The Truth and I: Reading Betty MacDonald in the Age of Memoir

Betty MacDonald burst onto the American literary scene in 1945 with her memoir, The Egg and I, a tartly witty tale about operating a chicken ranch on Washington’s dauntingly wild Olympic Peninsula. Betty’s vivacity, offbeat humor, and sparklingly irreverent take on life captured a public ready to laugh again after the grim, hard years of World War II. During its first year, Egg sold one copy every 22 seconds.

Although she wrote autobiographically, Betty’s relationship with truth was slippery. During a 1951 libel suit, Betty testified that she’d made up nearly all of The Egg and I— questionable testimony that worked in her favor. Betty’s readers seemed not to mind this discrepancy, but why? Led by historian and Betty MacDonald biographer Paula Becker, “The Truth and I: Reading Betty MacDonald in the Age of Memoir” ponders how Betty’s kind of nonfiction relates to the popular genre of memoir today. What, then and now, does “truth” in memoir mean?

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