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Just WordsLillian Hellman, Mary McCarthy, and the Failure of Public Conversation in America$
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Alan Ackerman

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780300167122

Published to Yale Scholarship Online: October 2013

DOI: 10.12987/yale/9780300167122.001.0001

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Libel and Life-Writing

Libel and Life-Writing

(p.25) I Libel and Life-Writing
Just Words

Alan Ackerman

Yale University Press

This chapter 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 argues that libel is woven into our everyday language and springs from a complicated set of motivations: vanity, envy, and resentment. Although many people utter actionable slanders every day, libel suits are relatively rare because they require a huge investment of energy, time, and money. The chapter reveals that central to the criticism of Hellman, of which McCarthy's criticism is only the most famous, was the idea that she had violated the rules of open democratic debate, and there is merit to this charge. It also argues that Hellman and McCarthy's generation was peculiarly characterized by high-profile libel suits, the sheer number of which increased dramatically between the late 1950s and the 1980s.

Keywords:   libel, autobiographical impulse, vanity, resentment

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