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 passes away that they all come back together again to mourn the loss of a friend, a confidante, and most importantly, a member of the group.
The Guardian: The Group by Mary McCarthy
Goodreads: The Group by Mary McCarthy
Let's set the scene...
Rory has finally worked up the nerve and has asked Dean to the Chilton dance. He (like a good boy) said yes. Rory is waiting in line for tickets when the ever-witty Lucas Scott Tristan Dugray shows up.
Then this happens:
The book in her hand has been identified as The Group by Mary McCarthy.
In the same vein as Peyton Place and Valley of the Dolls, The Group brings you into the middle of the insecurities of the Vassar class of '33... a group of educated women who are released into society smack dab in the middle of The Depression. Their entitled air and superior attitudes are met with reality once they are forced to leave the hallowed halls of Vassar. There is approximately one woman who doesn't make you want to go on a puppy stabbing spree (Polly). The rest are just your basic Gossip Girl-level heinous human beings.
I was amused by the fact that ideals and values we consider modern now (i.e. don't stay in a loveless marriage) were considered "old-fashioned" by these ladies. The ideals these ladies felt were antiquated were the less conservative beliefs that love is vitally important in a marriage, that pain should just be endured instead of striving to make all parties happy. They were disgusted that their parent's generation held these values and tried to impart them on their children. It seems to me that in that time, a social conscience (at least, a genuine one) was considered weak and lower class. Let's just say that I'm soooooo glad we "regressed" since the time in which this story is set.
In reading some reviews of this book on Amazon, my eyeballs were thisclose to evacuating their normal home in my head when I saw someone describe it as "a delightful romp". There is nothing delightful about this story. It's dark and heartbreaking. The most evil character in The Group (Harald Petersen) doesn't even get a taste of karma in end. The assholes just keep being assholes. It doesn't seem like anyone really learns a lesson, and the worst people in this story end up going along their merry way. However, it is a satire, so knowing this, the story is more palatable. You know that McCarthy is sayingsomething about people of privilege within this period, and it's not flattering.
By the time I got to the final page, I was angry, disheartened and disappointed. Not at all by McCarthy's work... but by the characters. She wrote them as they had to be... I just hated them with a fury. And as I've said before, this is always a sign of a good author. If you my blood pressure goes up while I'm reading, you've done a decent job.
Who do I see reading this in the Stars Hollow gazebo?
I was recently having a discussion with my friend Lauren about where Emily Gilmore went to college. We know she went to college by some comments here and there throughout the series... but where? It's amazing that it's never noted due to how alma mater pride is such an important thing to Richard Gilmore... and she seems to bleed white & blue for the school her husband went to. What's your alma mater, Mrs. Gilmore? My first instincts were either Vassar or Wesleyan (given that Wesleyan is located here in Connecticut). Emily seems like a total Vassar girl, so for this review's purposes...I'm going to select Emily.