Renaissance women: Brigid Brophy, Mary McCarthy and the public intellectual

Sam V H Reese

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticlepeer-review


Unashamedly intellectual, idiosyncratic, and often contrarian, Mary McCarthy and Brigid Brophy stood out amongst late twentieth century female writers not only as public intellectuals, but for the way their writing and social commentary cut against the grain on pivotal issues of progress, freedom, and aesthetic form, exposing and often satirising the hypocrisy of their male contemporaries. From the mid-twentieth-century onwards, on both sides of the Atlantic, the public intellectual took on a prominent and sharply defined role; Brophy and McCarthy developed complementary, dissident positions that provided a counter-model to the mainstream liberalism of such male intellectuals, opening an alternative space for female writers in the late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century. By unpacking their shared aesthetic practices and values, including the influence of a cultural Catholicism and an intense investment in the Italian Renaissance, this essay uncovers their role in establishing an alternative model of public intellectual that continues to influence the status of female writers and thinkers.
Original languageEnglish
JournalContemporary Women's Writing
Early online date24 Feb 2018
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 24 Feb 2018


  • Mary McCarthy
  • Brigid Brophy
  • literature
  • public intellectual


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