For many readers in Britain as well as in the United States, Mary McCarthy still remains the author only of The Group that fine comedy of ‘coming of age’ which created a literary sensation when it first appeared in 1963. The cause of the sensation was, of course, the ‘sex bit’. Here was a story of eight quite decent American young ladies that contained not only some frank sex talk, but proceeded to show the same young ladies wanting to go – and often succeeding – beyond mere talk. Needless to say, the novel went into three printings within the year. It ought to have gone into four – but not for that reason. Rather because the book was, and still is, among the more finely modulated of Miss McCarthy’s several satiric observations of certain aspects of American life and manners.
She is, however, a good deal more than a contemporary American novelist in the tradition of Jane Austen. For over three decades, she has also been an active polemicist and an essayist. One remembers with pleasure and gratitude such works of hers as her reports on Vietnam and Hanoi (1967),