Perhaps reviewer Shirley Ann Grau was being slightly vicious herself when she faulted the late Mary McCarthy for having a "basically vicious" wit and for "not (really being) an intellectual." ("Writing Dangerously" by Carol Brightman, March 7). She may be correct in her view of McCarthy's wit--some would describe it with the less venomous malicious, which is more easily coupled with lark .

Mary McCarthy no intellectual? Perhaps Grau puts too fine a definition on the word. McCarthy was a contributor to the early Partisan Review, and continued to write for it (cf. her "Fact in Fiction") well into the 1950s.

In its early incarnation, before PR became beholden to foundation grants, the magazine was on the cutting edge of literary America, the closest approximation to a European journal in this country. It attracted some of the largest figures in the literary and intellectual worlds, among them Arthur Koestler, George Orwell, Nicolas Chiaramonte, Ignazio Silone, Vladimir Nabokov, Saul Bellow, Sidney Hook. One could go on and on.

McCarthy appeared in these same pages alongside those august names, a no more distinguished set in "the company she kept." If publication in the early PR doesn't qualify one as an "intellectual," what does? Splitting verbal hairs can become a hazardous business, especially when one bandies the word "intellectual" about.


Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World