Mary McCarthy and the Genealogy of Progressive Liberalism
Keywords: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.
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