Between Friends: The Correspondence of Hannah Arendt and Mary Mccarthy,1949-1975

edited by Carol Brightman [Harcourt Brace], $34.95

Two famous intellectuals, Arendt and McCarthy, are notable in these pages not only for their keen moral minds and political left-of-center views, but for their intimate, loyal chitchat and for a rich range of emotions which, in breadth, can only be characterized as female. These two unlikely best friends (McCarthy was also Arendt’s literary executor)—one a Jew who fled Germany for France in 1933, the other an American Catholic orphaned at age 6— share, it turns out, the defenses of survivors: obsessions with justice, evil and control.

Their letters to one another surely were an important source of private solace; both writers, at times, were the objects of critical hailstorms (Arendt, for example, after she published Eichimann in Jerusalem, and McCarthy during her bold, very early opposition to the Vietnam War). The letters make clear how Arendt’s steely blaming of the Jews for complying with the Nazis (which outraged the Jewish community) was a matter of personal catharsis: Blame at least restored control and power, and that was better than utter helplessness. Wrote Arendt to McCarthy; “You are the only reader to understand what otherwise I have never admitted—namely that I wrote Eichimann in Jerusalem in a curious state of euphoria.”