Mary Therese Wilson

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Mary Therese Wilson (McCarthy)

Birthdate: (77)
Birthplace: Seattle, King County, Washington, United States
Death: October 25, 1989 (77)
New York, New York, United States
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Roy Winfield McCarthy and Therese Martha McCarthy
Ex-wife of Bowden Broadwater and Edmund Wilson, Jr.
Sister of Kevin McCarthy

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Immediate Family

About Mary Therese Wilson

Mary Therese McCarthy (June 21, 1912 – October 25, 1989) was an American author, critic and political activist.

Early life

Born in Seattle, Washington, to Roy Winfield McCarthy and his wife, the former Therese Preston, McCarthy was orphaned at the age of six when both her parents died in the great flu epidemic of 1918. She and her brothers, Kevin, Preston, and Sheridan were raised in very unhappy circumstances by her Catholic father's parents in Minneapolis, Minnesota, under the direct care of an uncle and aunt she remembered for harsh treatment and abuse.

When the situation became intolerable, she was taken in by her maternal grandparents in Seattle. Her maternal grandmother, Augusta Morganstern, was Jewish, and her maternal grandfather, Harold Preston, was a prominent attorney and co-founder of the law firm Preston Gates & Ellis, and was a Presbyterian. (Her brothers were sent to boarding school.) McCarthy credited her grandfather, who helped draft one of the nation's first Workmen's Compensation Acts, with helping form her liberal views. McCarthy explores the complex events of her early life in Minneapolis and her coming of age in Seattle in her memoir, Memories of a Catholic Girlhood. Her brother, actor Kevin McCarthy, went on to star in such movies as Death of a Salesman (1951) and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956).

Under the guardianship of the Prestons, McCarthy studied at the Forest Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Seattle, and went on to graduate from Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, in 1933.

Beliefs as an adult

McCarthy left the Catholic Church as a young woman when she became an atheist. In her contrarian fashion, McCarthy treasured her religious education for the classical foundation it provided her intellect while at the same time she depicted her loss of faith and her contests with religious authority as essential to her character.

In New York, she moved in "fellow-traveling" Communist circles early in the 1930s, but by the latter half of the decade she repudiated Soviet-style Communism, expressing solidarity with Leon Trotsky after the Moscow Trials, and vigorously countering playwrights and authors she considered to be sympathetic to Stalinism.

As part of the Partisan Review circle and as a contributor to The Nation, The New Republic, Harper's Magazine, and The New York Review of Books, she garnered attention as a cutting critic, advocating the necessity for creative autonomy that transcends doctrine. During the 1940s and 1950s she became a liberal critic of both McCarthyism and Communism. She maintained her commitment to liberal critiques of culture and power to the end of her life, opposing the Vietnam War in the 1960s and covering the Watergate scandal hearings in the 1970s. She visited Vietnam a number of times during the Vietnam War. Interviewed after her first trip, she declared on British television that there was not a single documented case of the Viet Cong deliberately killing a South Vietnamese woman or child. She wrote favorably about the Vietcong.

Social life

She married four times. In 1933 she married Harald Johnsrud, an actor and would-be playwright. Her best-known spouse was the writer and critic Edmund Wilson, whom she married in 1938 after leaving her lover Philip Rahv, and with whom she had a son, Reuel Wilson. In 1961, McCarthy married career diplomat James R. West.

Although she broke ranks with some of her Partisan Review colleagues when they swerved toward conservative politics after World War II, she carried on lifelong friendships with Dwight Macdonald, Nicola Chiaromonte, Philip Rahv, F. W. Dupee and Elizabeth Hardwick. Perhaps most prized of all was her close friendship with Hannah Arendt, with whom she maintained a sizable correspondence widely regarded for its intellectual rigor.

Literary reputation

Her debut novel, The Company She Keeps, received critical acclaim as a succès de scandale, depicting the social milieu of New York intellectuals of the late 1930s with unreserved frankness. After building a reputation as a satirist and critic, McCarthy enjoyed popular success when her 1963 novel The Group remained on the New York Times Best Seller list for almost two years. Her work is noted for its precise prose and its complex mixture of autobiography and fiction.

Randall Jarrell's 1954 novel Pictures from an Institution is said to be about McCarthy's year teaching at Sarah Lawrence.

Her feud with fellow writer Lillian Hellman formed the basis for the play Imaginary Friends by Nora Ephron. The feud had simmered since the late 1930s over ideological differences, particularly the questions of the Moscow Trials and of Hellman's support for the "Popular Front" with Stalin. McCarthy provoked Hellman in 1979 when she famously said on The Dick Cavett Show:

every word [Hellman] writes is a lie, including 'and' and 'the'.

Hellman responded by filing a $2.5 million libel suit against McCarthy, which ended shortly after Hellman died in 1984. Observers of the trial noted the resulting irony of Hellman's defamation suit is that it brought significant scrutiny, and decline of Hellman's reputation, by forcing McCarthy and her supporters to prove that she had lied.

McCarthy also engaged in a controversy with USAF General James Risner over their meeting while he was a POW in North Vietnam.

McCarthy was a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters. In 1973, she delivered the prestigious Huizinga Lecture in Leiden, the Netherlands, under the title Can There Be a Gothic Literature? She won the National Medal for Literature and the Edward MacDowell Medal in 1984.


McCarthy died of lung cancer on October 25, 1989 at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital in New York City.

Selected works

Mary McCarthy was a prominent critic and author, with several volumes of work by her and about her. parents: Roy Winfield McCarthy & Therese Preston grandparents: Harold Preston & Augusta Morgenstern of Seattle, J.H. McCarthy & Lizzie Sheridan of Minneapolis Harold was a lawyer, educated at Cornell and Grinell colleges. J. H. McCarthy operated grain elevators. g-grandparents: Brig. Gen. Simon Manly Preston & Martha Sargent. Simon was a Presbyterian Yankee, commanded a Negro regiment in the Civil War, son of a West Point graduate, head of Norwich Academy in Vermont, lived in Iowa many years and died in Seattle at age 99. Martha was from NH. - facts from Mary McCarthy's "Memories of a Catholic Girlhood," 1957 ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Vassar College Library Mary McCarthy Biographical Sketch

The only daughter of Roy Winfield and Therese ("Tess") Preston McCarthy, Mary Therese McCarthy was born on 21 June 1912 in Seattle, Washington. Following Mary came three brothers: Kevin, Preston, and Sheridan.

En route to a new home in Minneapolis, purchased for the family by her paternal grandparents, the McCarthy children (ages 6, 4, 3, and 1) were orphaned when their parents became victims of the influenza epidemic of 1918. The children were taken in by their great-aunt Margaret Sheridan McCarthy and her new husband, Myers Shriver and subjected to a horrible life depicted in McCarthy's work, Memories of a Catholic Girlhood (1957). After six years with the Shrivers, Mary was taken back to Seattle to live with her maternal grandparents, Harold and Augusta (Morganstern) Preston; her brothers were sent to boarding school. Mary moved in with her grandparents in their upper-class home and enjoyed a life of luxury. Harold, a well-known and successful attorney, and "Gussie," known for her beauty and elegance, wanted Mary to have an excellent education and enrolled her in a convent school for her primary education and then in the Annie Wright Seminary for high school. From there she went on to Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, and graduated, Phi Beta Kappa, with her bachelor's degree in 1933.

Following commencement McCarthy moved to New York City and married Harold Johnsrud, an aspiring playwright, the first of her four husbands. They divorced in 1936 and early in 1937, she began a job as an editorial assistant for the publishing house of Covici-Friede.

By spring 1937, Mary had become involved with Philip Rahv. Together they revived a literary journal known as Partisan Review, which had been founded in 1934 by Rahv and William Phillips. Mary served on the editorial board along with Dwight Macdonald, F. W. Dupee, and others. She served as drama critic as well. During that period of time, she also had book reviews published in The New Republic and The Nation.

Through her association with Partisan Review, McCarthy became acquainted with Edmund Wilson, a well-known literary critic, whom she married in 1938. With Wilson Mary had her only child, a son named Reuel. McCarthy's first book, The Company She Keeps, was published in 1942.

Following their divorce in 1945, McCarthy accepted a teaching position for a year at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, not far north of Vassar. During that time she met a member of the staff of The New Yorker, Bowden Broadwater, whom she married in 1946. Much later in her life, McCarthy returned to teach one semester a year at Bard College, as the Charles Stevenson Professor of Literature, between 1986 and her death in 1989. For a semester in 1948, Mary taught English at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York. During her marriage to Broadwater, McCarthy was very prolific in her writing, publishing eight books between 1949 and 1961. She also contributed numerous articles to such periodicals as Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker, and Harper's, as well as Partisan Review.

While on a lecture tour in Poland for the United States Information Agency in late 1959 and early 1960, accompanied by Broadwater and Reuel, McCarthy met and fell in love with James West. As the Public Affairs Officer for the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw and director of the embassy's branch of the U.S.I.A., West planned their itinerary for the four weeks they spent in Poland. Following their respective divorces in 1960 and 1961, McCarthy and West were married in April 1961.

The Wests maintained two homes, an apartment in Paris and a house in Castine, Maine, and delighted in a busy social life together. On 25 October 1989, McCarthy died of cancer at New York Hospital. At the time of her death, she was working on the second volume of her autobiography, published posthumously in 1992 as Intellectual Memoirs: New York, 1936-1938.

Mary McCarthy was the author of twenty-eight books during her lifetime, both fiction and non-fiction. Many of these works comprised chapters that had previously appeared in periodicals; two were texts of lectures that she had given. Her novels were partially autobiographical, and many times, her characters in whole or in part, were based on her acquaintances. Irvin Stock, a critic whom McCarthy admired, has said of her novels that "each has so much life and truth, and is written in a prose so spare, vigorous, and natural ... yet at the same time [is] so witty, graceful, and, in a certain way, poetic...."

The breadth of her writing is wide, from drama reviews to the history of art and architecture, from cultural criticism to political analysis and travel observations. She was known for her keen intellect, her wit and courage, and her literary style that was precise, but graceful. From her readers and reviewers, she elicited strong reactions that were frequently negative. She was often referred to as the "lady with a switchblade." Wendy Martin, in Modern American Women Writers (1991), said: "McCarthy was a survivor rather than a victim; she was unequivocally a writer of extraordinary range and a citizen of the world."

McCarthy won a number of literary awards, among them the Horizon prize (1949) and two Guggenheim fellowships (1949-50 and 1959-60). Both the MacDowell Medal for Literature and the National Medal for Literature, were bestowed upon her in 1984. She was a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters, the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, and the American Academy in Rome. She received honorary degrees from Bard, Bowdoin, Colby, and Smith Colleges, Syracuse University, and from the Universities of Aberdeen, Hull, and Maine at Orono. ----------------------------------------------------------------------- A mention at the Castine (Maine) Historical exhibit, forwarded by Jill Bohman: Person ID I8638

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Mary Therese Wilson's Timeline

June 21, 1912
Seattle, King County, Washington, United States
October 25, 1989
Age 77
New York, New York, United States