Mary MacCarthy (1912-1989) was an American novelist, critic, and political activist. She graduated from Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY in 1933 with an A.B., cum laude, where she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. In her contrarian fashion, McCarthy treasured her religious education for the classical foundation it provided her intellect though 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 battled with the 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.
McCarthy was the winner of the Horizon Prize in 1949, and was awarded two Guggenheim Fellowships in 1949 and 1959. She was a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters and the American Academy in Rome. In 1973, she delivered the Huizinga Lecture in Leiden, the Netherlands, under the title Can There Be a Gothic Literature? The same year she was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
McCarthy held honorary degrees from Bard, Bowdoin, Colby, Smith College, Syracuse University, the University of Maine at Orono, the University of Aberdeen, and the University of Hull.
Portrait by Nancy Crampton