Mary McCarthy, who died in 1989, was an American novelist, critic and political activist who, as an opponent of the Vietnam War, made a controversial visit to North Vietnam during the hostilities.

She also had a long-running feud with the playwright Lillian Hellman, a fellow Communist-leaning writer. They developed ideological differences and when McCarthy said on national television that: ‘every word [Hellman] writes is a lie, including “and” and “the”,’ Hellmann sued for $2.25 million. A rebarbative critic, she dismissed her opponents by noting that: ‘To be dis-esteemed by people you don’t have much respect for is not the worst fate.’ Her semi-autobiographical novel The Group topped the New York Times bestseller list for nearly two years.