Mary McCarthy and the Genealogy of Progressive Liberalism


  • Johannes Voelz



Mary McCarthy, Liberalism, John Dos Passos


Three decades after graduating from Vassar, in 1963, McCarthy published her bestselling novel The Group – a phenomenal commercial success that brought her fame, wealth, and plenty of scorn from her fellow New York intellectuals. In The Group, she revisits the site of her political and aesthetic awakening, Vassar College, by focusing on the lives of eight – or, at closer counting, nine – Vassar girls, a group of friends from the class of ‘33, who have just graduated, and now are off to put their Vassar-bred ambitions into practice, or not. At first sight, the novel is not concerned with politics. Yet indirectly, it reinterprets and reevaluates the liberalism of the 1930s. And it does so, curiously, by hanging on, in some crucial ways, to the model function of Dos Passos’s U.S.A. trilogy, though what it appropriates from Dos Passos no longer corresponds to the young McCarthy’s enthusiasm of the year 1933.

Author Biography

Johannes Voelz

Johannes Voelz is Professor of American Studies at Goethe-University Frankfurt. He is the author, most recently, of Poetics of Insecurity: American Fiction and the Uses of Threat (Cambridge University Press, 2018). He is currently completing a monograph on the aesthetics of populism.




How to Cite

Voelz, J. “Mary McCarthy and the Genealogy of Progressive Liberalism”. New American Studies Journal: A Forum, vol. 74, Sept. 2023,