The Group

The Group

by Mary McCarthy

Paperback(First Edition)

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780156372084
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 09/28/1991
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 496
Sales rank: 84,526
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.18(d)

About the Author

MARY MCCARTHY (1912–1989) was a short-story writer, bestselling novelist, essayist, and critic. She was the author of The Stones of Florence and Birds of America, among other books.

Read an Excerpt

It was June, 1933, one week after Commencement, when Kay Leiland Strong, Vassar '33, the first of her class to run around the table at the Class Day dinner, was married to Harald Petersen, Reed '27, in the chapel of St. George's Church, P.E., Karl F. Reiland, Rector. Outside, on Stuyvesant Square, the trees were in full leaf, and the wedding guests arriving by twos and threes in taxis heard the voices of children playing round the statue of Peter Stuyvesant in the park. Paying the driver, smoothing out their gloves, the pairs and trios of young women, Kay's classmates, stared about them curiously, as though they were in a foreign city. They were in the throes of discovering New York, imagine it, when some of them had actually lived here all their lives, in tiresome Georgian houses full of waste space in the Eighties or Park Avenue apartment buildings, and they delighted in such out-of-the-way corners as this, with its greenery and Quaker meeting-house in red brick, polished brass, and white trim next to the wine-purple Episcopal church—on Sundays, they walked with their beaux across Brooklyn Bridge and poked into the sleepy Heights section of Brooklyn; they explored residential Murray Hill and quaint MacDougal Alley and Patchin Place and Washington Mews with all the artists' studios; they loved the Plaza Hotel and the fountain there and the green mansarding of the Savoy Plaza and the row of horsedrawn hacks and elderly coachmen, waiting, as in a French place, to tempt them to a twilight right through Central Park.

The sense of an adventure was strong on them this morning, as they seated themselves softly in the still, near-empty chapel; they had never been to a wedding quite like this one before, to which invitations had been issued orally by the bride herself, without the intervention of a relation or any older person, friend of the family. There was to be no honeymoon, they had heard, because Harald (that was the way he spelled it—the old Scandinavian way) was working as an assistant stage manager for a theatrical production and had to be at the theatre as usual this evening to call "half hour" for the actors. This seemed to them very exciting and of course it justified the oddities of the wedding: Kay and Harald were too busy and dynamic to let convention cramp their style. In September, Kay was going to start at Macy's, to be trained, along with other picked college graduates, in merchandising techniques, but instead of sitting around all summer, waiting for the job to begin, she had already registered for a typing course in business school, which Harald said would give her a tool that the other trainees wouldn't have. And, according to Helena Davison, Kay's roommate junior year, the two of them had moved right into a summer sublet, in a nice block in the East Fifties, without a single piece of linen or silver of their own, and had spent the last week, ever since graduation (Helena had just been there and seen it), on the regular tenant's sublet sheets!

How like Kay, they concluded fondly, as the tale passed along the pews. She had been amazingly altered, they felt, by a course in Animal Behavior she had taken with old Miss Washburn (who had left her brain in her will to Science) during their junior year. This and her work with Hallie Flanagan in Dramatic Production had changed her from a shy, pretty, somewhat heavy Western girl with black lustrous curly hair and a wild-rose complexion, active in hockey, in the choir, given to large tight brassières and copious menstruations, into a thin, hard-driving, authoritative young woman, dressed in dungarees, sweat shirt, and sneakers, with smears of paint in her unwashed hair, tobacco stains on her fingers, talking airily of "Hallie" and "Lester," Hallie's assistant, of flats and stippling, of oestrum and nymphomania, calling her friends by their last names loudly¾"Eastlake," "Renfrew," "MacAusland"—counseling premarital experiment and the scientific choice of a mate. Love, she said, was an illusion.

To her fellow group members, all seven of whom were now present in the chapel, this development in Kay, which they gently labeled a "Phase," had been, nevertheless, disquieting. Her bark was worse than her bite, they used to reiterate to each other, late at night in their common sitting room in the South Tower of Main Hall, when Kay was still out, painting flats or working on the electricity with Lester in the theatre. But they were afraid that some man, who did not know the old dear as they did, would take her at her word. They had pondered about Harald; Kay had met him last summer when she was working as an apprentice at a summer theatre in Stamford and both sexes had lived in a dormitory together. She said he wanted to marry her, but that was not the way his letters sounded to the group. They were not love letters at all, so far as the group could see, but accounts of personal successes among theatrical celebrities, what Edna Ferber had said to George Kaufman in his hearing, how Gilbert Miller had sent for him and a woman star had begged him to read his play to her in bed. "Consider yourself kissed," they ended, curtly, or just "C.Y.K. "—not another word. In a young man of their own background, as the girls vaguely phrased it, such letters would have been offensive, but their education had impressed on them the unwisdom of making large judgments from one's own narrow little segment of experience. Still, they could tell that Kay was not as sure of him as she pretended she was; sometimes he did not write for weeks, while poor Kay went on whistling in the dark. Polly Andrews, who shared a mailbox with her, knew this for a fact. Up to the Class Day dinner, ten days ago, the girls had had the feeling that Kay's touted "engagement" was pretty much of a myth. They had almost thought of turning to some wiser person for guidance, a member of the faculty or the college psychiatrist—somebody Kay could talk it out to, frankly. Then, that night, when Kay had run around the long table, which meant you were announcing your engagement to the whole class, and produced from her winded bosom a funny Mexican silver ring to prove it, their alarm had dissolved into a docile amusement; they clapped, dimpling and twinkling, with an air of prior knowledge. More gravely, in low posh tones, they assured their parents, up for the Commencement ceremonies, that the engagement was of long standing, that Harald was "terribly nice" and "terribly in love" with Kay. Now, in the chapel, they rearranged their fur pieces and smiled at each other, noddingly, like mature little martens and sables: they had been right, the hardness was only a phase; it was certainly a point for their side that the iconoclast and scoffer was the first of the little band to get married.

Copyright 1963 by Mary McCarthy. Copyright renewed 1991 by James Raymond West. Copyright 1954 by Mary McCarthy. Copyright renewed 1982 by Mary McCarthy Published by Harcourt, Inc. and reproduced with permission. All rights reserved.

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The Group 3.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 23 reviews.
nolagras More than 1 year ago
As much as things change, they remain the same--the women in the group are Vassar, class of 1933; McCarthy published her novel in 1963; I am reviewing it in 2013. At times, I was very conscious of differences between their world of experiences and ours today; within pages, I would be made painfully aware of how similar their world was to ours today: expectations for women, personally and professionally; relationships between women and men, women and women, parents and adult children. It is a must-read, as women continue to struggle to be who we want to be, even in the 21st century when people keep saying "we have it all."
Guest More than 1 year ago
This classic novel of eight women finding their way at a pivotal time for American women was a sensation and something of a scandal in the mid 60's with it's lesbian subtext (Candace Bergin made her film debut as the lesbian,FYI) but is now overlooked and forgotten to the general reading public and that's a damn shame. This is an epic novel of the changes women went through in the late 30's written with style and wit. A great read.
AnnieLiz More than 1 year ago
I could not finish this book. I found it to be the most tedious novel I've attempted to read in YEARS. I'm a voracious reader and can usually get emotionally involved in every book I open but not this one. The writing is flat and boring. Sentences run on and on and into each other with no pauses or breaks, and even halfway through the book not all the characters were fully developed yet. Every single one of them seem to spend their time whining and lamenting their "lack" of whatever they think is missing from their lives, although most of them apparently come from quite wealthy families. I was extremely disappointed and do not recommend this to anyone. It's gotten good reviews from so many, maybe I'm just borderline illiterate. Or too unsophisticated to get it . I don't know. But I recommend not wasting your money. Sorry.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
the book is written with a keen sarcasm that sheds interesting light on women in the 30's.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I had a hard time keeping up with each of the characters and keeping everyone straight, plus the book took me forever to get through. It just didn't keep my attention but I kept reading hoping it would reel me in. I also thought the ending was really uneventful. I didn't even realize I was even at the end. I expected more.
omniavanitas on LibraryThing 5 months ago
I'd always been curious about The Group, having attended Vassar (albeit well after McCarthy's day). This novel is enlightening and infuriating. Women's lives, even among the prosperous and educated, were so different less than century ago. Although the book skips around from character to character quickly, sometimes dropping storylines abruptly, McCarthy seems to provide just the right amount of information to allow the reader to draw her own conclusions. I was surprised at the frankness with which premarital sex and birth control were discussed. Very interesting.
TheAmpersand on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Ouch! This one has not aged well at all. McCarthy follows a group of eight Vassar friends through their early adulthood. I can see why this book might have been something of a sensation in its day: the characters discuss sex, relationships and birth control forthrightly, and it's obvious that McCarthy wants to tell her curious readers all about the life that awaits modern working women after graduation. Still, her attempt at social realism is badly undercut by, among other things, the large amount of soap opera schmaltz that she throws into the mix. She has a bad habit of describing her characters by telling and not showing; some of her descriptions wouldn't be out of place in the captions to a Vogue fashion spread. McCarthy seems to do better when she gives her characters a bit more room to develop. A couple of her characters, such as Polly Andrews, a nurse, or Libby MacAusland, who wants to work in publishing, evolve into well-rounded protagonists, but, in this case, eight is probably too much. I suspect that "The Group" might have worked better if its membership had been cut in half. Also, while one hears a lot about "male" and "female" writing these days, McCarthy's prose strikes me as "female" in a particularly uncomplimentary way. Gossipy, prim, and condescending in more or less equal measure, McCarthy succeeds in making her college gals sound shallower and less intelligent than she probably intended. There are other problems here, too. While the blood at the Seven Sisters probably ran a bit bluer in the thirties than it did today, every member of the titular group seems to be wealthy, fashionable, and pretty. It's a pleasant-enough fantasy, sure, but it makes it difficult for this reader to take these characters, and the author who created them, very seriously. "The Group" suffers from an early version of what we might call the "Sex in the City" problem: McCarthy can't seem to decide whether she's critiquing her characters' privileged upbringings and social presumption or celebrating them. Too often, I feel it's the latter; the book is riddled with brand names, upper-class signifiers and loving descriptions of luxury goods. At the same time, she seems to vaguely resent her characters' presumably insincere dabbling in leftist politics, proving, perhaps, that some social grudges seem to seem to endure down through the generations. Heck, add a few tattoos, vegan tacos, and fixie bikes and "The Group" could tell the story of contemporary Brooklyn hipsters. I hope I haven't just given some aspiring writer an idea; I doubt very much that a Williamsburg version of "The Group" would be any better than McCarthy's original. Readers who don't go all soft when handsome young doctors propose marriage to their put-upon nurses are encouraged to skip this particular product of its time.
pinkcrayon99 on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Mary McCarthy wrote a book about the ¿real¿ issues women have when they graduate college and begin to start careers and families. The story was so engaging that I felt a part of The Group. Set in the 1930¿s during the Great Depression with all seven members of The Group being upper and middle class white women. The Group formed while the ladies were attending Vassar College. We begin our journey with them after their graduation from Vassar and in attendance at Kay and Harald¿s wedding. Kay was the glue of The Group but Lakey was the Queen Bee. Lakey was the flame and all the other girls were the moths. The privileged background of all the girls was laid out in specific detail until sometime you got bogged down just in the details. These ladies were a part of the high society and upper crust but they dealt with normal everyday issues like most women no matter the class. Each woman held a uniqueness that contributed to the entire Group. The Group ranged from the Stepford wives to the politically involved. The story stayed true to the era. This was an era where women were still testing the waters to see just how far they could break away from the ever so enforced gender roles. There is not an underlying ¿feminist¿ theme but there is a silent rebellion against husbands and ultra starchy mothers. These ladies were well educated and wanted a place in the workforce which was male dominated at the time. We read how one took her place, Libby. Libby was my least favorite character in the novel with Kay coming a close second. Libby was the critic with an air if ¿out do-ness.¿ Kay simply tried too hard and in the end it proved detrimental. My favorite would have to be Polly. Polly overcame all the odds and really found true happiness. She was the one member of The Group that did not have privilege to rely on. Of course there was a villain, who was an outsider that attended Vassar as well named Norine. Norine was t catalyst for the main turn of events. This definition of catalyst explains her actions perfectly: ¿ something that causes activity between two or more persons or forces without itself being affected.¿ There is no doubt that I fell in love with The Group. We begin with a wedding and end with a funeral. There is an amazing amount of life to deal with in between. The ladies are faced with losing virginity, marriage, domestic violence, adultery, breast feeding, insanity, and lesbianism. No matter what culture or class you belong to you will get lost in The Group.
kraaivrouw on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Reading this book is like drinking a very dry gin martini (shaken, not stirred). Closely observed, carefully described, always acerbic - this was a real pleasure.I remember skimming through this at my Seattle grandmother's house when I was in high school. At that point I was mostly shocked that someone had written so frankly about sex during the 1930's ("They had SEX in the 1930's? Really?") - teenagers are always a bit surprised to discover a whole world out there that is outside of their own experience. I tucked the book away in the back of my mind as something I should read at some point. I am currently reading books that were published in my birth year and this was the first. If it is any evidence of the quality of writing in 1963 then it was a great year for more than just me! I was completely floored by how wonderful this book was.Written almost more as a series of short stories about the women in the group, the stories are tied together by Vassar, a wedding (at the beginning), and a funeral (at the end). In between are stories I will never forget. A Particular standout for me is Chapter 2, wherein Dottie loses her virginity. Ms. McCarthy truly captures the universal awkwardness of this event along with its own attendant pleasant surprises and does so in effortless intelligent prose. I loved one of the minor characters, Noreen Schmittlapp - utterly contemptible in some ways and yet so admirable in her ability to flaunt convention - she's a gorgeous counterpoint to some of the other more downtrodden and conventional characters.This book makes me grateful that I was born during the era of Our Bodies, Ourselves instead of relying on Kraft-Ebbing for my education on human sexuality. I am glad that I have more choices than these women did (What the hell did they get such great educations for, anyway, if all that was on offer was to keep house? Better cocktail party conversation?). I am glad that I can't be institutionalized for objecting to a spouse's affairs and physical abuse (at least not easily). I was just as struck, however, by the way some things endure - watch any one of the dozens of bridal shows on television right now and boggle along with me at the notion that this is a woman's only day, the most important dress she'll ever spend too much money on, the ne plus ultra of life - the more things change, the more they stay same (factoring in inflation, of course).
irishwasherwoman on LibraryThing 5 months ago
An interesting read for 2009 since it was written 40+ years ago about women from the 30's. This novel follows the lives of 8 Vassar graduates from the Class of '33 - an age of rapidly changing mores for women. It addresses the conventions of friendship, marriage, child rearing, socialism, equality, and etiquette in a satirical and searing, although sometimes tiresome, way. It was insightful to think about the times of the setting, the writing, and the reading. This was my first McCarthy novel and definitely not my last.
daizylee on LibraryThing 8 months ago
I am in love with this book. And I've yet to meet anyone else who's read it. Read it, people!
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Extraordinary and important novel.
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This book stinks! I couldn't even finish it, and I never stop reading a book once I've started it. Don't waste your time people!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was considered daring and scandalous by my mother and her friends back in 1963, when I was ten, so I thought I would try it. Very dated, long winded exploration of sexuality and relationships starting in the 1930s. Unlikable characters. Discussions of archaic contraceptive methods go on forever. Some readers may find the domestic details such as the novelty of making casseroles in Pyrex dishes interesting. I read, then skimmed to see if things would pick up, then gave up.