For those interested in origin stories, posthumous literary gossip, and New York City in the 1930s, look no further than Mary McCarthy’s Intellectual Memoirs (1992) – a candid and lively account of McCarthy’s early writing career and the intellectual and political scenes that fueled it. McCarthy’s observations are sharp and often quite searing; she spares no one, not even herself.

We had fun in the New York Public Library reading-room, doing our research in back issues of magazines and newspapers and using lined cards to copy out quotations, some of them unbelievable. Peggy Marshall came from a Mormon family in Utah or Montana; she was about ten years older than I, around thirty-three, and was divorced from her husband; they had one little girl, whose custody they shared. Peggy, I soon discovered, did not have much energy; she was having an affair with a labor writer named Ben Stolberg, and both of them would lie on a sofa or daybed in her living-room, too tired to do anything, apparently too tired to go to bed and make love. Nor can I remember her ever cooking a meal.

Neither was very attractive; she was blond, grayish-eyed, and dumpy, with a sharp turned-up nose, and Stolberg was blond, blue-eyed, and fat and talked, snorting, through his nose, with a German accent. I don’t know what view Stolberg took of himself, but Peggy, to my horror, saw herself as seductive. Once, when we were talking of Ben and whether he wanted to marry her, I saw her look in the mirror with a little smile and toss of her head; “Of course I know I’m kinda pretty,” she said.

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