BETWEEN FRIENDS by Carol Brightman


The Correspondence of Hannah Arendt and Mary McCarthy 1949-1975
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 An absorbing document of a time, a culture, and a friendship. They make slightly incongruous comrades, the sober German ÇmigrÇ philosopher of totalitarianism and the sparkling chronicler of the vicissitudes of American intellectual life. But their initial suspicion warmed into what Brightman (Writing Dangerously, 1992) accurately characterizes as an ``epistolary romance.'' The relationship spanned an eventful quarter-century and provided Arendt with her closest American confidante. For McCarthy, Arendt's reflective nature and intellectual rigor seem to have supplied important qualities in which she felt comparatively wanting. Beginning amid the querulous, paranoid wreckage of post-McCarthy American liberalism and closing in the fractious aftermath of Watergate, their competitive but by all accounts deep-rooted friendship grounds a quirky, insightful running commentary on postwar American intellectual life. The exchanges sometimes have a distinctly theatrical air, especially when McCarthy confesses her tempestuous emotional upheavals to a sympathetic but slightly skeptical Arendt. At other times (as when Arendt tutors McCarthy on the genealogies of European thought), the relationship has a touch of pedagogy about it. The names dropped comprise a Who's Who of American opinion-making, from intellectual cold warriors like Sidney Hook and Norman Podhoretz to cultural monuments as varied as Saul Bellow and Dick Cavett. What evolves through the shared reflections--alongside the expected political and philosophical musings and the tales of house parties, soirees, and summits on Cape Cod, Riverside Drive, and the Left Bank--is a growing and touching intimacy that eventually finds the two addressing each other as ``my love'' and ``my dear.'' There is a certain poignancy for the contemporary reader, too, in the sense these letters communicate of a vibrant and engaged intellectual culture that seems almost to have vanished from American life. A fascinating record that casts each of its formidable protagonists in a gentler and more personal light.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-15-100112-X
Page count: 576pp
Publisher: Harcourt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 1994


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