Read The Company She Keeps: A Novel by Mary McCarthy Free Online
Book Title: The Company She Keeps: A Novel|
The author of the book: Mary McCarthy
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Edition: Open Road Media
Date of issue: August 6th 2013
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Format files: PDF
The size of the: 535 KB
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Act One (How I Met Mary)
What is it you want in a muse?
It's not always about sex or just about sex, because the sex is relatively easy to come by.
Just because you have sex, in a cab, in a room, in your apartment, in your home, in your mansion, doesn't mean that a woman will be your muse.
Did I know that Mary would be my muse? Did I even know I would have sex with her?
Did I know what role she would play in my life?
Did I know just how much she would complicate my life? Did I know how complicated it would get in such a short time?
Part of me wants to say, "No!" But then, to be honest, I have to disagree with myself, again.
She walked into my gallery one day in 1936.
I'd only been in business for two years, but I have to admit I was doing OK.
It helped that I had finished a law degree, courtesy of my parents' ambition for me. I'd even practised for a few years, before I set up the gallery.
What the law meant for me was that I knew people with money, initially lawyers, then accountants, then their clients, executives, business people.
I wasn't happy with my assistant Doris from the start.
I took her on as a sort of favour to a college friend, now an attorney, who'd dated her for a few months and was trying to extricate himself from a problematical relationship.
Attractive as she was, I resisted the temptation to court her initially, because I thought there was still a chance that my friend would reclaim her.
He never did, but gradually our relationship took on the complexion of a chaste marriage and it stayed that way. Effective, efficient, sexless.
We worked well as a team, but we never fired.
Then, one day, Mary walked in the door, clicked her heels as she came to a standstill, and presented me with a resume and a smile.
I sent Doris out to get some coffee and pastries for two.
On the way out, Doris looked me in the eye, I barely paid attention, I should have, I know, now I remember the way she inhaled and held her breath, and she never returned.
Mary was now part of my life, well, this part of my life.
Act Two (Capturing Her Essence)
What can I say about Mary?
What is something about Mary I can tell you in order to capture her essence?
I have to start with her intelligence.
She is the most intelligent woman I've ever met.
No, that's wrong, she's the most intelligent person I've ever met.
Her intelligence operated at a level where gender was irrelevant.
Everything she said, thought, wrote was incisive.
There was never any waffle or wastage.
You only got what was necessary, essential, the essence of her opinion.
She wasn't classically beautiful in that pretty way insisted on by Hollywood.
However, I loved the structure of her face, her jaw, its lines. It was sculpted, the design of some Great Maker.
When I knew her, she still had some freckles sprinkled across the ridge of her nose, like light chocolate hundreds and thousands.
They faded over time, with age and make-up, though I'm told that they resurfaced late in life.
She had a dignity about her, one that spoke of organisation and competence, I imagined her as some agrarian matron or matriarch.
She could run a family, a farm, an enterprise, a dynasty, with equal magnanimity.
I suppose I fell in love with her on that first day in 1936, though what I learned from Mary (or what she taught me) was that it wasn't "her" that I fell in love with.
I think I fell in love with some Grand Design.
Within this thing was Me and a space for someone else, my Other, perhaps my Doppelganger.
The thing is that the second person wasn't defined in terms of another person, they were defined by their relationship with me and what I was seeking.
Whoever it was going to be was going to be within the Grand Design, this picture of my Life, because they fitted the picture.
Without a word, Mary knew that wasn't her role in life.
She wasn't just the left hand side of someone else's picture.
She wanted to be loved for what she was, uniquely.
Perhaps, she was creating her own picture and making the same aesthetic decision about who would be in it, I don't know.
There is also a sense in which, unlike me, she didn't really need someone in her picture.
It was enough that there be a Portrait of the Artist as a Young Woman.
It embarrasses me to say that during the 12 months she worked with me, for me, I loved her every minute of every day and I confessed and proclaimed my love.
She made me proclaim my love.
No, that's not right, something deep inside me made me confess. Being near her just turned this tendency on, whether or not she or I wanted it on.
I grovelled, I went beyond love, I obsessed about her, I craved her, I made a fool of myself.
I would do anything to prove I was worthy of her love. Instead, my impatient desire made it inevitable that nothing would eventuate between us.
If I had been more patient, would something have eventuated?
I don't think so. We just weren't destined to be in the same picture. She knew that from the beginning.
Still, she valued my attention, before I grew manic.
There were many women who wanted to be in my Grand Design, and ultimately two fitted into it for a time.
Mary liked the fact that others craved what she declined.
The funny thing is that, a few years later, when I had been engaged to Diane for three months and was only six weeks away from our wedding day, Mary and I stumbled across each other at an Art Conference in Boston.
We both spoke, although I hadn't read the Agenda closely enough to see who else was attending. I just wanted to check that the organisers had spelt my name correctly (they often omit the "e").
She complimented my address at dinner, and it so happened that our rooms were on the same floor, so we left together.
We were still mid-conversation, I think we were talking about German Expressionism, when we arrived at her door first.
She invited me in to continue our discussion and have a sherry (she'd brought a bottle of Pedro Ximenez).
I swear that there was no suggestion of anything else and there was no longer any desire on my part.
I had worked damned hard to be able to be in the same room as her and feel neither grief nor lust.
We finished our sherry and I made to leave.
Then she said, "Don't you want to sleep with me?"
It pains me to say that, after everything I'd been through (put myself through) and everything I'd done to repair myself, in that instant, of course I wanted to sleep with her.
I don't know what motivated her, perhaps it was the alcohol, perhaps it was the fact that she had always been attracted to me, she just didn't want a relationship and she definitely didn't want someone craving her like I had done.
Yet, now that there was nothing at stake, she/we could both afford this indulgence.
Was it everything I'd ever expected?
Neither of us went about things as passionately as I had imagined we would every night for those 12 months.
We were both kind, considerate, attentive, and I have to say our simultaneous climax had a kind of designer perfection about it.
I imagined that this is how it would have been if she had let me into her picture rather than she forming part of my Grand Design.
Only I was to come into frame just this once.
Act Three (Farewell My Lovely)
In a way, we had consummated the relationship we had never had.
She had punctuated my lingering obsession with a full stop, a period.
I could stop obsessing, thinking of her as my muse, blaming her every time I had a writer's block.
I could get on with my life.
She might also have left me a little victory, although in reality it was a gift of her own choosing.
I only realised months later that she had been engaged at the time as well, to Edmund Wilson.
Perhaps we both had to rid ourselves of our vulnerability to infidelity.
Although I had been required (chose) to cheat on Diane, Mary actually did me a favour.
I could not have married Diane while Mary remained unfinished business, no matter how much I kidded myself that I had gotten over her.
Against Diane's wishes, I invited Mary to our wedding, though she regretfully and regrettably declined, because of a longstanding commitment in Paris.
We saw each other frequently for many years, not by design, but because we mixed in the same peer group.
She supported my art criticism, she occasionally bought some of my works, even one of my own paintings.
So there is a little bit of me on one of her walls somewhere.
In these short reminiscences, I guess I have endeavoured to capture the essence of Mary.
But the truth is that Mary could never be captured, by me or by anyone else.
Whether it was her female nature or her human nature, she was a mare that wanted to roam free and settle down only as and when she felt the need to.
While she was a competent and caring mother (as she was in every role she took on), she wanted to be able to let her imagination run wild, so that only she could tame it in order to reduce it to words of total insight and crystalline clarity.
We should all be grateful that there are women, men too, whose imagination runs wild, even for a short time, especially if they're able to capture some of it themselves.
They are as rare as stardust falling to earth.
March 30, 2012
Soundtrack ("For A Dancer")
I wrote this review in gratitude for those who dance while they walk this earth.
We are only here for a short time, before we go drifting back into space.
Jackson Browne - "For a Dancer"
Keep a fire for the human race
Let your prayers go drifting into space
You never know what will be coming down
Perhaps a better world is drawing near
And just as easily it could all disappear
Along with whatever meaning you might have found
Don't let the uncertainty turn you around
(the world keeps turning around and around)
Go on and make a joyful sound
Into a dancer you have grown
From a seed somebody else has thrown
Go on ahead and throw some seeds of your own
And somewhere between the time you arrive
And the time you go
May lie a reason you were alive
But you'll never know
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Read information about the authorMary McCarthy (1912–1989) was an American literary critic and author of more than two dozen books including the 1963 New York Times bestseller The Group. Born in Seattle, McCarthy studied at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, and graduated in 1933. After moving to New York City, McCarthy became known for her incisive writing as a 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 become one of the most celebrated writers of her generation, a reputation bolstered by the publication of her autobiography Memories of a Catholic Girlhood in 1957, as well as that of her now-classic novel The Group.
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