MARY McCARTHY was born in Seattle, Washington, on June 21, 1912, the first of four children of Roy Winfield McCarthy, a lawyer, and Therese Preston McCarthy.Her father was the son of wealthy Minneapolis Irish Catholics; her mother was the daughter of a prominent Episcopalian lawyer from Seattle and his Jewish wife. In the course of moving the family from Seattle to a new home in Minneapolis, both parents died in the 1918 influenza epidemic within a day of each other. Mary and her young siblings were placed in the care of indifferent relatives. The bleakness and emotional hardship of these years are recounted in two essays, "Yonder Peasant, Who Is He?" and " A Tin Butterfly," part of Memories of a Catholic Girlhood ( 1957).
In 1923, McCarthy was put under the guardianship of her maternal grandparents in Seattle.There she boarded at Forest Ridge Convent but spent weekends at her grandparents' home, where she discovered the works of Dickens, Tolstoy, Harte, Bulwer-Lytton, Mencken, and Huxley.After a year in a public high school, she entered an Episcopalian boarding school, the Annie Wright Seminary in Tacoma, where she was an excellent student particularly interested in Latin. The summer after her graduation in 1929, she enrolled in acting classes at the Cornish School in Seattle.In the fall she entered Vassar; she graduated with a B.A. four years later; and one week after graduating, she married Harold Johnsrud, an actor she had met in Seattle at the Cornish School.The first of four marriages, it ended in divorce in 1936.
During this time, McCarthy began to write short book reviews for The Nation and The New Republic. In her essays and novels, McCarthy would present acerbic and satirical views on marriage, sexuality, intellectualism, and the role of contemporary women. In 1936 and 1937, she worked at Covici Friede, a left-wing publishing house, and in 1937 she was listed among the editors of the revived anti-Stalinist Partisan Review. Her drama reviews for the magazine would later be collected in Sights and Spectacles: 1937-1956, expanded in 1963 and published as Mary McCarthy's Theatre Chronicles.
In 1938, McCarthy married the critic Edmund Wilson, and on Christmas Day that year her only child, Reuel Kimball Wilson, was born. Edmund Wilson encouraged her to write fiction, and the following year Robert Penn Warren published McCarthy's first story, "Cruel and Barbarous Treatment,"