. She continued to be active until the last year of her life.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

One of the most versatile and outspoken writers of the twentieth century, Mary Therese McCarthy was born in Seattle, Washington, on June 21, 1912. She was the first child and only daughter of Roy Winfield and Therese (Preston) McCarthy, who were married despite the strong opposition, mainly on religious grounds, of their parents. Roy was handsome, entertaining, and charming, although he was at times an invalid. His wife was a famous beauty and completely devoted to her husband and their four children.

In her memoirs, McCarthy described her early childhood as idyllic, but when she was six years old both parents died during the influenza epidemic of 1918, and that happy period of her life came to an abrupt, bewildering...

(The entire section is 949 words.)