The good news is that this morning I found an item on the Internet about Mary McCarthy. The bad news is that it’s by Camille Paglia. I didn’t know she was still around, but apparently Salon pays her for a column where she answers readers’ letters.

Paglia says McCarthy’s works were kept out of “women’s studies programs from the 1970s on” because she didn’t fit with their “maudlin, victim-centric curriculum.” Well, let’s see. Women in the 1970s had no problem making a fuss over McCarthy’s dreadful enemy, Lillian Hellman. The women included Jane Fonda and Vanessa Redgrave, who I think must be accounted feminists, at least in those days. (The caveat is because Fonda, some 30 years on, went Christer; of course that might not rule out some sort of feminism, but I want to be careful.) In fact Fonda and Redgrave celebrated Hellman by starring in a big-budget movie that pretended, on Hellman’s say-so, that the dear lady had risked her life by smuggling money to the anti-Nazi underground thru the heart of the Third Reich. The tough, straight-talking movie Hellman squared her jaw and carried out the assignment. Some victim.

In real life Hellman had done nothing like it. She had a history of lying in print, a history that extended to her account of the supposed heroism in her memoir Pentimento. The account formed the basis of the movie, which was called Julia and now is not much remembered.

Mary McCarthy remarked on television about Hellman’s long record of dishonesty, after which Hellman sued her for a few million dollars. In this contest McCarthy did better regarding facts, Hellman regarding money. She was rich, McCarthy wasn’t, and the legal expenses clouded the last few years of McCarthy’s life.

Paglia, if she cared, might argue that Fonda and Redgrave are one thing, women’s studies programs another. Of course she’d have to explain why there was one brand of feminism for Fonda and Redgrave, and the millions of women who bought Hellman’s books and went to see Julia, and another for the academic programs. She’d also have to explain why highlighting injustice rules out celebrating heroism (or pretend heroism, in Hellman’s case).

She won’t and it doesn’t matter. She’s a fool. She even thinks Sidney Lumet’s movie version of The Group is a good movie.

Tags: