Jan Baptist Weenix - Dead Partridge Hanging from a Nail (1651)
22. The Group, by Mary McCarthy
Before I discuss the novel’s actual plot, I just want to take a moment to say that The Group had some of the most egregious grammatical errors I have ever seen. I’m not talking about a misplaced comma here or there, I’m talking about finding a sentence that read, “None of the other Vassar girls was going”. I understand that this book was published in the 1960’s, and maybe these errors are just a sign of the times, but considering the fact that this novel has been in print for so long and is the basis for Candice Brushnell’s culturally significant novel Sex and the City, you would think that some publisher somewhere would have the sense to go back and correct all of McCarthy’s errors. I’m sure one could make an argument for neglecting to correct McCarthy’s errors in the interest of “historical preservation”, but considering that bad grammar is a mockable offense these days, some edits should be made in the interest of preserving McCarthy’s reputation as a writer.
The plot of the novel follows the lives of a group of eight women, all graduates of Vassar College, class of ’33. The novel begins just after their graduation at the wedding of Kay Strong and Harald Petersen. From there, the novel provides snippets of important moments in the other group members’ lives, all interwoven in one way or another. The novel ends seven years later, under surprisingly different circumstances than which it began.
The novel featured a very mixed bag of women, which I really appreciated. There were women devoted to their jobs (Libby MacAustland and Polly Andrews), women in pursuit of finding a husband and starting a family (Kay, Dottie Renfrew, and Priss Hartshorn), women who chose independence over marriage (Helena Davidson and Elinor “Lakey” Eastlake), and the few odd ducks that stand out because of their lack of social cognizance (Mary “Pokey” Prothero and Norine Schmittlap). I liked that McCarthy tried to create a character that everyone could relate to in some way, especially since the novel now exists in a society where various aspects of the 1930’s are no longer familiar.
I have very mixed feelings about this novel. Knowing that it was based in the 1930’s, I was curious to see the author’s take on what life was like back then. Turns out that life in the 30’s was really, really boring and kind of awful. It seems that being a socialite woman meant that you had no job, your husband was a jerk, and you were done having kids by the age of 30. People’s opinions meant everything to you, and because of the lack of medical knowledge, everyone had very strange beliefs about health and safety. Furthermore, almost all of the details pertaining to these women’s lives were trivial and boring. I found myself irritated whenever one or more of the characters were being nosey or shallow—which was incredibly often. I’ve never really been interested in conversation about domestic daily life, so many of the lives these women were leading did not appeal to me. However, somehow the ending of the novel made all of these annoyances worthwhile. While the book’s ending was quite different from what I expected, I was left with the wonderful image of the group coming together, seven years later, to do something thoughtful for a friend. I was left with a sense of satisfaction and closure that I don’t think McCarthy would have accomplished had she ended the novel in any other way.
Finally, The Group reminded me of the joys of having a group of girl friends that you can count on. Through both my high school years and my time in college I have met some wonderful women whom I feel very fortunate to call my friends, and many of my fondest memories are of adventures with them. They’ve always managed to bring me out of my shell, make me laugh, and have always tolerated my oddities. The Group ends on the note that “nothing much changes”, which at first sounded a bit anti-sentimental. However, it seems that when it comes to friendship, this sentiment is actually true. No matter how much life changes around us, close friends will always be able to pick right back up where they left off, no matter how much time has passed. This novel really is great for someone in their twenties because it reminds readers of the importance and value of friendship, something that we may lose sight of with age. Your twenties are the decade where you still have time for late nights, group trips, and spectacular adventures with the people you care about, so when you’re contemplating whether to spend your night reconnecting with a friend or whether you should stay in and watch TV again, don’t hesitate. Life is too short.
"none … was going" isn’t really an error. none taking a singular verb is often correct and though today we would rarely use "was" in a sentence like that where it’s referring to the amount of girls (plural), it’s more of an out of date convention than an error, and certainly not an egregious one. updating the grammar for the current decade would be a disservice to the text, in this reader’s opinion (and apparently that of the publishers who made the same call).
actually apparently the ap stylebook as recently as three years ago calls for none to take a singular verb in a case like the one we’re talking about:
“It usually means no single one. When used in this sense, it always takes singular verbs and pronouns: None of the seats was in its right place.
Use a plural verb only if the sense is no two or no amount: None of the consultants agree on the same approach. None of the taxes have been paid.”
Peace & #goodmorning to you!
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