Memories of a Catholic girlhood – Mary McCarthy

Memories of a Catholic Girlhood - By Mary McCarthy

Memories of a Catholic Girlhood – By Mary McCarthy

I would like to start this – continuation – blog by introducing Memories of a Catholic girlhood – By Mary McCarthy. I haven’t read the book yet. However, it was thoroughly recommended by my tutor, Ophelia Benson, because of having had somewhat similar Roman Catholic girlhood experiences growing up in Goldenbridge.

I recently discovered a – published in 1963 – Penguin version at Chapters bookshop in Parnell Sq., Dublin. So will set myself the task of getting stuck into the book. Ophelia says that Mary McCarthy’s excellent writing will help me enormously with – much needed to develop – writing skills. If you read About page, you’ll see that I’ve had minuscule education at Goldenbridge Industrial “school”. Am very hungry to learn. Life is about life-long learning.

Mary McCarthy was such a brilliant writer, and I’m thoroughly enjoying reading about the background to her family. They went to Canada to escape the potato famine, so presumably they were Irish. They then went to America, where Mary was born. Sadly she and her three siblings lost their parents at a very young age. Mary, the eldest was less than six. The mother was twenty-nine and the father a decade older when he passed away. Her father had been very ill, and as they journeyed to Minneapolis to the relatives who had sent for them because the father had been squandering his monthly allowance, and things weren’t working out too well on that front. It was not long after the arrival at the relatives house that Mary’s father died. The mother died soon after. The book doesn’t say, how she died. The mother also had a third of the amount of allowance as that of her husband, Roy, It comprised of $300 v $100 respectively, and they really should have been able to cope financially on that amount.

The father doted on Mary, and bought her very extravagant presents that were not befitting a young child. Expensive jewellery and the like.

Mary talks about missing the aesthetic beauty of her mother, that she did not see in the both maternal/paternal grandparents. She was very particular about beauty, and there was an Irish maid called gertrude, whom Mary did not like because she was not pretty and she had warts and even her name Mary thought was not nice. She couldn’t understand why the mother did not keep a very pretty worker. She’s also quick to point out that she never grew up to be pretty herself.

In the opening chapter – to the reader – Mary McCarthy tells us that she is a lapsed Catholic. She tells of the stuff that she hankers after, such as Ash Wednesday , and St. Blaise’s blessing of the throats. She is also grateful for learning the Latin language, and the historical aspects of Catholicism, as the saints and their history gave her great insight into understanding great art. She mentions Pascal’s Wager at the very end of chapter one – so I’ll have to explore that – I did hear it mentioned before at

The dictionary definitionof Pascal’s wager:

An argument according to which belief in God is rational whether or not God exists, since falsely believing that God exists leads to no harm whereas falsely believing that God does not exist may lead to eternal damnation.

(Philosophy) Philosophy the argument that it is in one’s rational self-interest to act as if God exists, since the infinite punishments of hell, provided they have a positive probability, however small, outweigh any countervailing advantage

[named after Blaise Pascal (1623-62), French philosopher, mathematician, and physicist].

mary mccarthyOn Monday mornings, at recess, Nemesis exacted its price; we wretches all loyally “stuck together,” like pieces of melting candy in the linty recesses of a coat pocket. Mary McCarthy

Mary McCarthy (1912-1984), satirist, critic, and award-winning fiction writer (two Guggenheim Fellowships and a National Medal for Literature), was placed in the Sacred Heart convent school in Seattle at the age of eleven. She recounted the difficulties of her early life in Memories of a Catholic Girlhood (1972), a memoir that has been called one of the “best of the genre.” It is warm and witty, sharp-tongued and polished, and still in print. 

Read more at: Mary T. McCarthy on Being a Loser (

I haven’t explored the website, as I’ve thus far read just one chapter of the book.

Chapter II “Yonder Peasant Who is he?”

That heading reminds me of lines in the 2nd stanza of the Christmas Carol, Good King Wenceslas.

Yonder peasant who is he where and what his dwelling?

The words are so apt to the situation Mary and her three brothers found themselves in when they boarded the train from Seattle to Minneapolis. They indeed did not know their dwelling place.



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