Re-reading Memories of a Catholic Girlhood by Mary McCarthy
Mary McCarthy planned to write a three-volume autobiography late in her life, but only finished the first, How I Grew (1987), before she died at the age of seventy-seven in 1989. It was politely received, as due the “First Lady of American Letters … our Joan of Arc”, as Norman Mailer referred to her, but the praise was generally tepid, largely because it was a twice-told tale. McCarthy had covered roughly the same years of her life in an earlier book, Memories of a Catholic Girlhood. Published in 1957, it is considered by some to be the best of her two dozen books, including eight novels and several volumes of essays, reportage and criticism. Its superiority derives not only from the passionate sense of justice that imbues the depiction of her ghastly Cinderella childhood, but also the singular circumstances of its composition.