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The Group Paperback – September 16, 1991

3.3 out of 5 stars 313 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"A witty, moving, instructive and wise novel¾a gem of American social history as well as very good fiction." -- The Nation

"An admirable piece of fiction and the best book [Mary McCarthy] has written." -- Saturday Review

"Juicy, shocking, witty, and almost continually brilliant." -- Cosmopolitan

Mary McCarthy's The Group is a sharply-pointed satire of upper-class New England society which follows the post-college lives of eight Vassar graduates, class of '33. Helena was registered for Vassar at birth; Pokey forged her mother's signature on her college application in defiance of the family tradition of "being dim-witted and vain of it." Out in the "real" world, Dottie loses her virginity to a "bad sort" but discovers that she enjoys sex, while Kay subsumes her own talent to the artistic "genius" of her egocentric and philandering husband. Libby writes book reviews that are almost as long as the original material and Polly works as a nurse, while Priss is forced by her pediatrician-husband to go against "tradition" and her inclinations and breastfeed her baby, as proof of his theories. Elinor "Lakey" Eastlake, the sleek, rich leader of the group, travels about Europe and ultimately returns, full of surprises. Adopting the non-stop, generally well-intentioned, but hopelessly narrow-minded voice that typifies the worst of the group, Mary McCarthy filets Ivy League society, socialism, 1930s child-rearing practices, sexual double-standards, psychoanalysis, and men in general. -- For great reviews of books for girls, check out Let's Hear It for the Girls: 375 Great Books for Readers 2-14. -- From 500 Great Books by Women; review by Erica Bauermeister

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.

Product Details

  • Series: Harvest Book
  • Paperback: 492 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; 1 edition (September 16, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0156372088
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156372084
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (313 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #31,813 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Dianne Foster HALL OF FAME on March 13, 2002
Format: Paperback
THE GROUP was published when I was very young, however, I was aware the book had created quite a stir because my Republican, Roman Catholic father and Democratic Protestant mother had many heated arguments over its content--which includes discussions about childrearing, hetero and homosexuality, mental illness and psycholanalysis, body functions, and Communist-party affiliation.
I have finally read Mary McCarthy's book and found it absolutely wonderful. Having completed it, I feel I understand my mother and aunts a little better. They were of the same genertion as Polly, Libby, Lakey, Kay, and the other eight Vasser graduates who are the protagonists of the book. Although my relatives attended state colleges in Wisconsin, I was exposed to "thinking" women who for the most part lived lives comparable to the women depicted in THE GROUP. All but one of my aunts married, and she became an "old maid school teacher." Some of my uncles were more liberal than others, but all of the men including my father had expectations about how their wives should conduct themselves after marriage and motherhood. I came of age at the tail end of this oppressive period when women were still called girls.
As we read about the oppression of women in other parts of the world today, I cannot help but wonder if younger men and women can fully appreciate how recently civil rights have been extended to U.S. and European women. It's so easy to discount feminists but without the resumption of the Woman's Movement in the late 1950s and 1960s, a husband like Harald might still be able to have his wife Kay committed to a psychiatric hospital if she defended herself from his drunken attack.
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Format: Paperback
This upper-class New England satire of the post-college lives of 8 women has definitely stood the test of time. I read it maybe 30 years ago and just reread it: it still works, and at my present age, I find myself appreciating McCarthy's superb writing on an entirely new level. Each of the women comes from a different background, has widely different experiences both in Vassar and after graduation, and sees her world after college thru different eyes. Told mostly thru the point of view of one member of the group, McCarthy's classic story lacerates socialism, the Ivy League, the prevalent double standards of the era, men - and psychoanalysis. Is there anything she doesn't excoriate with her talented tongue. Um, no, I don't think she's missed a thing.
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Format: Paperback
Along with the more lurid and admittedly trashy "Valley Of The Dolls" and "Peyton Place," this was one of the seminal books of my youth. What is interesting now is that while the two aforementioned titles have become icons of sorts--'Valley' as a sort of feminist treatise, "Peyton Place" as socio-anthropological cant, go figure-- Mary McCarthy's "The Group" has sort of been relegated to a forgotten spot on the bookshelf, which is a shame since it is a far better book than one may realize. I hardly think the book today would have become the best seller it did, as the writing is too detailed and meticulous in comparison with what passes for much of popular fiction today. And those who made it a best seller in its day I am not so sure grasped what McCarthy was doing; instead they focused on the sensationalist exploration of then oft verboten feminine topics that are prominent in the book--everything from menstruation to birth control. What "The Group" gave me at sixteen was a yearning for the pseudo sophisticated New York world beyond my banal small town suburban upbringing; I longed, like Libby, to take the literary world by storm. At the time, of course, I took it all VERY seriously. Thirty years later, I now realize how brilliantly Mary McCarthy was playing everyone--herself, the girls of Vassar, her entire generation and the American reading public--for a bunch of fools. For what is apparent at the end of the novel is that, for all the advantages of wealth and education these women had, they are no better off emotionally (though they are economically) than their contemporaries who did not go to college, Vassar or otherwise.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
Mary McCarthy's deft and sometimes sordid examination of "The Group" is enlightening, if sometimes melodramatic. The novel reads a bit like a soap opera at times, especially when the reader deals with the tumultuous lives of Kay and Harald, two young newlyweds with a penchant for finding trouble in their marriage. Harald is hardly likeable, Kay often flippant, and their friends oblivious or at the very least unresponsive to their increasingly abusive problems. Of course, Kay and Harald are only the tip of the iceberg in this novel.
Dottie, Lakey, and the other members of The Group--eight Vassar graduates trying to make their way after college--all find out plenty about the roughness and beauty of living through the course of the book. Yet it is impossible to say that this is a superficial work, because McCarthy never treats her characters lightly. Yes, they act a little flighty at times, but there is always a human edge to their stories. When Dottie takes a lover she shouldn't, according to The Group, the entire affair is treated with remarkable sensitivity and candor. Therein lies the charm of this particular work.
McCarthy has a knack for getting a lot out of her characters. She peopled this novel with plenty of personalities, but they never simply read as sketches or caricatures. Even Kay and Harald, the queen and king of the over-dramatic (an ironic and clever connection to the theater they both love so much) are amazingly well-written and well-thought out. Sure there are moments when the reader may roll his or her eyes in annoyance at some of the more pandering moments, but there is always the next page, ready to lead the audience back into the charmingly fragile relationships that make this book so lovely.
While this may not be the epitome of McCarthy's writing, it is certainly a novel worth the read, and well worth the thought it should generate afterwords.
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