Sunday, December 05, 2010


Memories of a Catholic Girlhood, Mary McCarthy, Harcourt Brace and Company, 1957, 245 pp

 Mary McCarthy's autobiographical collection of essays originally appeared in "The New Yorker" and "Harper's Bazaar" between 1946 and 1955. For the book she wrote comments on her essays and addressed the perennial question of the veracity of memory. All of this was highly interesting to me since I am writing a memoir myself.

  The McCarthy children, including Mary's three brothers, lost their parents in the flu epidemic of 1918 after an ill-advised move by train from Seattle to Minneapolis during the worst weeks of the epidemic. How would we ever have memoirs to read if young, free-spirited parents did not subject their children to foolish or desperate adventures?

 The author is an example of how a highly intelligent human being overcomes adversity and makes a life for herself, though not without emotional scars. Her family included devout Catholics, Protestants, Jews and the occasional atheist. She attended public schools, convent schools and boarding schools. 

 After a stint with stingy Minneapolis relatives, where the children were practically starved to death, Mary returned to Seattle and lived with her maternal grandparents in a state of over-protection and confused religious beliefs. She became a rebellious, promiscuous feminist until finally settling down to marriage and motherhood, though she never compromised her intellectual pursuits.

 After reading only two of her novels and this memoir, she has become one of my heroines, on a par with Joni Mitchell.

(Memories of a Catholic Girlhood is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

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