Memories of a catholic girlhood

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memories of a catholic girlhood

Memories of a Catholic Girlhood by Mary McCarthy


I first read this book in the early ‘80s in a university course on autobiography. We read works that traced the history of the genre and ended with this book. I remember reading Rousseau and enjoying him immensely, but I remember this most of all, perhaps because I was young and it spoke to some of my own experiences. The only paper we wrote for the class was our own ‘autobiography’. Though I no longer have the paper (that’s another story), I remember it distinctly. Each of my siblings (I have five) was the focus of a ‘chapter’ and the professor commented negatively on only one, saying I hadn’t captured one brother as I had the others: I agree; he’s always been the slipperiest.

Earlier this month, after telling a friend the details of a project I’m working on and how I planned on connecting some fictional sections I’d written with nonfictional bits, she recommended I reread this. I took her advice and was startled at how I had ‘stolen’ some of McCarthy’s technique. Did I pull out this method from somewhere deep in the recesses of my mind? Who knows? I couldn’t begin to figure out how many books I’ve read or how many may have influenced me in one way or another. Of course it’s not an exact theft: for only one difference, McCarthy sticks with first-person throughout; even though afterward she explains what’s fictional, that is, what’s not an exact memory.

Times have changed since McCarthy wrote this, so her memoirs (first published in magazines and then incorporated into this book) are not as controversial as they would be now. Times have also not changed. In the opening chapter ‘To the Reader,’ I am struck by the similarity of the hate mail McCarthy received to a type of online commenting of today. The “scurrilous” letters from lay readers, mostly women, (she says the priests and nuns who wrote to her were always gracious) were so similar, she says, they could’ve been written by one person: “frequently full of misspellings,” though the person claimed to be educated; “all, without exception, menacing”; “they attempt to constitute themselves a pressure group;” one even says she is sure what McCarthy has written is illegal.

Since I read this for a different reason than I usually read a book, I’m finding it hard to review. Last night I happened to see a stray review of McCarthy with a low rating that just said “she’s no role model.” I feel that’s missing the point; but, if one wants to judge a work that way, I say this is an honest, brave, true-to- herself, well-written account—and we can all aspire to that.
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Published 18.01.2019

One For The Catholic Girls

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Mary McCarthy

Memories of a Catholic Girlhood /How I Grew/Intellectual Memoirs

Thank you! A perhaps misleadingly restrictive title for a folio of some eight autobiographical pieces dealing with Mary McCarthy's past when as the eldest of ""poor Roy's children""- her parents died during the influenza epidemic of she shuttled between two sets of grandparents and three religions- Catholic, Protestant and Jewish. Under the monitory supervision of the Catholic McCarthys in Minneapolis, the four young ones were turned over to a blood relative, Aunt Margaret- a ""well-aged quince of 45"" whose regimen of prunes and parsnips, no toys or books was supplemented by the capricious brutality of her husband Myers. Removed by ""the Protestants"", her grandfather Preston and his Jewish wife, to Scattle, there followed a period of quieter discipline in a Catholic convent where she lost her faith; the transfer to an Episcopalian boarding school and infractions of another nature; a summer in Montana and her introduction to whisky under the tutelage of a married druggist; and the pieces conclude with an unforgettable portrait of her grandmother Augusta Morgenstern and the elaborate ritual of her days Time has not dulled the sharpness of the image and incident here, and the portraiture has an exceptional definition to which the polished prose- there is never a flubbed phrase- is certainly contributory. There is also a warmth, and an often gamine charm, absent from her fiction, which may attract others beyond her anticipated audience although Catholic readers have already been aroused on the initial publication of these pieces.

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And the play had barely begun. Mary played Catiline. Instead, she is pleased with the strong academic foundation it provided, and she recalls "with gratitude Taken together with the original text, the result is a book the combines the best of both documented history and historical fiction. Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.

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