Mary McCarthy’s The Group rose to the top of the New York Times bestseller list for fiction in 1963 then remained there for almost two years. A sharply written page-turner about eight Vassar graduates and their lives in NYC and beyond, the novel tackled such then-taboos as extramarital affairs, premarital sex, homosexuality, contraception, abortion, and psychoanalysis in a style noted for its bluntness as well as its wit. The New York Times hailed McCarthy’s works for its “miraculous precision” and “believable clarity” in portraying Manhattan Bohemia, while Time Magazine noted that “for the first time, highbrow readers who have long acknowledged an athletic and logical brain will meet those who prefer the fictional products of female temperament.”
The Group may have been McCarthy’s most popular novel but it was also likely her most controversial. Vassar College, incensed at the book’s frank sexual content, lobbied to have McCarthy’s degree revoked. McCarthy’s friends too were alienated as they saw in the characters thinly veiled caricatures of themselves. In 1966, Sidney Lumet’s big screen adaptation of The Group starring Candice Bergen received similar criticism.
“I’m afraid I’m not sufficiently inhibited about the things that other women are inhibited about for me,” McCarthy once explained. “They feel that you’ve given away trade secrets.”