The Suspense in a Novel Is Not Only in the Reader, But in the Novelist Himself, Who Is Intensely Curious Too About What Will Happen To the Hero

Mary McCarthy? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Some writers carefully map out the full plot of a novel before putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. Other writers begin a story relying on an incomplete character sketch and a theme. The prominent novelist and critic Mary McCarthy said she felt suspense while writing and was curious to know the future of her characters. Would you please help me to find this quotation?

Quote Investigator: In 1961 Mary McCarthy published the collection “On the Contrary: Articles of Belief 1946-1961” which included a piece titled “Settling the Colonel’s Hash” based on a talk she delivered at the Bread Loaf School of English in February 1954. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

In any work that is truly creative, I believe, the writer cannot be omniscient in advance about the effects that he proposes to produce. The suspense in a novel is not only in the reader, but in the novelist himself, who is intensely curious too about what will happen to the hero.

McCarthy gave the following example of a novelist who in her opinion began composing with the guidance of only a schematic plot:

Jane Austen may know in a general way that Emma will marry Mr. Knightley in the end (the reader knows this too, as a matter of fact); the suspense for the author lies in the how, in the twists and turns of circumstance, waiting but as yet unknown, that will bring the consummation about.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Suspense in a Novel Is Not Only in the Reader, But in the Novelist Himself, Who Is Intensely Curious Too About What Will Happen To the Hero

Notes:

  1. 1961, On the Contrary: Articles of Belief 1946-1961, by Mary McCarthy, Essay: Settling the Colonel’s Hash, Date: February 1954, Description: Given first as a talk at the Bread Loaf School of English, in Middlebury, Vermont, Start Page 225, Quote Page 341, Farrar, Straus, and Cudahy, New York. (Verified with scans)

Every Word She Writes Is a Lie, Including “And” and “The”

Mary McCarthy? Lillian Hellman? Apocryphal?

thegroup07Dear Quote Investigator: The funniest caustic condemnation of a prevaricator that I have ever heard was delivered by the novelist and critic Mary McCarthy. The result was a multi-million dollar defamation lawsuit filed by the famous playwright Lillian Hellman who was the target of the criticism. Would you please examine precisely what was spoken?

Quote Investigator: In 1978 a journalist named Joan Dupont interviewed Mary McCarthy for a short-lived English-language periodical called “Paris Metro”. Dupont explored the topic of rivalry between women intellectuals and asked McCarthy’s opinion of the political philosopher Hannah Arendt. McCarthy said she greatly admired Arendt and felt no competitiveness toward her. When Dupont asked McCarthy about the playwright Lillian Hellman the response given with a smile was savage and comically hyperbolic. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

“I can’t stand her. I think every word she writes is false, including ‘and’ and ‘but.'” Her steady smile has grown into a full grin.

This version of McCarthy’s comment is not well-known because “Paris Metro” did not circulate widely. But McCarthy decided to reuse her bon mot in October 1979 during her appearance on a public television talk show hosted by Dick Cavett. When Cavett asked her to name overrated authors she referred to Hellman, and she attempted to recall her previous quip. She produced an altered remark that achieved wide distribution: 2

FROM THE TRANSCRIPT OF THE DICK CAVETT SHOW,
OCTOBER 18, 1979, TAPING

MCCARTHY: The only one I can think of is a holdover like Lillian Hellman, who I think is tremendously overrated, a bad writer, and dishonest writer, “but she really belongs to the past, to the Steinbeck past, not that she is a writer like Steinbeck

CAVETT: What is dishonest about her?

MCCARTHY: Everything. But I said once in some interview that every word she writes is a lie, including “and” and “the.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Every Word She Writes Is a Lie, Including “And” and “The”

Notes:

  1. 1991, Conversations with Mary McCarthy, Edited by Carol Gelderman, (Collection of Mary McCarthy interviews from miscellaneous publications), Series: Literary Conversations Series, Chapter: Mary McCarthy: Portrait of a Lady, Author/Interviewer: Joan Dupont, (Reprinted from February 15, 1978 issue of The Paris Metro), Start Page 157, Quote Page 164, University Press of Mississippi, Jackson, Mississippi. (Verified on paper)
  2. 2000, Seeing Mary Plain: A Life of Mary McCarthy by Frances Kiernan, Chapter 25: The Hellman Suit, Quote Page 673, W. W. Norton & Company, New York. (Verified on paper)

Everyone Is Necessarily the Hero of His Own Life Story

John Barth? Mary McCarthy? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

road04Dear Quote Investigator: I am trying to locate a statement made by the prominent metafictionalist author John Barth. The quotation was similar to the following:

Everyone is the hero of his own life story.

Do you know where this appeared?

Quote Investigator: John Barth did scribe a closely matching sentence in a short story titled “The Remobilization of Jacob Horner” published in Esquire magazine in 1958. The central character named Jacob Horner was a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University who suffered from bouts of paralysis caused by a malady he called “cosmopsis”. On occasion Horner experienced a disorienting cosmic viewpoint which seemed to render his actions purposeless, and he became temporarily immobile.

A physician that Horner met serendipitously had developed a variety of therapies to help individuals afflicted with psychologically induced paralysis. The doctor explained “Mythotherapy” with the following introductory words. Bold face has been added: 1

“In life,” he said, “there are no essentially major or minor characters. To that extent, all fiction and biography, and most historiography, is a lie. Everyone is necessarily the hero of his own life story.

The physician asserted that Horner’s paralysis occurred because he no longer perceived himself as a major or minor character within his own life story. To prevent this paralysis Horner must learn to assume a sharply defined mask or role and then dramatize the situation within which he was embedded.

Precursors of the quotation under examination were written in the 1800s as shown below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Everyone Is Necessarily the Hero of His Own Life Story

Notes:

  1. 1958 July, Esquire, “The Remobilization of Jacob Horner” by John Barth (Short story), Start Page 54, Quote Page 59, Publisher by Arnold Gingrich, Esquire Inc., Chicago, Illinois. (Verified on microfilm)