Dick DeMarsico, Mary McCarthy, American novelist, 1963/Library of Congress, New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection

When the novelist and essayist Mary McCarthy died in 1989, she was praised for her character as much as her writing. Leon Botstein, the President of Bard College, where McCarthy occasionally taught, said McCarthy was “a person of great character.” The novelist Mary Gordon observed that McCarthy “combined purity of style with a kind of rigorous moral honesty.”

Did the many observers who lauded McCarthy’s character read what she wrote about Colonel Robbie Risner, an American prisoner of war whom...


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