SHARP: The Women Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion By Michelle Dean

Michelle Dean Dedicates Sharp “For every person who’s ever been told, ‘You’re too smart for your own good'” Dean’s chapters about Dorothy Parker, Rebecca West, Hannah Arendt, Mary McCarthy, Susan Sontag, Pauline Kael, Joan Didion, Nora Ephron, Renata Adler, and Janet Malcolm present women who challenged the System and advanced the cause of women’s rights. Some, like Dorothy Parker, achieved her successes by using sardonic humor and wit. Yet, bad personal choices left her destitute. Hannah Arendt, who coined the term “the banality of evil” in her writings about the Eichmann trial, conducted a long affair with German philosopher Martin Heidegger (who was active in the Nazi Party). Rebecca West had a stormy relationship with H. G. Wells. As you can see from these examples of Michelle Dean’s focus, opinions don’t factor as highly as personal problems. I learned Dorothy Parker’s first husband was an alcoholic who introduced her to gin. Later, he fought in World War I and picked up a morphine addiction, too. Parker’s second husband might have been gay, according to Dean. Edmund Wilson, while drunk, punched Mary McCarty when she was two-and-a-half months pregnant. Susan Sontag had Stage 4 breast cancer. Michelle Dean provides plenty of information on personal relationships, literary feuds, and affairs. So Sharp is a bit of a mixed bag. I enjoyed learning about these women’s lives, but their opinions take second place to other factors. GRADE: B
Table of Contents
Preface ix
Chapter 1 Parker 1
Chapter 2 West 31
Chapter 3 West & Hurston 59
Chapter 4 Arendt 65
Chapter 5 McCarthy 92
Chapter 6 Parker & Arendt 122
Chapter 7 Arendt & McCarthy 132
Chapter 8 Sontag 146
Chapter 9 Kael 175
Chapter 10 Didion 203
Chapter 11 Ephron 229
Chapter 12 Arendt & McCarthy & Hellman 253
Chapter 13 Adler 260
Chapter 14 Malcolm 284
Afterword 309
Note on Sources 313
Bibliography 315
Notes 317
Index 349

10 thoughts on “SHARP: The Women Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion By Michelle Dean

    1. george Post author

      Deb, Dorothy Parker and Mary McCarthy made some Bad Choices with the men in their lives. Hannah Arendt fell for a Nazi. So SMART WOMEN, BAD CHOICES would have been the more accurate title for this book.

      1. wolf

        Heidegger hat a lot of girlfriends – wonder if he used his abstract philsophy on them… 🙂
        probably not, so he must have had other qualities too …
        SMART WOMEN, BAD CHOICES has a ring of truth – just like SMART MEN, BAD CHOICES !

      2. george Post author

        Wolf, I’ve tried reading Heidegger several times, but it’s a struggle. I prefer the clear writing of David Hume.

  1. Jeff Meyerson

    I’ve had this on hold for a few weeks now. My favorite McCarthy thing was her take down of Lillian Hellman.

    1. george Post author

      Jeff, Mary McCarthy skewered Lillian Hellman with that acerbic remark: Every Word She Writes Is a Lie, Including “And” and “The”

    1. george Post author

      Patti, like you I’m learning a lot about these women in SHARP. But, I was expecting more about their ideas and opinions rather than their personal problems.

    1. george Post author

      Dan, there’s some shocking stories in SHARP. I didn’t know Edmund Wilson punched his pregnant wife, Mary McCarthy. Going in, I was expecting more insights into these smart women’s works.


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