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The Group

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Librarian note: An alternate cover of this ISBN can be found here.

Mary McCarthy's most celebrated novel follows the lives of eight Vassar graduates, known simply to their classmates as "the group." An eclectic mix of personalities and upbringings, they meet a week after graduation to watch Kay Strong get married. After the ceremony, the women begin their adult lives: traveling to Europe, tackling the worlds of nursing and publishing, and finding love and heartbreak in the streets of New York City. Through the years, some of the friends grow apart and some become entangled in each other's affairs, but all vow not to become like their mothers and fathers. It is only when one of them dies that they all come back together again to mourn the loss of a friend, a confidante, and most importantly, a member of the group.

496 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1963

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About the author

Mary McCarthy

157 books256 followers
People note American writer Mary Therese McCarthy for her sharp literary criticism and satirical fiction, including the novels The Groves of Academe (1952) and The Group (1963).

McCarthy studied at Vassar college in Poughkeepsie, New York and graduated in 1933. McCarthy moved to city of New York and incisively wrote as a known contributor to publications such as the Nation, the New Republic, and the New York Review of Books. Her debut novel, The Company She Keeps (1942), initiated her ascent to the most celebrated writers of her generation; the publication of her autobiography Memories of a Catholic Girlhood in 1957 bolstered this reputation.

This literary critic authored more than two dozen books, including the now-classic novel The Group , the New York Times bestseller in 1963.

Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name.


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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,497 reviews
485 reviews140 followers
March 13, 2016
I can remember my Dad's married sisters discussing this book (they were voracious readers always) in the 1960's. I was determined to read it and finally got hold of it in 1967 when I was studying to be a Catholic priest. My Student Director immediately confiscated it, so I knew its reputation was still going strong.(He didn't see my two volumes of Nietzsche I'd also bought with money my Mum had given me for my 20th birthday - I'd only bought them because I'd already seen him confiscate a Nietzsche on the grounds that it could destroy one's faith and I was already seeing large holes in the Church's fabric myself!!) I mentioned what had happened to my History tutor, a Russian woman, at Adelaide University(South Australia) and she gave me her copy of McCarthy which I still have.
I have read it three times (2007 was the last time) and seen the movie several times, a very faithful rendition.
This book is so eloquent and dry and upfront and honest. All of these make it totally outrageous but dreadfully refreshing.(How many books do this???) And not missing are McCarthy's wit and humour.
It makes me believe in intelligent Americans in a way that Sex and the City doesn't.
It's sad to notice that there is only one American male on this site.( Well done, Dave!!!) Aren't they interested in the experiences of their women? Great to see another generation of women responding to this great author.
By the way, I never became a priest.I left the monastery two years later an atheist. And I never read the Nietzsche - it was too difficult. I still have them though...like a symbol!!
I have two copies of "The Group" now...one to lend out and the one given me by my Russian tutor in History, the sentimental memory copy!!!
And I'm looking forward to another reread of The Group.
Cheers from Wayne,Sydney.
PS.Have any of you folk read another magnificent American woman, Janet Flanner, Paris correspondent for the New Yorker?

"The Group" came back into my TV Life a few weeks ago...a long time since I had enjoyed the film
and did so again. When I wrote this review on 4th Feb 2011 there was only one other male reader.
Since then there have been many others which is GREAT...but, of course, overwhelmingly women
are the main readers. I'm curious to know if this book is read as an important part of American Lit. on College or Uni Campuses...or is it still scandalous for being upfront ??

And I never thought to mention Lakey whose presence must have added to the book's scandalous reputation. In these days of Marriage Equality she takes on a Very Modern role in a book set just before WWII. But of course Gay men and women have always been living as married couples...why would they ask for anyone's permission??? Lakey has the last word in the novel...and she socks it to its Meanest Man. The scene is done to Perfection in the Film. It was Candice Bergen's first role...and definitely NOT her last. Hope You All get a chance to see it.

And I'm glad my review has been enjoyed by many readers. Thanks !!
June 26, 2018
I read this book when I was really young, maybe 12. I just saw a review on it, it said,
"The book was very frank about sexuality, describing some sex scenes in great detail. However, it felt more "clinical", like a sex ed text than erotic. "

Not to me! it was HOT and very inspirational. Masturbation, the First Time, and Girls who like other Girls, what's clinical about that? It was my favourite secret book. That is, until I found my father's The Kama Sutra / The Perfumed Garden drying in the airing cupboard after his weekly bath. (He had showers every day, but a bath on Sunday with an adult book). I read his Freemasons' book that way as well.
Profile Image for Greg Brown.
309 reviews61 followers
March 8, 2013
After tearing through Mary McCarthy's The Group, I'm kinda shocked that it hasn't been inducted into the canon yet. The book is a stunning, scary look at gender relations in the 1930s, yet so searing that it's a shock to see it was written in the 1950s. Even Mad Men, written from the perspective of today's improvements, isn't as damning as McCarthy can be about the oppression of the time.

McCarthy gets quite a bit out of the tension between characters being comedically wrong and worryingly wrong. And that's putting it lightly; some of the dialogue can be absolutely chilling, especially the prisoners who have learned to love their prison. Each of the characters seems promising and aware of their times, until they incidentally slip into some pattern of behavior that perpetuates the oppression of women at the time.

As far as those patterns of behavior, McCarthy has wonderful treatments of internal dialogues and how women at the time sort of reasoned their way through the world. More than their actions, it shows the assumptions and prejudices they worked under, and the rationalizations that justified horrible results for themselves. There's also a tremendous insecurity from the expectations of the day, primarily marriage.

So many of the dialogues would start with the character considering something and, like pulling on a sweater's thread, slowly unraveling what they thought they knew. Sometimes it's accurate, but most of the time you get the sense that they're just running around in circles missing some central lacuna. And so many of the dialogues pulled from the pop-psychology of the day, primarily Freud's. It's hard to imagine today how large his impact was, but at the time it rivaled Darwin's (and possibly exceeded).

Sometimes McCarthy steps back and looks at things from an incidental character's point of view, showing how these young women are perceived—and in that perception, constrained—by men and older women. There are yet other episodes that show the fruitless of their analysis and pop-psychology by upturning one character's inferences using the experience of another. in one memorable case, she has one character remember a party that was already described matter-of-factly, except this character's rememberance is overtaken by a single, surprising urge.

I was surprised by how much the novel was also focused on class: how it in some senses liberated the women of the novel to worry less about material needs, but at the same time gave them more to lose if they worked against the social order. It's hard to say whether class lended itself to more or less equitable relations—I'd guess more because these women had access to education, but it's hard to tell given the shared social background of most characters. It would certainly vary dramatically by region though, with women in East Texas not yet receiving electricity and expected to perform any number of back-breaking duties in a day.

That's not to say that our monied characters don't have terrifying experiences of their own. The mental ward chapter was especially scary, having gone through a similar experience myself. Kay's admission is still very similar to how it's done today, and is enough to drive one to madness if they weren't already there. Public mental health care in the US is like maintaining a fire department without fire codes, and it hasn't markedly improved in the last 80 years. One's husband cannot trap you in the ward merely on his say-so, but the criteria for release are still frustratingly vague.

This is in many ways a tremendously important novel to read today, even though things have certainly improved for the better. Most people today understand that it was bad for women in the past, but it's hard to imagine the ways that such oppression sustained itself. For so many historical studies of sexism and racism, it's a tempting answer to just say they were dumber back in the day; while this is somewhat true when you consider lead-poisoning and alcohol consumption of the day, it's a dangerously incomplete answer. Grappling with the particulars of how we demeaned women is gruesome but necessary so we understand that oppression doesn't come in flashing neon. It slips into your very ways of thinking, masquerading as a web of supporting assumptions that can't be eliminated until the entire system has been unmasked and hacked away.
Profile Image for Ines.
320 reviews196 followers
October 12, 2019
I do it fast and simple: A charade of facts, events, places and characters... but nothing that has kidnapped me or anythin significant that has remained in my heart.
Yes, this book slipped away from me with absolutely nothing.... I immediately say that there by there, the girls of Vassar College in question live their dramas, successes and broken destinies... but the whole thing is written ( my personal opinion) with total emotional strangeness by McCarthy; There are so many described things and absolutely unnecessary inserts that several times I found myself turning the pages in search of structural action to the story. Is that th e problem for us 20th-century readers?
Certainly many parts reported by McCarthy must have been quite shocking to those who found themselves reading it in 1962: explicit sex scenes, attempted rape scene, domestic violence, lesbian relationships etc... For me these parts were not very interesting, and it sad that the girls' characters were not well delineated, if not for a few of them (Kay, Norine, Priss and Pokey). I felt more comfortable and interested in reading Priss' motherhood and Kay’s unfortunate life.
The costumes and 1935's modus vivendi are well brought back by McCarthy but at the same time creating an effect of " too much stuffing for the meatloaf". If you want to turn your liver in black then read carefully the life of Harald...Kay’s husband, (poor woman), the biggest asshole found from all the books ever read in my life!!! Yes, a book that pissed me off!!

La faccio rapida e veloce: Una sciarada di fatti, avvenimenti, luoghi e personaggi... ma nulla che mi abbia rapito o comunque qualche cosa che mi sia rimasto nel cuore di significativo.
Si, questo libro mi è scivolato via senza darmi assolutamente nulla.....dico subito che lì per lì, le ragazze del Vassar College in questione vivono i loro drammi, successi e destini spezzati... ma il tutto è scritto ( mio parere personale) con totale estraneità affettiva dalla McCarthy; ci sono così tante cose descritte e inserti assolutamente non necessari che piu volte mi sono ritrovata a girare le pagine in cerca di azione strutturale alla storia. Che sia un problema di noi lettori del 20 secolo? Sicuramente tante parti riportate dalla McCarthy devono essere state ben sconvolgenti a chi si è ritrovato a leggerlo nel 1962: scene di sesso esplicito, tentata violenza carnale, scene di violenza domestica estrema, relazioni lesbiche etc...... A me tutto questo non ha interessato piu' di tanto, i caratteri delle ragazze non sono stati ben delineati, se non per poche di loro (Kay, Norine, Priss e Pokey). Mi sono piu' sentita a mio agio e interessata a leggere la maternità di Priss e la vita disgraziata di Kay.
I costumi e il modus vivendi del 1935 vengono ben riportati dalla McCarthy ma creando un effetto " polpettone troppo infarcito". Se poi volete farmi venire un fegato nero, leggete attentamente la vita di Harald...il marito di Kay, povera donna, il piu' gran cornuto e stronzo di tutti i libri mai letti in vita mia!! si, un libro che mi ha lasciato incavolata!!
Profile Image for Carol She's So Novel꧁꧂ .
797 reviews585 followers
January 10, 2020
Fairly near the start this book had waaay too much detail about 1930's contraception for my tastes - it went on for pages. Yes, I should be more sympathetic - this chapter also evoked the feelings of confused and furtive shame about sexual matters that I remember from the 70's.

But the further into this groundbreaking novel I got, the more absorbed I became. I especially like the way The Group moved in and out of each others lives - some of the characters disappear for chapters and chapters. This very much reflects real life. Most of the women have absorbing lives, but only the most frustrating member Kay has a real career. Kay also has a real devotion to the unlovely Harald.

Polly was my favourite, Libby felt the most realistic.

I found the ending confusing and a bit hard to follow, but still this is a most excellent book.

Profile Image for Sarah.
7 reviews2 followers
October 28, 2008
This is pretty much my ideal novel. It's set in 1930s New York and follows the lives of several Vassar graduates. There has been only a few truly slow portions of this novel. I laughed aloud in several parts of the novel. All of the talk of New York high-society, 1930s politics, Freudian psychotherapy, and modernism generally was like candy to me. All of these characters were pretty darn interesting to me and I was sad when the novel ended.
Profile Image for Christine Boyer.
311 reviews33 followers
August 15, 2011
You know when you're in the middle of a good book and you have to put it down, you still think about the characters and the story? Well, that was NOT the case with this book! I never connected and never felt anything about it. Apparently, this book first came out in 1954 & 1963 and I think the reason it was popular was because it had very taboo content - at least for the 1950's. I could see young girls back then giggling and hiding their copies of it. Other than that, it's filled with flaws. No plot; the author tries to tell a story of 8 Vassar graduates, but it's too many characters and she doesn't do any of them justice. There are also about 30 side characters. Plus, the bulk of the story is supposed to take place from 1933 - 1943, but McCarthy never brings that '30s feeling - instead, it feels so 1950-1960, the time period when she actually wrote it. Another major flaw is that no relationships are developed. Everyone is talking AT each other, instead of WITH each other. It's a constant, running monologue, rather than dialogue. It reminds me of old Woody Allen movies. Not the good, funny part of Woody, but Woody movies when he has himself or other characters go on ad nauseam about communism, psychoanalysis - (so 1950's!), and sexuality. It's one character talking just for the sake of talking. There was a movie made about it in 1966, but it bombed. I always try to find one positive thing - so I guess it made me glad that I came of age in the 1980's after the birth control pill was invented! And I learned what a "pessary" is!
Profile Image for Alex.
1,418 reviews4,386 followers
January 3, 2018
There's this story Laura Jacobs recounts in her definitive essay about this book:
“I used to keep seventy-five dollars of mad money in a book. We had The Group on the shelf in our guest room and I thought, I’ll remember where it is if I put it in there. Every guest we had would come down the next morning and say, ‘Did you know you had money in that book?’ ”

She should have stashed it in Herzog, right? No one would ever have found it. This book, on the other hand, which gets almost immediately to a long scene of orgasmic deflowerization...this is a poor choice for a hiding place.

Written in 1963 and set in the 30s, it follows eight women, and assorted hangers-on, after their graduation from college and through about seven years of their lives. McCarthy's penchant for thinly disguising her Vassar classmates made her not the most popular kid at reunion. Here's a daisy chain, which was when the most bright-eyed Vassar women carried shitloads of flowers around and has probably been awkward to modernize.

The plot is not compelling. It more or less falls into the connected short story genre, with linking characters and themes - and sometimes you get the sense that it's not even that, it's more of a series of excuses for instructional manuals. Here is how to use a pessary. (That's pretty much a diaphragm.) Here are some competing philosophies re. child rearing. (They're using cry-it-out!) Characters pass the story off to each other like relay batons; the stories overlap like a series of cresting waves.

But for all that it isn't boring. (Although the child-free might nod off a bit during the two chapters about baby strategy.) Partly that's because much of it is about sex. But it's also extremely funny, and not just because of the recipes straight out of the 70s Dinner Party Twitter account. ("A marvelous jellied salad called Green Goddess, made with lime gelatin, shrimps, mayonnaise, and alligator pear.") People are described as "Given to large tight brassieres and copious menstruation," and "The sort of girl that people's brothers took out." Dottie mishears "pessary" as "peccary" and wonders what she's supposed to do with a pig. There's even a Jeevesian butler.

I mean, it's dead serious too. McCarthy means to fight, make no mistake. She tackles miscarriage and rape and death. One of the ongoing threads is men making decisions for women, with increasingly dire consequences. Birth control, breastfeeding, institutionalization: the effect of men on women gets worse and worse as we go. It's not an accident that the final story is about a gay woman.

On publication, as Elizabeth Day puts it for The Guardian, The Group "rapidly became a book that everyone read without wanting to admit it." Birth control, right? Ew. The good news it's been 70 years, and now you can admit it all you want. This book is great.
Profile Image for Brodolomi.
213 reviews96 followers
June 1, 2023
Meri Makartni je do kraja života tvrdila da joj je ovaj roman gotovo uproprastio književnu karijeru. Doduše, pošto je ovo bio jedan od velikih kontroverznih bestselera šezdesetih, on joj je sigurno i dobro napunio džepove. Dok je prodaja rasla shodno principu američke puritanske prakse (javno osuđujemo pisanje o seksu, tajno svi čitamo), dotle je intelektualni kružook osuđivao zašto je velika Makartnijeva posvetila deset godina pišući roman o, uglavnom, budalastim ženama (i ništa manje budalastim muškarcima) opterećenim površnim stvarima bez jasno upletene političke agende. Naravno, kako to biva, i čuvari morala i oni politički borci prevideli su koliko je ovaj roman zapravo duhovit.

„Grupa“ je društveni roman o višim društvenim krugovima i boemskim kružoocima intelektualaca Njujorka u sedmogodišnjem periodu od Ruzveltovog New Deala do ulaska SAD u Drugi svetski rat. Glavne junakinje su diplomci koledža Vasar (to je koledž koji su pohađale žene takve socijalne klase poput Džeki Kenedi) i fabula se niže epizodično (prvo seksualno iskustvo, kontracepcija, prvi posao, preljuba, rođenje deteta) vremenski raspoređeni u višegodišnjem razmaku od jednog otužnog venčanja i jedne urnebesne sahrane. Delom komedija manira, delom društvena satira a Makartnijeva pokazuje dominaciju i na polju oštroumnih opservacija ljudskog ponašanja i na polju otrovnih komentara (sasvim opravdava titulu bitch koju su joj dodelili). U njemu je pristna i stalna sprdnja na recepciju i praksu ideologija i društvenih pojava međuratnog modernizma (psihijatrije, psihologije, modernog slikartsva, angažovanog pozorišta, antropogije, komunizma, fašizma, književnog izadavaštva) sa promoćurim insistiranjem da sve ideologeme nadzire i natkrivljuje omnipotentna moć industrijskih proizvodnih traka i potrošačkog društva. Junakinje postaju ušuškane u potrošačkoj kulturi i robnim markama koje pružaju kratkotrajni osećaj pripadanja. Demokrtski snobizam glavnih likova se pretapa u kupovinu nameštaja u skladu sa ideologijama u koju veruju. Osećaj blagostanja pojave margarina, kembel supa u konzervi, maksvel haus kafi i drama oko pojave dijafragme. Roba okružuje ljude svojim sopstvenim diskursom. Mnogi dijalozi se tiču problema sticanja i posedovanja, kako se predstaviti u drugim očima svojim savršenim izgledom upeglanom porodicom i uređenim domovima, kako bi se izveo performans društvenog uspeha. A ispod fasade…. pa, svi znamo da se fasade stavljaju da bi se nešto prikrilo.

Makartnijeva će se čitati još.
Profile Image for Annelies.
161 reviews3 followers
August 9, 2017
This is for me an absolute 5 stars. The manner in which the characterisation of the different persons comes forward is masterful. Each person is descriped in a very detailed, sometimes sugggestive manner. Also the fact how the total store is interwoven is very good done. You learn about failed ambition in the thirties, not because the women are incapable, but because marriage prohibits them to develop themselves. You regularly have to laugh with what the persons think, or say or how they handle. The only negative thing: it's difficult to discern certain persons at the end; some come more forward and you would remember better, other disappeared during the story. But certainly a remarkable read. It reads like a soap :)
Profile Image for Kansas.
575 reviews271 followers
November 27, 2021
"Sabía que por lo general, las estudiantes de Vassar no eran bien vistas; se habían convertido en un simbolo de superioridad. Ella misma cuando se casara se vería obligada a frecuentar mucho menos a algunas de ellas si quería que Sloan no tuviera problemas con sus compañeros del hospital."

Esta novela comienza con una boda, que es realmente un acontecimiento en el que muchas novelas terminan con lo cual Mary McCarthy ya está sentando unas bases sobre por dónde van a ir los tiros de la historia en relación al “vivieron felices y comieron perdices” que se suele citar en los finales, porque el lector ya no sabe más del resto de la historia, pero aquí somos testigos de la boda y a partir de ahí, todo lo que viene detrás. En este inicio de novela conocemos ya a la mayoria de sus personajes con la excusa de la boda y a partir de ahí los desarrolla a lo largo de siete años.

"El Grupo" retrata las historias de un grupo de amigas, ex estudiantes de Vassar entre 1933 y 1940, justo en plena Depresión americana hasta que Estados Unidos se ve casi abocada a participar en la Segunda Guerra Mundial. Ya el hecho de haber sido estudiantes de Vassar forma parte de un estereotipo y marca la imagen que vamos a tener de ellas: niñas bien, algunas muy ricas, otras no tanto por haberlo perdido todo en la debacle del 29, pero casi todas por haber estudiado en Vassar ( una escuela liberal), dispuestas a romper los moldes de sus madres y a entrar en el mercado laboral. Las amigas que forman este grupo forman parte de una élite, educadas y con sus privilegios, respaldadas la mayoría por sus familias y es interesante durante la novela observar que aunque se consideran independientes y politicamente activas, en el fondo no dejan de ser un fiel reflejo de sus madres porque Mary McCarthy a lo largo de la novela, y con multitud de ejemplos nos va dando datos de cómo algunas, en el fondo no ejercen casi ningún control sobre sus vidas, ya sea por la esclavitud a las apariencias y a la clase social, o porque nunca cortan la dependencia a sus maridos.

"A todos los maridos les iba estupendamente en el mundo de los seguros, de la banca o de la prensa; y sus compañeras de curso, salvo unas cuantas rebeldes, que no eran necesariamente la mismas que en la universidad, ocupaban su lugar en la sociedad. Sin embargo, había noches en las que observándolas y escuchándolas, Polly sentía que ella debía ser la única de promoción que era feliz."

Es una novela sin un argumento definido sino que cada una de los capítulos estará dedicado a una de ellas, en historias que se irán entrelazando, saliendo a relucir temas que a pesar de los años, siguen estando muy vigentes. No todos los personajes tienen el mismo protagonismo, pero en su esencia cada una de ellas representa a un tipo de mujer. Puede que el hecho de que no haya un argumento central, disperse al lector de alguna forma, pero a mí me parece un logro porque es una forma interesante de comprobar como los personajes van cambiando a lo largo de los años y comprobar a su vez como la autora explora ciertos temas que salen a relucir y que en 1963, cuando la novela fue publicada, apenas se habían tocado: el sexo, el aborto, la planificacion familiar, la maternidad en su estado menos idílico, carrera o matrimonio, la salud mental, en fin, temas hasta aquel momento que habían sido tabú. Y la misma autora declaró en su momento que esta novela le había arruinado la vida porque aunque fue un best-seller desde el primer momento, no fue bien acogido por la crítica y fue denostada por sus amigos y conocidos porque muchos se reconocieron en estos retratos. Mary McCarthy fue ella misma estudiante de Vassar, así que sabía bien de lo que estaba hablando.

"De nada le servía recordarse que aquel fardo que tanto miedo le daba era el hijo que había tenido con Sloan. Le parecía más bien, para su vergüenza, que era un articulo propiedad del hospital que le habían soltado y olvidado; nunca vendrían a llevárselo."

A mi me ha parecido una novela muy entretenida porque Mary McCarthy es muy ingeniosa y su finísima ironía aderezada con un sentido del humor inteligente, la convierten en una lectura que va enganchando a medida que avanza, además explora una época en los Estados Unidos a través de sus personajes femeninos que fue crucial, porque fue una época de cambios en el sentido de que algo estaba moviéndose en el papel que hasta ese momento habían tenido las mujeres a partir de de la década de los 30. Aunque Mary McCarthy no consideraba su novela como feminista, si que es evidente que pone sobre el tapete muchos temas primordiales para la liberación de la mujer que las retrató tal como eran y no cómo te marcaba la sociedad idealizándolas: algunos de sus pesonajes dejan de trabajar para cuidar de sus hijos, creo que si es una decisión tomada libremente, esto también puede ser feminismo.

La definición que hizo en su momento Antonia S. Byatt sobre "El Grupo", puntualiza perfectamente lo que es en su esencia esta novela: "No pensé (y no creo) en The Group como una 'novela feminista'. Era una novela sobre un grupo de mujeres de las que la mayoría de las feministas podían aprender cosas: sobre trampas morales y emocionales establecidas por la sociedad, por ejemplo, pero su intención era literaria, narrativa, impactante en lugar de promover una causa ."

"-Y esa es otra, señorita MacAusland, la edición es cosa de hombres; quiero decir la edición de libros. Nómbreme a una mujer, además de Blanche Knopf la esposa de Alfred que haya llegado a algo en este negocio. Las encontrará trabajando en actividades paralelas o marginales de la edición: en publicidad o en promoción. O de lectoras y correctoras de pruebas. Solteronas, en su mayoría, con el lápiz detrás de la oreja." Estrellitas 3 y media

Profile Image for Stephen.
99 reviews81 followers
February 16, 2015
"I don't think sex is comical to the people taking part in it. It's comical to others."
-Mary McCarthy, on the Jack Paar Show 1963

It is easy to overlook McCarthy's wit because she has so loaded up this novel with a lifetime of observations on the kind of women she turned out not to be. There is plenty of T.S. Eliot's "The women come and go, talking of Michelangelo" in these sketches of Vassar girls, as they discuss Cézanne, O'Keefe, and read Clive Bell, Roger Fry, Croce, Tolstoy's "What is Art?" They have Marx, Spengler, Edmund Wilson's Axel's Castle on the shelves (which is amusing considering that McCarthy was married to the man). The furniture in Kay's apartment, for example, was meant to be talked about, in Norine's nothing had been admitted that did not make a "relevant statement" - though "what the polar bear was saying Helena could not make out."

"I reacted against Lakey's empty formalism," Norine was saying. "I went up to my room that night and spewed out the window. That was Armageddon for me, though I didn't see it yet. I didn't discover socialism till junior year. All I knew that night was that I believed in something and couldn't express it, while your team believed in nothing but knew how to say it - in other men's words."

In that quote you can see a lot of Sylvia Plath's impotent rage which McCarthy didn't have because she was too concerned with being artistically great, politically active, sexually adventurous. This novel cries out for comparison with the Daddy-oppressed poet, the Vassar girls being of Plath's class. I was about a fourth through the novel when picking up a few details I realized that it was set in the 1930s. You could've fooled me, I thought, because its language and morality seem firmly rooted in 1950s American culture. There is Fanny Farmer, and Campbell's tomato soup poured over meatloaf recipes; when pissed off people say "drat her" and when they end up at tiny restaurants they are called "dinky" ones. I went back to the beginning and saw that oops, it's spelled out there in the opening line: we are in the 1930s. The privilege of these girls doesn't jibe though with the quarter of the country unemployed these years, which is helpful to keep in mind.


The opening scene is a wonderful panorama of these sister-graduates at a wedding. We are dizzy meeting everyone like the uninvited guest that we are. Names go by without us able to latch onto who we are meeting, but we pick up on the moral atmosphere all the same. No one really thinks Kay has married well. Kay doesn't intend on being one of this class. She has married Harald, but since the marriage Harald has lost his stage job and reads The New Yorker and soon enough we find out he's been hiding a few secrets from his newlywed. You picture Kay clipping out hearty recipes from McCall's magazine. Lately she's into cooking casseroles and those with beans. They might have to change residence due to financial concerns, but hopefully not move into a place that is too unsightly: "Kay wouldn't live in a basement; it was unhealthy. She glanced at her beans again and slammed the oven door." This is where McCarthy the intellectual might be pressing her case too hard, though I don't mind it: "Kay had a ruthless hatred of poor people, which not even Harald suspected and which sometimes scared her by its violence, as when she was waiting on some indigent in the store" - as she turns the heat off for the brewing of Maxwell House coffee.

You can practically feel the advice columns McCarthy's early readers were reading, a target audience if there ever was one. There is lots of helpful, gaudy detail about what it was like to be sexually active at this time: losing one's virginity, contraceptive options, ejaculation habits, premature and otherwise (one memorably shot out by the ridiculously named Dick Brown landing on the virgin from Boston's tummy - and don't call her "Brahmin"!) You better believe there is plenty of detail on the vulgar mating rituals, of affairs, friends screwing each other behind their backs, all of which must have caused fainting fits in the early 1960s to its first readers, as they turned the pages eagerly while steadying themselves for the sexual revolution. This is too much fun any one novelist should ever be allowed.

Norine, she of the evening jeweled tiara and the long white gloves, instigated a "fracas" between Harald and Putnam over sleeping partners. Helena's mother Mrs. Davison is not surprised: "I said to your father (this) reminded me of the old suffragette demonstrations. Chaining themselves to lampposts, and that young woman, Inez something something, Vassar she was too, who rode a white horse down Fifth Avenue to demonstrate. Dressed to kill."

It's good to see the hypocrisies of feminism haven't changed in sixty years though it's comforting to see the relationships between mothers and daughters haven't changed either.

Mother Davison says: "I said to myself: 'No man ever planned this (fight).'"
"But why?" asked daughter Helena.
"No grown-up man will ever put on a tuxedo unless a woman makes him. No man, whatever his politics, Helena, is going to put on a tuxedo to go out and sympathy-strike, or whatever they call it unless some artful woman is egging him on. To get his picture in the paper" ...
Helena laughed and patted her mother's plump arm.
"What was her field at college?"
"English," said Helena. "She did her main work for Miss Lockwood. Contemporary Press."
Mrs. Davison smote her forehead. "Oh, my prophetic soul!" she said, nodding.
Profile Image for Whitney.
645 reviews55 followers
November 14, 2019
A whole bunch of ladies graduate from Vassar in 1933. And then the men in their lives make them miserable. The end.

But, okay, just to make sure I'm not exaggerating, I'll add some details...

Kay: Kay's husband makes her miserable
Norine: Kay's husband makes her miserable
Dottie: Kay's husband's roommate makes her miserable
Prissy: Prissy's husband makes her miserable because he thinks he knows everything about motherhood.
Polly: Polly's father makes her miserable, and then she has an affair that makes her miserable. Positive note: Polly does marry happily!
Helena: Good news! Helena doesn't care about men; she's not miserable
Libby: Her date makes her miserable by almost raping her.
Pokey: Her butler is miserable. (Pokey is too lazy and/or rich to be made miserable.)
Lakey: Kay's husband annoys her. But granted, she, like Helena, is not miserable.

Alright then. The MAJORITY of women here have at one point been miserable. But that is the way of life. The book brought amazing depth and awareness on the topic of educated women between-war times.

Sub-title of the book could have been: THE PERILS OF THE MRS DEGREE
Profile Image for Cheryl.
942 reviews
March 31, 2015
The book follows the lives of 8 Vassar grads from 1933 to 1940. Eight seemed too much, because many of the characters weren't fully developed. I only felt I got to know 3 or 4 of them to any extent. Most of the characters were pretty superficial, making it hard to like them. (I felt sorry for Kay, but I can't really say I liked her.) The plot wasn't that linear. It felt like a series of sketches. The book was very frank about sexuality, describing some sex scenes in great detail. However, it felt more "clinical", like a sex ed text than erotic. The Group is a look into a certain subset of society during a specific time in history. Interesting, but not great.
Profile Image for Ana Cristina Lee.
652 reviews246 followers
July 15, 2021
Este es el típico libro que no me atrevería a recomendar, porque alguien podría tener ganas de hacer puntería con el tocho a mi cabeza pensante. Es bueno, tiene calidad, pero hay trozos que se hacen directamente aburridos y la mayor parte del tiempo no sabes bien hacia dónde va. Hay como una frialdad en la manera de narrar que te distancia de los personajes y a veces parece más un ensayo sobre la sociedad americana de los años 30 que una novela con una trama que te enganche.

Dicho esto, tiene cosas interesantes que han hecho que me valiera la pena leer las más de cuatrocientas páginas sobre este grupo de amigas. La novela sigue las vidas de ocho universitarias recién licenciadas en el elitista Vassar College y cómo sus expectativas van desarrollándose en la vida real. Son un grupo de mujeres de perfil liberal y con una amplia gama de intereses, pero les costará encontrar buenas oportunidades laborales, al tiempo que el matrimonio y la maternidad continuarán siendo una obligación social prioritaria. Cada una reacciona a su manera y aunque las circunstancias las apartan, siempre conservan la relación en nombre de una época idílica en que estaban unidas y todo parecía posible. Hay una comparación continua con la generación anterior y un sentimiento de haber mejorado gracias a la formación recibida:

Ninguna de ellas, si podía evitarlo, pensaba casarse con uno de esos banqueros, agentes de bolsa o abogados, secos como palos y fríos como el hielo, con quienes se habían casado tantas mujeres de la generación de sus madres.

Hay un optimismo respecto a los cambios que están sucediendo a toda velocidad en diferentes áreas muy concretas y el cambio de actitud que la Depresión trajo en la élites, de manera que el New Deal de Roosevelt parecía el comienzo de una nueva era:

Kay sacó a relucir el ejemplo del nuevo Museo de Arte Moderno, que también había sido financiado en parte por Rockefeller. Ella creía, en serio, que Nueva York estaba viviendo un nuevo Renacimiento, con todos aquellos nuevos Medici compitiendo con la esfera pública para crear una Florencia moderna.

Dos son los aspectos que me han llamado la atención:

1. Realismo: Mary McCarthy describe al detalle - demasiado incluso - la vida cotidiana de la época, yo diría que predomina la descripción de las cosas sobre las relaciones humanas. La moda, los peinados, la decoración, los distintos tipos de vivienda, los barrios, la comida y la bebida. Por ejemplo, la transformación que la comida envasada suponía para simplificar las tareas del hogar:

La maquinaria moderna y los procesos industriales habían eliminado, claro, todos los peligros de las bacterias; sin embargo, el prejuicio no había desaparecido, lo que era una pena porque muchos alimentos envasados, como ciertas verduras, que eran recogidas y enlatadas en su momento óptimo, y algunas de las sopas Campbell, eran mucho mejores de lo que cualquiera podía conseguir en la cocina.

Del mismo modo entra en temas como los procedimientos anticonceptivos o la lactancia materna, sin ahorrar ningún tipo de detalle. Pero también describe el mundo editorial, los círculos de intelectuales de izquierdas, las fiestas, los prejuicios raciales...

Creo que, desde la perspectiva de los años 60 en que escribe, la autora intenta abarcar todo lo que la década de los 30 aportó de novedoso y revolucionario para cambiar la sociedad de manera duradera en tantos aspectos.

2. Valentía: La autora describe profusamente la vida cotidiana, pero no esquiva ningún tema controvertido: las tensiones sociales y políticas de la época, el aborto, la infidelidad, el lesbianismo, los problemas en la familia y la educación de los hijos, el divorcio, la enfermedad mental o el suicidio (y me dejo unos cuantos). Y lo más novedoso es que todos estos temas se abordan desde un punto de vista femenino y progresista. Todo ello hizo que fuera un libro muy conflictivo en su momento, que a pesar de publicarse en los años 60 fue prohibido en algunos países.

Finalmente, dedicar una mención al malo-malo de la historia, Harald, que encarna todo lo que en la masculinidad hay de potencial kriptonita para las relaciones amorosas. Aunque otros personajes masculinos tampoco salen muy bien parados, como el marido de Polly, Sloan, que al ser pediatra la utiliza para probar sus teorías sobre la crianza. Ellas en general me han parecido bastante tontitas, venga a decir, no soy como mi madre, hay que ver la cultura que tengo y luego, pues eso.

¿Interesante? Sí. ¿Pesao? Un rato. Es lo que hay.

Ah, la traducción, mala.
Profile Image for Larry Bassett.
1,415 reviews300 followers
September 30, 2012
This book has a reputation. Some found it shocking when it was published in 1963. “The Group” is eight Vassar women from the class of 1933. That is a period of time with which most of us have no personal experience. It was prohibition and a time of gangsters if our movies are telling the truth. Nine gangster films were released in 1930, 26 in 1931, 28 in 1932, and 15 in 1933. In 1933 FDR was inaugurated President and the New Deal began, Adolph Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany, the Dow stocks were at 62.10, World’s Fair opened in Chicago, first drive-in movie theater opened, first Major League Baseball All Star game played, U.S. Federal Government outlawed cannabis, and Prohibition ended. Cormac McCarthy, no relationship to Mary, was born in 1933. Hitler and FDR appear in cameo roles in The Group. The setting is urban and the action is dialogue and daily life.

Portions of the book including one section about birth control appeared in magazines as early as 1954. That was cutting edge and controversial. By the time the complete book was published in 1963 the shock value was considerably lessened but still palpable. In 1963 first class postage was raised to five cents, George Wallace became governor of Alabama, U.S. performed series of nuclear tests at Nevada Test Site, Beatles music debuted, law requiring equal pay for equal work signed by JFK, “Ich bin ein Berliner” spoken, zip code initiated, nuclear test ban treaty signed, 200,000 demonstrate for equal rights in DC, JFK assassinated.

What were upper middle class Vassar graduates of 1933 experiencing in NYC after their graduation? What were some of the social issues of the period: psychoanalysis, breast feeding, sex outside of marriage, women having independent careers, how to raise babies.

“The Mary McCarthy Case” by Norman Mailer appeared in the October 17, 1963 issue of the NY Review of Books. It is an entertaining (if you like Norman Mailer) and scathing review of the book.

I suggest Wikipedia for a quick and dirty review of all the members of The Group: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Grou... .

This kind of reference material helps put me in the mood for a book written in the 1950s about the 1930s. Some say that the book Sex in the City and the TV show of the same name are the modern day version of The Group. Since I have neither read the book nor watched the TV show, I cannot confirm or deny the similarity. But I do find it plausible that both are highbrow soap operas.

Except for some language, the book seemed surprisingly current. It enjoyed a comeback thirty years after it was first published (late 80s, early 90s) and that is probably when I first heard about it. Then just recently I came across the title somehow through GRs and thought I might finally read it since I seem to be in a period of interest again in feminist literature. The mostly privileged women in the book live in a period of world upheaval and the story takes several of the characters through their own personal upheavals. I found the book interested me significantly as an artifact of life in the 1950s (when it was written) and 1960s (when it was published) as I imagined what readers of that time might have thought about the book. I did not find this book on my parents’ bookshelves and wonder if it was ever there.

Although the book did not engross me throughout, there were many points at which I was definitely drawn in. I give The Group four stars and credit for getting me to put the author’s first book, The Company She Keeps , on my TBR shelf.
Profile Image for Roberto.
627 reviews1 follower
April 3, 2017

Speriamo che sia femmina

America anni trenta. Otto ragazze si laureano nella stessa università e raccontano le loro storie, tutte diverse.

Nonostante un'educazione abbastanza rigida e conservatrice, degna della migliore borghesia americana, tutte immaginano e desiderano un'esistenza diversa da quella delle loro madri. Sognano un lavoro interessante, viaggi, il raggiungimento di una indipendenza economica, una vita sentimentale interessante.

Ma le cose non sempre vanno come vorremmo. E tutte, chi più chi meno, incappano in relazioni problematiche, disavventure sessuali con uomini egoisti e disgraziati, difficoltà a emergere nel lavoro.

Ma i più grandi conflitti sono dentro di loro. Da una parte anelano al raggiungimento dell'indipendenza, dall'altra sono continuamente bombardate dai richiami alle convenzioni vigenti.

Lavoro da una parte, necessità di trovare un uomo e di "sistemarsi" dall'altra.
Indipendenza economica di qui, "perché cara non hai ancora un figlio?" di là.
Vorrei scegliere un uomo che mi ami e mi faccia sentire bene per davvero/va beh, anche se mi violenti e nemmeno mi baci va bene lo stesso.

L'autostima evidentemente langue, ahimè...

Il libro parla di cose certamente all'avanguardia, per l'epoca in cui è stato scritto. Nel 1933 parlare di sesso, di anticoncezionali, di ginecologi, di allattamento naturale o artificiale non era scontato. Il libro è tutt'altro che perfetto, però. Più che un romanzo mi è sembrato una raccolta di racconti (scritti in modo brillante, indubbiamente) cui manchi continuità e omogeneità; lo stacco tra un "racconto" e l'altro è abbastanza noioso e ho fatto spesso fatica a seguire il filo del discorso.

Resta in ogni modo un interessantissima fotografia del modo di pensare femminile dell'epoca, ma per certi versi anche attuale (ho imparato parecchio, devo dire).

Mi hanno colpito, molto, i rapporti uomo/donna. Due mondi isolati e separati con una grande assente: la comunicazione. Quanti problemi si sarebbero potuti risolvere (e si potrebbero risolvere tutt'ora) semplicemente parlando di più?
Profile Image for Doug.
1,994 reviews706 followers
December 1, 2021
4.5, rounded down.

I must have read this at least 30, perhaps more like 40 years ago, and amazingly, still remembered some of it; perhaps the film adaptation more than the book itself (and to keep the characters straight in my mind, I had to picture the actresses playing them - although, oddly, almost all of them have the opposite hair color as described in the book). I wanted to revisit it now, as I plan to read Lara Feigel's recent modern update next (The Group}, and I needed the original fresh in my mind for comparison's sake.

Although not quite as shocking now as when it first appeared in 1963, it still is a trenchant examination of a certain class of woman between the two world wars. If the casual racism, anti-Semitism and homophobia rankle a bit now, one must make concessions for when it was written - it undoubtedly reflects the values of its time and milieu.

My other minor quibble is that some of the characters get short shrift - which is also understandable when there are eight of them: Pokey barely makes an appearance, and perhaps the most intriguing character, Lakey, is only seen at the beginning and end; Dottie is important in the early chapters and then virtually disappears, and Polly doesn't make an appearance till over halfway, and then dominates the last half.

And sure, it's really just a glamorized soap opera, with each character primarily exemplifying one hot button issue: spousal abuse (Kay), frigidity (Libby), fear of motherhood (Prissy), lesbianism (Lakey), etc. - but McCarthy certainly knows how to write and entertain her readers,
Profile Image for ALLEN.
553 reviews121 followers
November 17, 2019
Mary McCarthy's brainchild spans seven years in the lives of eight Vassar graduates of varying means and intellectual candle power, from their graduation in 1933 and their settling in New York City, to the eve of American involvement in World War Two. It is much to Mary McCarthy's credit, I think, that the book with its large cast does not pretend to have "the last word" about how women should cope with the Depression and its economic dislocations, with men, or with life in general. The closest thing to a central character, Kay, is presumably the one who will have the world by the tail, but (spoiler alert!) hers is a saga of increasing loss, betrayal and bitterness beginning with her training as a sales clerk at R.H. Macy and her marriage to a superficially appealing but ineffectual and selfish man.

The smartest and most fashionable character, Lakey, disappears into Europe for most of the book, thoughtfully remembering to send stunning wedding presents, then returns to America toward the end of the book with a surprise in tow. (If you've seen the movie adaptation, you'll know why Larry Hagman's character made Lakey get out of his car.) One of the women is accidentally shunted to the mental ward of a prestigious hospital, and if not for the physician husband of a fellow Group member, might have had to fight her way out. Another one, Pokey, is so fortunate as to live in a rich family barely affected by the Depression, which offers a delightful, Jeevesian portrait of a rich family run on auto-pilot by a super-efficient butler. The men are a mixed bag: the appropriately named Dick makes sexual inroads among the unmarried of the Group but disappears when they marry. Harald Petersen, Kay's husband, is a would-be playwright employed marginally in the theater and enough to sidetrack any spouse's dreams. Other men, being less of the jerk, provide less drama but are dealt with and add to the overall social and political scene.
Excerpt: "There was a side of Sloan, she [Priss] had decided, that she mistrusted, a side that she summed up by saying he was a Republican. Up to now this had not mattered; most men she knew were Republicans--it was almost part of being a man. But she did not like the idea of a Republican controlling the destiny of a helpless baby..."

I think it fair to say that THE GROUP embodies some of the feminist outlook of THE FEMINIST MYSTIQUE and the smart-woman's viewpoint in novel form of THE BELL JAR (all three books were first published in 1963 but THE BELL JAR was not available to American readers until 1967). What is difficult to convey is McCarthy's polished writing, which slips in and out of satire (and sometimes, when her characters speak with internal monologue, are just 'unreliable' enough in their narration that we reader know what's going on better than the narrator does). "Trenchant" or "sardonic" are often the words used to describe McCarthy's writing in this book, and while it is crisp (sometimes to the point of being knife-like), it is not really a particular send-up or lampoon of any Depression-era class or of the Thirties themselves.

Something that annoys me: I don't really understand why so many modern reviewers feel obliged to pan this book -- is part of the reason that THE GROUP has sold three million copies to date, inspired a popular (if, unlike the novel, slightly vapid) movie adaptation and become McCarthy's most frequently referenced work? Only if you believe that 1960s novels that were popular must lack distinction and therefore must be trite or second-rate. Fortunately, in that decade we had novelists like Joyce Carol Oates, William Goldman and McCarthy herself to prove otherwise. THE GROUP should not be ignored.
Profile Image for K.D. Absolutely.
1,820 reviews
June 22, 2014
The 1963 novel that inspired Candance Bushnell (born 1958) to write Sex and the City. Yes, Sex and the City was first a book before it became a long-running HBO miniseries (1998-2004). Then the two movies followed in 2008 and 2010.

The year was 1933 and eight ladies have just graduated from Vassar College, an exclusive-for-women (then) university in Poughkeepsie, New York. The novel spans a period of 10 years from that graduation to the start of WWII. The ladies are friends to each other and they are from rich families. One of them graduated and gifted with a helicopter of her own, so imagine how privileged these girls are. The effect on me was wow, imagine that! and so I just keep on reading to find out what happened to the rest and there were times that the story gets boring as McCarthy tried to navigate through the usual men-are-from-mars-and-women-are-from-venus by showing the differences of how men and women think and react to things and situations differently. What is remarkably obvious is also that even if after five decades have passed many things about womanhood, motherhood and parenthood are still the same. Even now that many things are instant and computerized, the male-female relationship, its usual pitfalls particularly, is still very much the same.

Just like the "Sex and the City" the sexy parts in the story are the best for me. No kidding. The paper must have been burning while I devoured those parts and to think that this was published in 1963 when those narratives must have been a taboo in some parts of the world (well, check the Wiki and it says there that it was banned in Australia during that time). This is my first McCarthy and a few months ago, I saw an excellent review of my friend Sue here on Goodreads for McCarthy's book, Memories of a Catholic Girlhood (tbr) and so I thought that McCarthy's style was boringly religious centering on her being raised as a Catholic, went Episcopalian before finally deciding to become an atheist. But as I said, this book about these eight Vassar good-looking (because they are rich primarily) girls is as hot as it can be at least for those sexy parts.

Before you get the wrong idea that they only reason why I rated this book with 4 stars is those sexy parts, I must also say that it was very interesting to know how privileged young Americans lived in the 30's and early 40's particularly how they started their own lives after college, looked for mates to settle down with, raised their own family only to face the impending war that broke out when Pearl Harbor was bombed. They say that there is a faithful-to-the-book movie adaptation of this. I have to look for it on YouTube.

Easy read. Engaging especially those sex scenes. It can bring the summer "so hot" back and take the sad rainy days away at least on those nights that you are curled up in bed while reading this book.

Definitely not my last McCarthy.
Profile Image for T.D. Whittle.
Author 3 books190 followers
October 12, 2018
Martha Duffy described how McCarthy's writing influenced American culture in Time Magazine: "She always thought of herself as old-fashioned ... but Mary McCarthy was incorrigibly modern and, in spite of herself, a celebrated pioneer to generations of young women. She opened the way by ignoring the constraints―and prerogatives―of gender. . . . McCarthy claimed for serious fiction the terrain of a woman's domestic strategies, her finances, her female friendships, her minute biological concerns. Every syllabus on feminist literature is indebted to her" (November 6, 1989). Source

Interestingly, The Group was not written by McCarthy as a platform for feminists ideals, though it's come to be thought of as a feminist novel. Here's what she said about the novel:
RL. You once said that the Group was ‘supposed to be the history of the loss of faith in progress.’ Were you out to shatter female illusions, particularly in marriage as an institution that could be liberalised in some way?

MM. No. The Group was conceived essentially as a comic novel. Apart from Lakey, none of the girls are very bright and I was interested in satirising the way each of them embraces the New Deal era, in fashions, domestic appliances, ideas, sex and so on. The girls are meant to be funny, especially in the way they parrot the progressive opinions of their husbands or boyfriends, and I wanted to show how their often rather naïve expectations are ultimately confounded.

RL. From what political standpoint?

MM. From the left, but not with any great seriousness. I was more interested in describing the girls’ gullibility and self-deception than anything else. That their attitudes hadn’t really changed from their mothers’ was, for me, one of the most comic aspects of the book. Kay was the real power in ‘The Group’ and her death was meant to represent the end of that whole liberal-progressive era in American life. Source
The Group took me completely by surprise and I only wish now that I'd read it when I was a young woman, fresh out of university, making my way in New York with my friends. I had always meant to read it but had thought it to be a tragedy rather than a comedy. (No idea where I got that idea.) To be sure, there is one tragic event that occurs, but even that is handled with a deft touch so that the reader is moved but amused in equal portions. McCarthy never overplays her hand, and she has a wickedly funny sense of humor. I thoroughly enjoyed this and plan to read much more of her work in future.
Profile Image for Catherine.
354 reviews
October 27, 2009
I adored this book. It's witty, intelligent, and droll; the prose is light and incredibly clever; the social commentary is absolutely scathing.

Published in 1963, but set in the 1930s, The Group follows the fortunes of eight classmates from Vassar's graduating class of 1933. As she tells their intertwined stories McCarthy pokes fun at, analyzes, and explores their ideas about sex and sexuality, birth control, mental illness, marriage, divorce, childbirth, nursing, raising children, observing social niceities, politics (local and global), gender roles, and the necessity (or not) of education for wealthy women. Through particular characters McCarthy explores a blue-blood prejudice against Jews, African-Americans, the Irish, and women who've read Freud; through others we gain glimpses of compassion, connection, and achievement; still more demonstrate how bored the class of 1933 became once they embraced motherhood at the expense of the other work they wanted to do (and how communism might become a hobby). Two of the eight seem very happy by the book's end, and their happiness is all the more beautiful for it being daring - the product of waiting, expecting little, and being surprised; and the product of being gay and not giving a fig who knows.

The men in the book are, save one, overbearing, unfaithful, completely absent from their marriages, and cads. It's so deeply rewarding to read a book in which the men aren't the main focus, and women don't exist to provide them with a shove in the direction of character-development. It's also intensely gratifying to see patriarchy being skewered so deftly. I can't wait to read more of McCarthy's books.
Profile Image for Aneesa.
1,389 reviews2 followers
May 23, 2015
The Great Gatsby meets Valley of the Dolls meets Emma.

After tearing through the surprise ending, I would have given this book five stars, if not for the nagging remembrance of some of the long, plodding chapters from the points of views of complete ninnies. It takes some patience to get through these, but it's worth it. McCarthy is a master of satire and social criticism, and writing from each girl's perspective she manages to show the real motives, feelings, intentions, delusions, and truths that cause people to seem ridiculous to others, when they only halfway are.

"To be curious about someone opened you to be contaminated from them." (486)
Profile Image for Helene Jeppesen.
685 reviews3,641 followers
December 30, 2015
A video review will be up on my YouTube channel 'Helene Jeppesen' on January 7th :)
207 reviews4 followers
December 30, 2010
I truly loved reading Mary McCarthy’s best known work, THE GROUP. THE GROUP follows the lives of eight Vassar graduates, class of ’33, as they encounter adulthood. The women, while divergent in personality, are essentially upper middle class women with one similar stain: they all wish to live a modern life, different from the lives of their mothers and fathers. The novel, however, centers around Kay Strong, the vibrant leader of the group and is artfully bookended with Kay’s wedding and funeral seven years later.

At Kay’s wedding, a mere week after the girls’ Vassar graduation, we meet Kay, Dottie, Helena, Pokey, Lakey, Polly and Priss, “the group.” The wedding is symbolic Kay in that it strives to be modern, though the obvious force of this is emphasized: Kay’s parents are not present and the newlyweds are headed home later that night, not for a honeymoon. In fact, the group’s anxiety about the event is only truly quelled when Lakey brings out a bag of rice to toss at the couple as they enter the train station for Coney Island.

One of McCarthy’s strongest authorial traits is her ability to seamlessly transition into a different character’s consciousness. Soon after the wedding the narrative shifts to Dottie, the oldest of the group, a girl whose adolescence was plagued by illness. This attribute of Dottie’s exemplifies one of her most prevalent personality traits: her desperate need for security. Through Dottie, McCarthy argues that a “child of the depression,” like Dottie and the group, while excited by and primed for modernity, is conscious of the world’s dangers and desires security. The focus of Dottie’s narrative is her affair with Dick Brown, the mysterious artist friend of of Harald Petersen, the groom. The sexual encounter is tastefully explicit, but revealing of the character’s reserved but open views on sex. After the encounter, Dottie fears the unknown status of the relationship and eventually chooses another man to pursue as her husband, a man who is older and more set in his ways.

Another of McCarthy’s standout characters is Libby MacAusland, a “group” member whose post-collegiate career choice is publishing. Through Libby, McCarthy argues that the modern woman “between the wars” is ambitious, but still subject to the naivete of youth. While pursuing her career in publishing, Libby is coaxed to move down a different avenue: author representation as opposed to publishing itself. Libby forgoes her chosen field and successfully pursues this avenue, but also naively subjects herself to a potential rape with a man she thought would propose instead. The juxtaposition of Libby’s logical ambition with her childish attraction to Nils exemplifies two predominant traits of McCarthy’s modern woman.

Some of McCarthy’s strongest social commentary is revealed via Priss Hartshorn, a conventional woman with a successful marriage whose greatest concern is her child. In Priss’s narrative a social argument takes place, whether to embrace “progress” and bottle-feed a child or to accept and embody nature through breast feeding. This debate, one that is still discussed today, is well fleshed and as interesting to read in 2010 as it was in 1954.

THE GROUP is not only a great pleasure to read, but a wonderful representation of the post-Depression woman. Through McCarthy’s group, one feels a true understanding and appreciation of the mindset of the time. I truly loved to read this book and hope to find another like it soon.
Profile Image for David.
452 reviews50 followers
January 26, 2020
The more things change, the more they stay the same... is ultimately one of the main thoughts that linger upon finishing McCarthy's remarkable '60s novel of the '30s. The eight Vassar girls dissected in full within these pages may have been subject to certain, relatively slight societal differences but, somehow, the book they're in feels relevant to the current reality of the female condition.

We meet the strategically organized clique at the wedding (for one of the 8) that opens the novel. We meet them sort of as a blur - getting quick glances of their characters the way we would in the whirl of a wedding celebration. Subsequently, the individual character studies open up - and the characters are the plot.

As the book progresses, you begin to feel its undertow... which, soon enough, will give way to a more pronounced locomotive feel.

Each chapter is used to focus mostly on hot-button issues that hold sway, depending on what each woman is personally experiencing. As a means to illuminating personal growth and the passage of time, we get in-depth takes on: body awareness, sex outside of marriage, infidelity, masturbation, mother/daughter bonds, child rearing, social ranking, societal expectations, political/religious trends, mental health, self-examination, loyalty/disloyalty among women, homosexuality, etc.

We also get a lot of almost-microscopic descriptions of clothing.

I suppose it's because the book is so female-centric that practically no time is allotted to the male characters. Most of them here are shadow figures; some of them ineffectual, some benign, but mostly of little consequence. However, one male character of some importance is presented (refreshingly) as an example of what can be immensely admirable in a man. ~while one major male character (the one given the most space) is seen as the polar opposite and leaning towards neanderthal.

Female friends have occasionally told me that women can be very hard (and, at times, brutal) towards other women. What makes McCarthy's POV intriguing is how compassionate she seems to be in her portraits of not only the 8 women in 'the group' but her presentation of all of the women we come across in her story (even a few who are a bit less savory). Her aim, if nothing else, appears to be clear-eyed objectivity (together with some welcome wit and humor) in viewing these women as human beings.

She has succeeded. This is a very satisfying and (without intending to be) educational novel.
Profile Image for Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance.
5,827 reviews286 followers
March 12, 2016
It’s important to know that the copyright on this book is 1954. Also, I should share that the story takes place during America’s Great Depression.

If you didn’t know these two facts, you might think this is just another book of contemporary women’s fiction.

The Group is the story of seven college friends and what happens to them over a ten year period. (See what I told you…Does that sound like a contemporary women’s fiction novel, or what?)

But this book was much, much better than any contemporary women’s fiction novel I’ve read. It could be because it was the first of its kind, but I think it’s a little more than that. It’s literate with fascinating characters. And there is the time travel factor….I really felt like I was back in 1932 with these women. I would be thinking, Gee, these women are just like me, and then Whump! The author would put in a little dialogue or a little subplot and I’d remember, No, these are women who never had the opportunities I have despite their first-rate educations and affluent backgrounds.

I’m not sure whether to classify it as a must-read. I’m terribly happy I read it and I’d encourage others to read it, but it is soap-y here and there.
Profile Image for Sofialibrary.
257 reviews258 followers
May 12, 2021
Publicado originalmente em 1963 este livro foi pioneiro a abordar algumas temáticas que eram tabu na altura, nomeadamente sexo, contracepção, maternidade e casamento.

É sobre a vida de 8 jovens licenciadas nos anos 30 numa das mais elitistas universidades americanas.

São muitas, muito complexas, com percursos de vida distintos, de níveis sociais diferentes mas com um objectivo comum de seguirem caminhos alternativos aos dos seus pais.

As oito personagens e a forma como a autora optou por introduzi-las, logo de uma vez e explicando episódios de cada uma ao longo do livro, torna o livro muito confuso desde início e não foi a melhor forma (na minha opinião) de cativar o leitor.

O livro acaba por ser de leitura lenta, capítulos muito longos, com ideias muito repetitivas e assuntos menos relevantes explorados ao detalhe, o que, para mim, se tornou muito difícil, pensei inclusivamente em desistir algumas vezes.

Entendo perfeitamente que tenha marcado uma gera��ão, e que, à altura em que surgiu, tenha sido revolucionário e que até possa ter influenciado algumas mulheres à data a tomarem decisões importantes e a ‘evoluírem’ de forma diferente.
Entendo perfeitamente a mensagem da história sendo inclusivamente o ideal de vida, as dificuldades e alegrias daquelas mulheres muito semelhantes com as de hoje em dia.

No entanto, a escrita não se revelou fácil para mim. Talvez não seja um livro que se adore à primeira, é um livro que se vai aprendendo a gostar à medida que se lê mais de uma vez, com calma e disponibilidade.
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