I watch Girls because I think it’s interesting. I don’t love everything that happens in every episode, or even like the characters very much, but what I do love is that every Monday the previous night’s episode creates conversation. Interesting conversation. I talk to my friends (and my mom) about body image. And race, and privilege. And about the surprising lack of ambition in the four girls trying to make it in NYC. Girls, like all television, owes a lot to what came before it. I picked up Mary McCarthy’s The Group at the library after reading this interview which, among other things, discussed the “reading list” given to the Girls writers.
Published in 1963, The Group is about a set of Vassar graduates who move to NYC upon graduation to pursue…whatever it is that people move to the city to look for. Love, career, escape. The book is set in the late 1930s, and I cannot tell you how modern this book felt. It was kind of incredible. It makes sense, because these types of conflicts and stories were groundbreaking and unique in the 1930s even though they have become commonplace today, but it really felt timeless. I also cannot tell you how similar this book felt to Girls. Similar themes, similar boundaries pushing, similar unlikeable but oddly relatable characters.
The opening story is about Kay’s nontraditional wedding, to a man share barely knows, with only her friends but no family present. It’s not quite Jessa’s bohemian wedding, but it could just as well have been. The judgment of everyone else at the wedding is on display, at her lack of compliance with generally accepted social traditions. The way the girls in the group gossiped at the wedding was so fascinating similar to what happens today. Everyone was happy for Kay, truly, and wanted to celebrate. But they wanted to nitpick details, to set a base to compare other weddings to, to evaluate whether they thought the couple would make it. It felt like every wedding I’ve ever been to.