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American author and critic (1912-1989)

The exile is a singular, whereas refugees tend to be thought of in the mass ... What is implied in these nuances of social standing is the respect we pay to choice. The exile appears to have made a decision, while the refugee is the very image of helplessness.

MARY MCCARTHY, Occasional Prose

Is it really so difficult to tell a good action from a bad one? I think one usually knows right away or a moment afterward, in a horrid flash of regret.

MARY MCCARTHY, My Confession

Friendship ... is essential to intellectuals. You can date the evolving life of a mind, like the age of a tree, by the rings of friendship formed by the expanding central trunk.


Liberty, as it is conceived by current opinion, has nothing inherent about it; it is a sort of gift or trust bestowed on the individual by the state pending good behavior.

MARY MCCARTHY, The Contagion of Ideas

You mustn't force sex to do the work of love or love to do the work of sex.


Life is a system of recurrent pairs, the poison and the antidote being eternally packaged together by some considerate heavenly druggist.

MARY MCCARTHY, The Hounds of Summer and Other Stories

It really seems to me sometimes that the only hope is space. That is to say, perhaps the most energetic—in a bad sense—elements will move on to a new world in space. The problems of mass society will be transported into space, leaving behind this world as a kind of Europe, which then eventually tourists will visit. The Old World. I’m only half joking.

MARY MCCARTHY, The Paris Review, winter-spring 1962

Every age has a keyhole to which its eye is pasted.

MARY MCCARTHY, My Confession

The theater is the only branch of art much cared for by people of wealth; like canasta, it does away with the bother of talk after dinner.

MARY MCCARTHY, Up the Ladder from Charm to Vogue

I suppose everyone continues to be interested in the quest for the self, but what you feel when you’re older, I think, is that — how to express this — you really must make the self. It's absolutely useless to look for it, you won’t find it, but it’s possible in some sense to make it.

MARY MCCARTHY, The Paris Review, winter-spring 1962

I do not mind if I lose my soul for all eternity. If the kind of God exists Who would damn me for not working out a deal with Him, then that is unfortunate. I should not care to spend eternity in the company of such a person.

MARY MCCARTHY, Memories of a Catholic Girlhood

Calling someone a monster does not make him more guilty; it makes him less so by classing him with beasts and devils.

MARY MCCARTHY, "The Hue and Cry," The Writing on the Wall

The American, if he has a spark of national feeling, will be humiliated by the very prospect of a foreigner's visit to Congress — these, for the most part, illiterate hacks whose fancy vests are spotted with gravy, and whose speeches, hypocritical, unctuous and slovenly, are spotted also with the gravy of political patronage, these persons are a reflection on the democratic process rather than of it; they expose it in its underwear.

MARY MCCARTHY, "American the Beautiful," Commentary, Sep. 1947

I once started a detective story to make money—but I couldn’t get the murder to take place! At the end of three chapters I was still describing the characters and the milieu, so I thought, this is not going to work. No corpse!

MARY MCCARTHY, The Paris Review, winter-spring 1962

Bureaucracy, the rule of no one, has become the modern form of despotism.

MARY MCCARTHY, "The Vita Activa," The New Yorker, Oct. 18, 1958

In violence, we forget who we are.

MARY MCCARTHY, "Characters in Fiction," Partisan Review

Life for the European is a career; for the American it is a hazard.

MARY MCCARTHY, A Bolt from the Blue and Other Essays

In science, all facts, no matter how trivial or banal, enjoy democratic equality.

MARY MCCARTHY, "The Fact in Fiction," On the Contrary

People with bad consciences always fear the judgment of children.

MARY MCCARTHY, On the Contrary

What I really do is take real plums and put them in an imaginary cake. If you’re interested in the cake, you get rather annoyed with people saying what species the real plum was.

MARY MCCARTHY, The Paris Review, winter-spring 1962

I really tried, or so I thought, to avoid lying, but it seemed to me that they forced it on me by the difference in their vision of things, so that I was always transposing reality for them into something they could understand.

MARY MCCARTHY, Memories of a Catholic Girlhood

The labor of keeping house is labor in its most naked state, for labor is toil that never finishes, toil that has to be begun again the moment it is completed, toil that is destroyed and consumed by the life process.

MARY MCCARTHY, "The Vita Activa," The New Yorker, Oct. 18, 1958

What's the use of falling in love if you both remain inertly as you were?

MARY MCCARTHY, Between Friends

To be disesteemed by people you don’t have much respect for is not the worst fate.

MARY MCCARTHY, The New York Times, Aug. 27, 1984


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