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Mary McCarthy 1912-1989. Mary McCarthy was born in Seattle when both her parents died in the great flu epidemic of 1918, she was brought up by two sets of rich but austere grandparents - in both a strict Catholic environment and in a Protestant one. .

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Mary McCarthy 1912-1989

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mary mccarthy 1912 1989

Mary McCarthy1912-1989

Mary McCarthy was born in Seattle when both her parents died in the great flu epidemic of 1918, she was brought up by two sets of rich but austere grandparents - in both a strict Catholic environment and in a Protestant one.

McCarthy’s autobiographical writing is marked by scrupulous detachment; in Names, for instance, she mediates on the disjunction between her sense of herself as an adolescent and the sometimes baffling, sometimes degrading identities she was given by teachers and fellow students.(1679)
from memories of a catholic girlhood names
From Memories of a Catholic GirlhoodNames
  • Names had a great importance for us in the convent, and foreign names, French, German, or plain English (which, to us, were foreign, because of their Protestant sound), bloomed like prize roses among a collection of spuds.(1680)
  • Anything exotic had value: an “olive” complexion, for example.(1680)
Names have more significance for Catholics than they do for other people; Christian names are chosen for the spiritual qualities of the saints they are taken from; Protestants used to name their children out of the Old Testament and now they name them out of novels and plays, whose heroes and heroines are perhaps the new patron saints of a secular age. (1681)
But with Catholics it is different. The saint a child is named for is supposed to serve, literally, as a model or pattern to imitate; your name is your fortune and it tells you what you are or must to be.(1681)
  • Catholic children ponder their names for a mystic meaning, like birthstones.(1681)
My own, I learned, besides belonging to the Virgin and Saint Mary of Egypt, originally meant “bitter” or “star of the sea”. My second name, Therese, could dedicate me either to Saint Theresa or to the saint called Little Flower, Soeur Thèrése of Lisieux, on whom God was supposed to have descended in the form of a shower of roses.(1681)
Elinor Heffernan and Mary Harty, a clownish pair---oddly assorted in size and shape, as teams of clowns generally are, one short, plump, and baby-faced, the other tall, lean, and owlish---who entertained the high-school department by calling attention to the oddities of the younger girls. Nearly every school has such a pair of satirists, whose marks are generally low and who are tolerated just because of their laziness and non-conformity.(1681-1682)
Because of their low standing, their indifference to appearances, the sad state of their uniforms, their clowning is taken to be harmless, which, on the whole, it is, their object being not to wound but to divert; such girls are bored in school.
  • One of their specialties was giving people nicknames.
This often happened to me; they would tell me, on the playground, and I would tell the others. As their intermediary, I felt myself almost their friend and it did not occur to me that I might be the next on their list.(1682)
I had waked up one morning, in my convent room, to find a few small spots of blood on my sheet; I had somehow scratched a trifling cut on one of my legs and opened it during the night.(1682)
  • It was best, I decided, to ask the nun on dormitory duty, tall, stout Mother Slattery, for a clean bottom sheet. But when she bustled in to look at the sheet, did not scold me at all; indeed, she hardly seemed to be listening as I explained to her about the cut.(1682)
In a moment, she returned, but without the sheet. Instead, she produced out of her big pocket a sort of cloth girdle and peculiar flannel object which I first took to be a bandage, and I began to protest that I did not need or want a bandage; all I needed was a bottom sheet.(1682)
  • She handed me two large safety pins. It was the pins that abruptly enlightened me; I saw Mother Slattery’s mistake, even as she instructing me as to how this flannel article, which I now understood to be a sanitary napkin, was to be put on.(1682)
But the more excited I grew, the more soothing, and yet firm, Mother Slattery became. There seemed to be nothing for it but to give up and do as I was bid. I was in the grip of a higher authority, which almost had the power to persuade me that it was right and I was wrong. But of course I was not wrong; that would have been too good to be true.(1683)
But precisely the same impasse confronted me when I was summoned to the Mother Superior’s office at recess-time. I talked about my cut, and she talked about becoming a woman.(1683)
  • Neither of us could hear the other, or ,rather, I could hear her, but she could not hear me. (1683)
There was no use fighting the convent. I had to pretend to have become a woman, just as, not long before.(1683-1684)
  • It was not my fault; they had forced me into it; nevertheless, it was I who would look silly---worse than silly; half mad---if the truth ever came to light.(1684)
I was burdened with this guilt and shame when the nickname finally found me out.(1684)
  • “C.Y.E.,” they elucidated, spelling it out in chorus.(1684)
  • The closest I could come to it in the convent was “Clean Your Ears.” Perhaps that was it, though in later life I have wondered whether it did not stand, simply, for “Clever Young Egg” or “Champion Young Eccentric.” (1684)
This name reduced all my pretensions and solidified my sense of wrongness.Just as I felt I was beginning to belong to the convent, it turned me into an outsider, since I was the only pupil who was not in the know. I liked the convent, but it did not like me.(1684)
  • It was just that I did not fit into the convent pattern; the simplest thing I did, like asking for a clean sheet, entrapped me in consequences that I never could have predicted.(1684)
The oddest part was all that pretending. There I was, a walking mass of lies, pretending to be a Catholic and going to confession while really I had lost my faith.(1684-1685)
  • But the basest pretense I was driven to was the acceptance of the nickname.(1685)
  • “Cye” was my new patron saint.(1685)
What I wanted was a fresh start, a chance to begin life over again.(1685)
  • But this time I was resolute. After the first week, I dropped the hearties who call me “Si” and I never heard it again.(1685)
  • I got my own name back and sloughed off Clementina and even Therese---the names that did not seem to me any more to be mine but to have been imposed on me by others.(1685)
And I preferred to think that Mary meant “bitter” rather than “star of the sea.”
  • In a bitter argument or conflict, people argue very angrily or fight very fiercely.