Mary McCarthy, one of our most brilliant and beloved authors, serves up wit, insight, and her unique worldview in this diverse collection of essays In provocatively titled pieces such as “The Contagion of Ideas,” “Tyranny of the Orgasm,” and “No News, or,What Killed the Dog,” Mary McCarthy expresses her frank, unflinching, often contrarian point of view.
Nothing—and no one—is safe from her merciless writer’s eye—from politics to the ever-changing social scene to the strengths and weaknesses of her native country, where she believes “passivity and not aggressiveness is the dominant trait of the American character.” On the Contrary also features a cast of memorable characters. In “Naming Names,” Arthur Miller’s testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee results in an indictment for contempt of Congress. McCarthy reviews The Human Condition, Hannah Arendt’s breakthrough book, and despairs of finding a “really American place” to take a visiting existentialist—a thinly disguised Simone de Beauvoir?
From Dickens to Gandhi to the Kinsey Reports, with pithy and wide-ranging articles on everything from fashion to fiction, the human condition, religion, and sex, On the Contrary raises controversial questions to which, even today, there are no easy answers.
This ebook features an illustrated biography of Mary McCarthy including rare images from the author’s estate. read more
Mary McCarthy (1912–1989) was an American literary critic and author of more than two dozen books including the 1963 New York Times bestseller The Group. Born in Seattle, McCarthy studied at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, and graduated in 1933. After moving to New York City, McCarthy became known for her incisive writing as a contributor to publications such as the Nation, the New Republic, and the New York Review of Books. Her debut novel, The Company She Keeps (1942), initiated her ascent to become one of the most celebrated writers of her generation, a reputation bolstered by the publication of her autobiography Memories of a Catholic Girlhood in 1957, as well as that of her now-classic novel The Group.read more
Reviews for On the Contrary: Articles of Belief, 1946–1961
The most memorable piece here is “Artists in Uniform,: McCarthy meets an anti-Semitic air force colonel on the train to St. Louis and engages him in futile argument. She doesn’t think she comes off well; the problem is, of course, that discussion doesn’t touch the colonel’s problem. The story is “rehashed” in a piece later in the book where she uses it to talk about students’ taste for symbol hunting.Another notable essay is “America the Beautiful: The Humanist in the Bathtub,” where McCarthy takes the interesting position that America is not materialistic: “The only really materialistic people I have ever met have been Europeans.” In America, she argues, “possessions . . . are not wanted for their own sakes, but as tokens of an ideal state of freedom, fraternity, and franchise.” The essay begins when she can’t find “a really American place” to take “a visiting Existentialist”—Simone de Beauvoir, apparently, whose book on America McCarthy pans five years later.“My Confession” describes how she accidentally became an anti-Communist, having agreed at a party that Trotsky deserved a hearing, without knowing anything about him. McCarthy writes a couple of pieces from Portugal, which she and her husband visited in the winter of 1955.She writes admiringly of Arthur Miller’s decision to tell the HUAC anything they asked about himself and nothing about other people—which resulted in his indictment for contempt of Congress. She reviews her friend Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition with its distinction among labor, work, and action and its bleak forecast of the disappearance of the last two.In a section on “Women,” McCarthy contemptuously dismisses a book coming out of the Kinsey reports; the essay is called “Tyranny of the Orgasm.” She spends a long time talking about Vogue’s decline from austere fashion authoritarianism to breathless “Sapphic overtures” as well as about the rise of new magazines Mademoiselle, Glamour, Charm, with their “rhetoric of fashion as democracy.” She ignores, mostly, the consumer side of all this—the fit of magazine with advertiser and what’s being sold. Another long essay is “The Vassar Girl” about the college then and now.“Literature and the Arts” is the last section, composed of a review of Edgar Johnson’s book on Dickens, with McCarthy’s defense of Dickens from the attack mounted by Anthony West in The New Yorker; and several talks on symbol and fiction, “the empiric element” of fact as the quidditas of the novel, and “Character in Fiction.”read more
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