When J Edgar Hoover met Emma Goldman

First encounters
On a Saturday morning in October 1937, the editors of the fledgling Partisan Review gathered in their office near Union Square to meet with Edmund Wilson, whom they were courting for the magazine. Wilson enjoyed a cosmopolitan cachet in the New York intellectual scene which they coveted. One editor, Mary McCarthy, had her own agenda, and came in a slinky black dress and a fox stole, remnants of her Vassar days and particularly out of place at the nearby eatery where they all had lunch. It was unclear why, at age twenty-five, she was so anxious to impress this short, stout, squeaky-voiced forty-two-year-old man who barely spoke to her. But she was. And she did.

Two weeks later Wilson invited her to dinner. Her colleagues on the Review were afraid she might disgrace them by not being sufficiently modern in her literary tastes; in a briefing that afternoon, one of them pressed daiquiris upon her to prepare her for what he said would be a "dry" dinner. Instead, it began with several rounds of Manhattans, and although McCarthy later recalled trying to be scintillating, she also passed out.

An unpromising beginning - but all writers imbibed wildly in those days. Wilson was charmed by McCarthy's bright intelligence, her impulsiveness, her wooing of him. Apparently I liked him much more than I remember," she said later.

Enough to marry him, and then question why for the rest of her life. It was his prose style, she once said; another time, his classical education, or because he was upper-class and Protestant - that quarter of her own heritage which she preferred. Or it was what he could do for her as a writer, and did, pushing her into creativity. Or perhaps (her Catholic side) it was as punishment for having gone to bed with him - marriage as absolution for sin. As in all failed unions, there are the given reasons and the real reasons.