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Still Friends

In response to:

At Home in This Century from the April 6, 1995 issue

To the Editors:

In his review of the Arendt-McCarthy correspondence [NYR, April 6], Tony Judt quotes McCarthy worrying in a letter of September 9, 1974 that her difficult nature had driven Arendt to the brink of ending their friendship. Judt then writes: “Arendt was much too well bred to say anything in reply.”

At the risk of appearing ill-mannered myself, I would like to point out that as soon as she received McCarthy’s anxious letter, on September 12, Arendt wrote, in fact, an uncharacteristically emotional reply. In the recently published correspondence, Arendt’s letter immediately follows the letter sent by McCarthy that Judt quotes from. A few excerpts: “I just come home and find your letter, and it is too late to call. Tomorrow morning I’ll have to go to town, hence it will be too early to call [….] The notion that you could ever go [sic] on my nerves never crossed my mind […] you could not very well be suspicious of me—or could you? […] For heaven’s sake, Mary, stop it, please. I say that of course for my own sake and because I love you, but I think I also may say it for your sake.” Arendt then broke off and resumed the letter the next day, after reflecting on whether she had done anything to arouse McCarthy’s suspicions. “I waited a day to think about it, but there is absolutely nothing that could occur to me.”

It was Saint Augustine Arendt had written her doctoral dissertation on decades earlier (“a very dear friend…was my companion in error and I was lost without him,” Confessions, Book IV), not the Earl of Chesterfield.

Lee Siegel
Brooklyn, New York

Tony Judt replies:

Mr. Siegel is quite right. What I should have written was that Arendt was too well bred to reply in kind. In the letter cited by Siegel, and after noting that she could think of nothing she had done that might have aroused her friend’s suspicions, Arendt makes no further mention of the subject. As she says in one of the passages Mr. Siegel leaves out, “I…am—and probably will remain—speechless.” I have no idea whether Hannah Arendt knew Lord Chesterfield’s views on etiquette, but in some of her later dealings with Mary McCarthy she would surely have echoed Augustine in his tasteful reproach to Count Boniface (Letters CCXX): “Consider, then, for yourself some things which I prefer to leave unsaid.”

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