“Mary McCarthy: A Life” by Carol Gelderman— An Extraordinary Woman

Gelderman, Carol. “Mary McCarthy: A Life”, St. Martin’s, 1988.

An Extraordinary Woman

Amos Lassen

 I am a bit ashamed to say that I never read Carol Gelderman’s wonderful study of Mary McCarthy and there is reason for that especially since McCarthy was Hannah Arendt’s best friend and Carol Gelderman was one an important professor in my graduate studies.

For half a century, Mary McCarthy was at the center of the literary and intellectual life of America. This book, written with her cooperation, but not authorized, traces for the first time her extraordinary career.

Written while the subject was still alive, and with her cooperation, this is an engrossing biography of a woman whose name always comes up in any discussion of mid-20th century writers and intellectuals.


Mary McCarthy was both known as and actually was a brilliant writer, thinker, and supporter of leftist causes. She was outspokenness and this  often brought her unfavorable attention (the whole Lillian Hellman/Dick Cavett episode is examined). Gelderman gives us  a sympathetic yet balanced treatment of the criticism and controversies in her personal and literary life. There was much more to Mary McCarthy than her most famous work, “The Group.”

 Carol Gelderman was McCarthy’s first “official” biographer, and what surprised me was the inclusion of small details that were absent in later efforts such as McCarthy’s friendship with Montgomery Clift, and, after he sublet her house one summer who up as a character in “A Charmed Life?”).  

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