Everyone’s memory is tricky and mine’s a little trickier than most — Lillian Hellman
“A foremost literary fabulator of her generation, Lillian Hellman invented her life, so that by the end even she was uncertain about what had been true,” Joan Mellen.
In January 1980, a seemingly off the cuff remark by Mary McCarthy regarding Lillian Hellman sparked off a literary feud and a debate about truth, particularly in memoirs, that has raged on till this day.
McCarthy was a guest on the Dick Cavett show on PBS. The interview was begging to flag when Cavett asked McCarthy what writers she thought were overrated. Among the writers that she mentioned were Pearl S. Buck, John Steinbeck and Hellman who McCarthy said, “who I think is tremendously overrated, a bad writer, a dishonest writer, but she really belongs to the past.” Cavett, of course, asked McCarthy what was overrated about Hellman. McCarthy replied that “Everything. I once said in an interview that every word she writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the.’”
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