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Wednesday, October 10, 2012
4:26 pm edt
Just for the heck of it, I decided the other night to revert to one of my most favorite
novels of my younger days: The Group by Mary McCarthy. First published in 1963 to international
acclaim and a long run on the New York Times Bestseller list, this was McCarthy's
24th entry into the world of literature—having previously penned a number of novels, memoirs, and short stories. It
was my first real "adult" read, secretly purchased in my mid-teens with baby-sitting monies.
I am not
sure what happened to that first edition. But I do remember it being badly battered and worn—I was really hard on books
back then—from constant re-readings out of sight of censoring parents—under the covers at night with a flashlight,
disguised with a text-book cover when I was supposed to be studying, hidden in the laundry basket in back of my clothes closet
under sweaty tennis togs. It in all probability, it fell apart and I had to sadly discard it, not to re-read again until my
Modern American Literature course years later in college. By then, I had committed a few passages to memory and had seen the
1966 movie starting Joan Hacket and Candace Bergen at least four times. To say I like the story and the writing style in those
days was, still is, an understatement.
In 1989, the same year she passed away, Harcourt Brace Jovanovitch published
a commemorative hardcopy of McCarthy's most famous novel as part of HBJ Modern Classics series. It is that copy, acquired
in a second-hand bookstore a number of years ago, that I am currently reading. It is inscribed "Rachel, Merry Christmas,
1994! Love, Michele". I can well imagine how much Michele enjoyed the thirty-year-old read well enough to give a reprint
of it as a gift to her friend.
Eight members of the Vassar graduating class of 1933 formed a tightly knit group
of women friends dedicated to improving their lives and the world around them. As each struggles her way into responsible
adulthood during the pre-World War II depression-era, they are embroiled in the often sordid trappings of class discrimination,
base morality, selfish gain, and self-aggrandizement. As if this isn't enough, the novel also ventures into the realms of
mental illness, shallow altruism, and political differences that threaten to rend the group's close relationships asunder.
In its hey-day it was touted as a woman's literary romance novel. By today's standards, it is still a near
masterpiece of feminist literary merit—not to mention being, simply, a literary classic unto itself. In my MAL course,
we termed it a "social commentary", spending hours discussing the various intricacies of what that meant.
The movie, by the way, which I watched last night on NetFlix, only follows the simple plot line, concentrating on the more
sensational aspects. While the dialogue does incorporate much of McCarthy's more salient, meaningful text, it really doesn't
do the book any justice. Instead, even with a celebrity cast, it plays to the more prurient side of the viewer's nature. I
had to really concentrate beyond this to garner the deeper, more meaningful social commentary that is so evident in the novel.
But, then again, it was produced in a less sophisticated era of movie-making than what we have today. I wonder what Martin
Scorsese or Penny Marshall would do with it now.
Be that as it may, I am finding The Group just as relevant a novel in today's modern future of the 1960s. Its messages and social commentary
relate not only to the 1933 setting of the main protagonists, but also to that of the Vietnam era in which it was written,
and, more importantly, to today's society. One, it seems, needs only to read a novel of the past to be reminded of the present.
J. McInerney, the host of this Literary Blog, is
an author, poet, and librettist. Her currenty published works include a novel, a book of spiritual inspirations,
volumes of poetry, stories
for children (of all ages) and
a variety of children's musicals. Her titles include:
Monster: A Novel of Phoenixville in 1978
The Prisoner's Portrait: A Novel of Phoenxville
during World War II
Rainbow in the Sky
Meditations for New Members
of Oreigh Ogglefont
The Basset Chronicles.
Cats of Nine Tales
Water: A Collection of Poems
Exodus Ending: A
Collection of More Spiritual Poems
We Three Kings
Beauty and the Beast
Peter, Wolf, and Red Riding
Originally from the New York metropolitan area, June currently lives near Valley Forge Park in Pennsylvania with her constant and loving companions, FrankieBernard and Sebastian Cat. She
is currently working on her fourth novel.