The Word for Mirror: Mary McCarthy
The closing section of Mary McCarthy’s Memories of a Catholic Girlhood is called ‘Ask Me No Questions,’ and the reader clearly hears as if in echo, even sees in the white space between title and text, ‘and I’ll Tell You No Lies.’ Throughout the essays making up Memories — most published in magazines between 1946 and 1957, then revised and collected in 1957 with interchapters reflecting on the process of their composition — she has asked herself questions, reconstructing herself (as Henry James, ‘removed from Family,’ had in The American Scene) in relation to family history. The answers, or rather her meditations on the questions, while far from ‘lies’ and indeed for her the nearest thing to ‘truth,’ make problems of relation between factual and fictional narrative central to the accumulated volume. ‘Many a time,’ she states, ‘in the course of doing these memoirs, I have wished that I were writing fiction. The temptation to invent has been very strong, particularly where recollection is hazy and I remember the substance of an event but not the details — the color of a dress, the pattern of a carpet, the placing of a picture,’1 precisely the sorts of details which in her fiction, as in James’s, can obliquely convey a human truth.
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Notes and References
- 1.Mary McCarthy, Memories of a Catholic Girlhood (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1957) pp. 3–4. While scattered throughout the text, McCarthy’s thoughts about the relation of fact to fiction in Memories are to some extent concentrated in this opening section, ‘To the Reader,’ written for the 1957 collection.Google Scholar
- 4.Alfred Kazin, Bright Book of Life: American Novelists and Storytellers from Hemingway to Mailer (Boston: Atlantic-Little, Brown, 1973) p. 188.Google Scholar