What is missing is a certain largeness of mind, an amplitude of style, the mantle of a calling, a sense of historical dignity.
—Mary McCarthy, in “The Vassar Girl,” 1951

When a writer with a large reputation and a strong public personality quits the scene after many years in the limelight, there inevitably follows a period of uncertainty in which posterity—the cruellest of all critics— has not yet determined its verdict, and briefs for the defense are given every opportunity to dominate the discussion. The eulogies sound the appropriate note of piety and praise; the remaining manuscripts, ceremoniously augmented by glowing testimonials, are rushed into print; the favor of a friendly assessment is more or less assured; and the author’s name is everywhere draped in respectful mourning. The literary world makes its obeisances to one of its own, and even the writer’s enemies...

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