In downtime from 'work' work, I'm re-reading Mary McCarthy's The Group (truly excellent post about it, by litove, at the other end of that link), and being most forcibly struck again by what a great novel it is, smart and funny and rich and dense, and feeling very excited about the prospect of teaching it next year in my 20thC+ women writing course. It feels like the centrepiece or anchor of the course to me, and I expect that almost none of the students will have read it before, since this seems to be true of the reading population at large. It will be fun to discuss it with them, and I will use the time to write something about the novel. What I'd really like to do is an edition. I wonder how editions of relatively recent novels (1960s) come about - I guess publishers initiate them usually rather than potential editors. I have been thinking about this for years, really, since well before doing scholarly editing on a major work was remotely a possibilty for me. I used to think it would always be beyond my abilities because apart from anything else I lack native fluency in Americana; but now I think that's possibly an advantage because I can see what needs explicating. Why, for instance, does Dottie's mother worry that Dottie's Boston background might make her more than usually fearful of becoming an old maid? Are we supposed to recognise the portrait of the birth control doctor, and if so who is she based on? What is the difference between Sutton Place and Chestnut Street? When and how did breastfeeding becone fashionable among upper-middle-class mothers? What is Macy's? When was Katherine Hepburn at Bryn Mawr? Could a husband really have his wife committed because he was angry with her? Did Dorothy Parker really support a New York waiters' strike? Who is Norman Thomas, and might an aristocratic WASP college girl really have voted for him because he bred spaniels?
But: why is this novel so little known? For the reason litlove alludes to at the beginning of her post - it's almost out of print. You can buy it from Amazon at the moment (and if you go to Amazon, do me a favour and click the 'request this for Kindle' button), in an obscure press edition that is eighteen years old and might dry up any time. It appears Penguin fairly recently had it in their Modern Classics imprint but not any more. I checked the situation with the campus bookshop person who manages text orders and she said there is stock available now but there's no guarantee it will be available on an ongoing basis into the future. Virginia alerted me to Angus & Robertson's plan to roll out print on demand machines in their shops. This sounds like a really good thing, if it happens (there was talk about a similar operation a few years ago that didn't really amount to much) but it won't help with books that are so profoundly out of print that publishers don't have electronic versions of them.
Meanwhile, it's a very easy book to get second-hand because it was so huge in its day. Bestsellers are not all trash, although it's usually assumed that they are. There are at least half a dozen copies of The Group on eBay at the moment, all of them under $15 including postage (hint, hint)