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Short is sharp

John Sutherland, 3 February 1983

Firebird 2 
edited by T.J. Binding.
Penguin, 284 pp., £2.95, January 1983, 0 14 006337 4
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Bech is Back 
by John Updike.
Deutsch, 195 pp., £6.95, January 1983, 0 233 97512 8
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The Pangs of Love 
by Jane Gardam.
Hamish Hamilton, 156 pp., £7.50, February 1983, 0 241 10942 6
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The Man Who Sold Prayers 
by Margaret Creal.
Dent, 198 pp., £7.95, January 1983, 9780460045926
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Happy as a Dead Cat 
by Jill Miller.
Women’s Press, 120 pp., £2.50, January 1983, 9780704338982
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... and given a feminist slant), is the weakest offering in an otherwise consistently good collection. Mary McCarthy, whose name somewhat overawes that of the author on the dust-jacket, evidently finds Margaret Creal ‘delightfully wicked’. Pleasing as her stories are, ‘wicked’ is pitching it rather high. The title story has a Canadian minister lose ...


Wendy Lesser: Surfing the OED on CD-ROM, 3 October 1996

... from poets and novelists. In 1952, Ernest Hemingway was the first to weigh in with rubberiness, Mary McCarthy provided apolitical, Norman Mailer came up with porno (natch), Stanley Kauffmann – a novelist as well as a film critic – originated both gabbiness and vomitous, and John Betjeman was the first and, indeed, the only person ever to use the ...

Big Thinks

Rosemary Dinnage, 22 June 2000

Selected Letters of Rebecca West 
edited by Bonnie Kime Scott.
Yale, 497 pp., £22.50, May 2000, 0 300 07904 4
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... in the 1950s she was mistaken, in her even-handedness, for a supporter of the witch-hunter Joseph McCarthy, she wrote to J.B. Priestley: ‘I have never written or spoken a single word in defence of McCarthy ... Can you suggest why ... I should suddenly fall for a half-baked gorilla from the Middle West?’ Did that ...

Weimar in Partibus

Norman Stone, 1 July 1982

Hannah Arendt: For Love of the World 
by Elizabeth Young-Bruehl.
Yale, 563 pp., £12.95, May 1982, 0 300 02660 9
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Hannah Arendt and the Search for a New Political Philosophy 
by Bhikhu Parekh.
Macmillan, 198 pp., £20, October 1981, 0 333 30474 8
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... Sixties, Hannah Arendt was very Sixties. Her friends in America were of the Left – Philip Rahv, Mary McCarthy (her generous literary executor) and Dwight MacDonald – and she supported, usually with some individual overtone, the advanced causes of the era, from Castro to Vietnam. In the early Sixties she achieved a succès de scandale with her ...

Door Closing!

Mark Ford: Randall Jarrell, 21 October 2010

Pictures from an Institution: A Comedy 
by Randall Jarrell.
Chicago, 277 pp., £10.50, April 2010, 978 0 226 39375 9
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... teaching at Sarah Lawrence college in Bronxville, New York; one of his colleagues there was Mary McCarthy, who used the experience to write her own campus novel, The Groves of Academe (1952). As in his analysis of the army, to which he at one point compares the semi-fictional college of Benton, Jarrell sets out to show how an institution is ...


Thomas Jones: Death in Florence, 21 June 2012

... up the microfilm for La Nazione from September and October 1913. In The Stones of Florence, Mary McCarthy says that the ‘Cronaca di Firenze’ in ‘that excellent morning newspaper’ is a ‘daily chronicle of disasters to foreigners’. McCarthy was writing in the 1950s, but there was no reason to think the ...

All That Gab

James Wolcott: The Upsides of Sontag’s Downsides, 24 October 2019

Sontag: Her Life 
by Benjamin Moser.
Allen Lane, 832 pp., £30, September 2019, 978 0 241 00348 0
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... the closest model for a belletrist sans merci was the critic, novelist, and wickedest of wits Mary McCarthy, who told Susan she smiled too much, the telltale mark of a provincial. McCarthy was also reputed to have said to Sontag, ‘I hear you’re the new me,’ and, to others, ‘She’s the imitation me,’ digs ...

Amor vincit Vinnie

Marilyn Butler, 21 February 1985

Foreign Affairs 
by Alison Lurie.
Joseph, 291 pp., £8.95, January 1985, 0 7181 2516 9
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... dwarf railway engineer’, and, more disturbing to Vinnie, the pubescent Camden Town schoolgirl Mary Mahoney, a punk goblin who demands payment before she will recite her obscene playground rhymes. Not only is this variety of tone a relief: it operates cunningly as the objective correlative of the psychic drama inside Vinnie Miner-Minor’s head, as she ...

Spells of Levitation

Lorna Sage: Deborah Eisenberg, 3 September 1998

All around Atlantis 
by Deborah Eisenberg.
Granta, 232 pp., £8.99, March 1998, 1 86207 161 6
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... removes, and meanwhile the war trickles out into the mud. Rob is rather like the student in Mary McCarthy’s Birds of America, whose formative experience (this was in postwar Europe) was cleaning the shit out of the shared lavatory in his Paris lodgings. The wider resonances of stories like this one are fleeting and unstated – and it’s perhaps ...

Stifled Truth

Wyatt Mason: Tobias Wolff and fictions of the self, 5 February 2004

Old School 
by Tobias Wolff.
Bloomsbury, 195 pp., £12.99, February 2004, 0 7475 6948 7
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... formal experimentation whose work Wolff did include (among them Lorrie Moore, Denis Johnson and Mary Robison) did not, in the stories Wolff selected, engage with the question of how a story convinces us of its reality. This is not to say that the stories Wolff selected were not interesting stories. Rather, it became abundantly clear that he had very narrow ...

Terror on the Vineyard

Terry Castle: Boss Ladies, Watch Out!, 15 April 1999

A Likely Story: One Summer with Lillian Hellman 
by Rosemary Mahoney.
Doubleday, 273 pp., $23.95, November 1998, 9780385479318
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... relationship, is often taken retroactively as a political parable – an attack on those in the McCarthy period who ‘named names’ – yet the heart of the drama lies in its depiction of the girl’s shocking misogyny and its dire consequences. (One of the teachers commits suicide.) In the early Eighties Hellman got embroiled in her own ugly mess when ...


Stefan Collini: Edmund Wilson, 17 November 2005

Edmund Wilson: A Life in Literature 
by Lewis Dabney.
Farrar, Straus, 642 pp., £35, August 2005, 0 374 11312 2
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... in his own mid-forties, in debt and with no prospect of a regular income; his third marriage (to Mary McCarthy) was becoming bumpy; and his country was heavily committed to a war he opposed. It is particularly interesting to learn from Dabney that ‘Wilson sometimes dreamed of an organ of American literature like the Nouvelle Revue française,’ and ...

No More D Minor

Peter Phillips: Tallis Survives, 29 July 2021

by Kerry McCarthy.
Oxford, 288 pp., £25.99, October 2020, 978 0 19 063521 3
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... surviving example of his handwriting (his signature). Within a year he had resurfaced, as Kerry McCarthy puts it in her new biography, in ‘one of the most prestigious musical positions in England, at the head of a list of professional singers hand-picked for the newly reorganised Canterbury Cathedral’.Tallis was remarkably resilient. He lived to be ...

Seven Days

R.W. Johnson, 4 July 1985

The Pick of Paul Johnson: An Anthology 
Harrap, 277 pp., £9.95, May 1985, 0 245 54246 9Show More
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... of the bright young New Dealers from the American Ivy League campuses so tellingly depicted by Mary McCarthy in The Group. For these young people, the best and brightest of their day, the path towards modernity, social justice, and rationally-administered change, led unequivocally towards the Left, whose sweeping rise to power meant that one could ...

Yes and No

John Bayley, 24 July 1986

Lionel Trilling and the Fate of Cultural Criticism 
by Mark Krupnick.
Northwestern, 207 pp., $25.95, April 1986, 0 8101 0712 0
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... Nor in this case was he unprophetic. The backlash against Kafka and Co, and against what Mary McCarthy called ‘the Proust-Joyce-Mann course’, has taken many forms, not all mindlessly Philistine, and Trilling would be disconcerted today to find Barbara Pym a new heroine of the campus course, and her novels the subject of doctorates. One ...

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