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Just Words
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Just Words: Lillian Hellman, Mary McCarthy, and the Failure of Public Conversation in America

Alan Ackerman


In an appearance on The Dick Cavett Showin 1980, the critic Mary McCarthy glibly remarked that every word author Lillian Hellman wrote was a lie, “including ‘and’ and ‘the’.” Hellman immediately filed a libel suit, charging that McCarthy's comment was not a legitimate conversation on public issues but an attack on her reputation. This book recounts details of the McCarthy–Hellman case, and demonstrates how the idiom of libel and the autobiographical impulse became intertwined in twentieth-century America. It offers a many-faceted examination of Hellman's infamous suit, exploring what it tells ... More

Keywords: Dick Cavett Show, Mary McCarthy, Lillian Hellman, libel, privacy, self-expression, freedom, public language, America, reputation

Bibliographic Information

Print publication date: 2011 Print ISBN-13: 9780300167122
Published to Yale Scholarship Online: October 2013 DOI:10.12987/yale/9780300167122.001.0001


Affiliations are at time of print publication.

Alan Ackerman, author

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