"Just Words" by Alan Ackerman

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

Publication date:
29 Mar 2013
Yale University Press
376 pages: 203 x 130mm
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In an appearance on The Dick Cavett Show in 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 intriguing book offers a many-faceted examination of Hellman's infamous suit and explores what it tells us about tensions between privacy and self-expression, freedom and restraint in public language, and what can and cannot be said in public in America.

Alan Ackerman is professor of English, University of Toronto. His books include Seeing Things, from Shakespeare to Pixar and The Portable Theater: American Literature and the Nineteenth-Century Stage, and he is editor of the journal Modern Drama.

“Ackerman does an admirable job of tying this case to the great issues of the mid-twentieth century.  He uses Hellman and McCarthy as a pretext for fascinating digressions about John Dewey’s commission on Leon Trotsky, the history of Latin instruction in America, and the culture’s attitude toward abortion in the 1930s.”—Franklin Foer, The New Republic

"A worthy exploration of the conflicts created when issues of free speech, publicity, and privacy intersect. The book will make a welcome addition to both general academic and law school libraries."—Donna M. Fisher, Law Library Journal