A Bolt from the Blue and Other Essays

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New York Review Books, 2002 - Literary Collections - 389 pages
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Mary McCarthy was one of the leading literary figures of her time. In addition to the novels and memoirs for which she is best remembered, she was also a tireless literary and social critic. Starting out as a theater reviewer for "Partisan Review" in 1937, she quickly distinguished herself for her witty and fearless commentary on topics ranging from McCarthyism to the French New Novel to women's fashion magazines. McCarthy was an eager controversialist, unsparing in her dissection of anything she found phony or hypocritical. Her reviews are sharp, sometimes malicious, and often very funny, but her criticism is also informed by deep erudition and enlivened by an inexhaustible capacity for enthusiasm. Her political writings, critical in equal measure of the Cold War consensus and of its critics, are less concerned with finding correct positions than with exploring the often absurd circumstances in which agonizing moral decisions are made.
While the soundness of McCarthy's judgments can sometimes be doubted, her curiosity and intelligence cannot. The intellectual brio and acute judgment that characterizes her best fiction is vividly displayed in this selection of essays, which span McCarthy's career from the late 1930s to the late 1970s. It includes her writings on topics such as fashion magazines, Eugene O'Neill, "A Streetcar Named Desire," "Look Back in Anger," "Pale Fire," J.D. Salinger, Madame Bovary, Italo Calvino, and Watergate. The volume constitutes not only a valuable record of the ideological and cultural controversies that dominated American intellectual life from the Moscow trials to the Watergate hearings, but will also introduce a new generation of readers to a uniquelyforthright and vibrant critical voice.

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Contents

Introduction to Theatre Chronicles
3
z Class Angles and a Wilder Classic
17
Shaw and Chekhov
25
Copyright

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About the author (2002)

Mary McCarthy, 1912 - 1989 Writer and critic Mary McCarthy was born in Seattle, Washington. At the age of six, she was orphaned when both her parents died of influenza. She was brought up in a strict Catholic environment by two sets of wealthy grandparents. She attended Annie Wright Seminary in Tacoma, WA and Vassar College in New York, where she studied literature. She graduated with honors at the age of twenty-one, married her first husband, and moved to New York. McCarthy worked as an editor at Covici Friede Publishers from 1936-37 and Partisan Review from 1937-38. She taught or lectured at Beard College, in Annendale-on-Hudson, New York from 1945-46 and 1986; Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville, New York in 1948; University College, London in 1980; and Vassar College in 1982. She was a theatre critic for the Partisan Review from 1938-62. McCarthy was a member of the American Academy and the National Institute of Arts and Letters. In 1938, she married critic Edmund Wilson, her second husband, with whom she had her only child. McCarthy's seven novels appeared between 1942 and 1979. McCarthy's best selling novel, "The Group" (1963), was a sexual depiction written about classmates at Vassar and their lives following college. It was made into a movie in 1966. Her first book, "The Company She Keeps" (1972), is a satire about New York intellectuals who search for their identity through psychoanalysis after the failure of marriage. "Birds of America" (1971) focuses on a boy and his mother, who refuses to accept modern conveniences. "Cannibals and Missionaries" (1979) explores the psychology of terrorism. McCarthy has also written critical works, travel books and the autobiographical "Memoirs of a Catholic Girlhood" (1957). McCarthy received several awards, which included the Edward MacDowell Medal (1982), the National Medal of Literature (1984) and the first Rochester Literary Award (1985). McCarthy also had honorary degrees from six universities. On October 25, 1989, Mary McCarthy died of cancer in New York.

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