“The most fatal thing a man can do is try to stand alone.”
March 4, 2017 8:01 AM   Subscribe

Carson McCullers at 100: A Century of American Suffering [The Guardian] “Where truth fails, fiction flourishes. In The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers, who would have turned 100 years old on Sunday, distilled all of these consternations, enabling in literature the self-reckoning that had been avoided in reality. Set in a southern mill town much like her own Columbus, Georgia, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter [wiki] traces the hapless lives of five townspeople, all of whom are inexplicably drawn to a deaf-mute named John Singer. There is the young Mick Kelly, a teenage girl who dreams of making it big; Biff Bannon, the middle-class owner of a local cafe; Jake Blount, the most overtly political character and Dr Benedict Copeland, the town’s African American doctor who rails against the inequities of a racist society, but is helpless against them. As they all interact with Singer, they fail to notice his pain or that he is mourning a loss of his own: the banishment of his friend Spiros Antonapoulos to an insane asylum.”

• Carson McCullers at 100 [The New York Times]
“ Her debut, “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter,” is routinely listed among the best books of the 20th century, and Rose Feld’s assessment of it in the Book Review in 1940 proves that its towering reputation was formed more or less immediately. “No matter what the age of its author, ‘The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter’ would be a remarkable book,” Feld started. “When one reads that Carson McCullers is a girl of 22 it becomes more than that. Maturity does not cover the quality of her work. It is something beyond that, something more akin to the vocation of pain to which a great poet is born.” McCullers was actually 23 at the time, but point taken.”
• White Writer [The New Yorker]
“But what of the white writer who wishes to be artistically engaged but who simultaneously does not want to re-create cultural dominance in her work? Are there complex, nuanced representations by other white people which we might turn toward? I suggest that one answer may lie in the unlikely legacy of a pale, sickly writer from the mid-twentieth century, who smoked and drank herself to death by the age of fifty, and whose own personal turmoil and self-destruction may be at the root of the enormous insights about difference found throughout her work. In 1940, a white twenty-three-year-old woman, slight and awkwardly charming, from segregated Georgia, published an extraordinary novel, “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.” ”
• No Apologies Necessary [The Atlantic]
“All her books portray the sadness and isolation she saw as endemic to the human condition. And all are of interest. For instance, one need not share Savigneau's opinion that Reflections in a Golden Eye is the "most provocative," the "most controlled," the "most tight-lipped," and the "most serenely merciless" of McCullers's books in order to find disturbing its tale of an adulterous affair that leads to an unlikely obsession, an untimely death, and a brutal murder. And one need not go along with those readers who cherish The Member of the Wedding as McCullers's "masterpiece of masterpieces" to be touched or beguiled by its lonely twelve-year-old heroine, who makes up her mind to join her brother and his bride on their honeymoon, forcing herself on a couple she believes to be "the we of me." Precisely what happened to Carson McCullers, a writer of enormous talent, will always remain a mystery. But there may be clues to be found in the life. ”
• The Mortgaged Heart of Carson McCullers [Bookslut]
“Carson didn’t look like an alcoholic, and nor did she look like a genius, though she was irrefutably both. Carson was so delicate and dainty that she looked like a young child for the five decades she lived. This perpetual fragility and youth contrasted starkly with the oversized, mannish clothing she wore. To look at her, you wouldn’t know she drank gin straight out of juice tumblers, morning, noon and night, or that she had done so since she was a child. Of course, Carson wasn’t the first writer alcoholic and wouldn’t be the last. Hemingway, Crane, Melville, Truman Capote, Fitzgerald, Faulkner… but a young woman writing in the 1940s and ‘50s, who dressed like a man and did as she wished, is something else altogether. And so the writer endured the gamut of speculation and accusation and gossip, during her life, and forever after. Her works were acclaimed, but many suggested her husband had written them.”
• Carson McCullers: the Aesthetic of Pain [Virginia Quarterly Review]
“The Heart is a Lonely Hunter was and is a remarkable book—that a 23-year-old woman could write with so much mastery and so much perception about so diverse a range of characters was odd indeed. The talent that was able to observe the variety of experience that went into those characterizations was something close to genius. The capacity for observation, for perceiving and detailing the concerns of the various people, was stunning in its virtuosity. What I find most remarkable, reading the novel over again and in light of those that followed and also from what I have learned from Mrs. Carr’s biography, is that a writer whose imagination is so subjective, whose art is so suffused with emotional coloration and is based upon the capacity to convey the endless sameness of human suffering, could at the same time see and record and catalogue so much, with such clear specificity and concrete objectivity of detail”
posted by Fizz (14 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
Since I'll never pass up a chance to promote Suzanne Vega, she recently put out an album dedicated to McCullers.
posted by downtohisturtles at 8:32 AM on March 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Used to keep a photo of McCullers in my wallet in high school.
posted by clockzero at 12:01 PM on March 4, 2017 [4 favorites]

Carson didn’t look like an alcoholic, and nor did she look like a genius

oh the hell she didn't. (both. either!)

this may be tucked away in one of the links above but in case it's not:

three geniuses

I don't usually think that highly of MM but the company of the other two elevates her so why not. do a search for carson dinesen monroe if you haven't seen that whole series of photos before. go on, do it.
posted by queenofbithynia at 12:26 PM on March 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

I've always avoided McCullers because of . . . my mother's Georgia girlhood.
posted by jamjam at 12:45 PM on March 4, 2017

Monroe was her own kind of genius. She could be a character from a McCullers novel. J. Oates's Blonde gets close.

I worry sometimes Mailer's view of her became the dominant view of her.
posted by Strange_Robinson at 2:29 PM on March 4, 2017

What was Mailer's view of her? I can only find references to his statement that he was unable to read any woman writers.
posted by rhizome at 3:14 PM on March 4, 2017

I was thinking Monroe in the company of McCullers and the other gal I'm not familiar with. It's a digression of small import.

'The Heart is a Lonley Hunter' is a wonderful novel.
posted by Strange_Robinson at 3:32 PM on March 4, 2017

Yea, in fact, Mailer having any opinion on McCullers is almost hilarious to consider. To his own damnable ignorance and disadvantage.
posted by Strange_Robinson at 3:39 PM on March 4, 2017

From where I stand it's Mailer's reputation that hasn't held up so well.
posted by atoxyl at 3:50 PM on March 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

How have I read so many of her books about realizing they were written by the same person?
posted by The Underpants Monster at 4:10 PM on March 4, 2017

three geniuses

I don't usually think that highly of MM but the company of the other two elevates her so why not. do a search for carson dinesen monroe if you haven't seen that whole series of photos before. go on, do it.

This essay is relevant: Lunch With Carson [The Rumpus]
“On a chilly February afternoon in 1959, Carson McCullers, Marilyn Monroe and Isak Dinesen had lunch. The place was Carson’s rambling, white clapboard Victorian home overlooking the Hudson River in Nyack, New York. The menu was raw oysters, champagne, grapes, and soufflé. And the occasion was the fulfillment of Dinesen’s dream to meet her two American idols. I first read a description of this unlikely get-together years ago in Virginia Spencer Carr’s biography of McCullers, The Lonely Hunter. What caught my eye was a photograph of the women. It was a study in contrasts. Isak Dinesen, wrapped in a shawl and headscarf, sipping champagne was looking downright mummified. Across the table from her, a giggling Monroe in black plunging neckline was being pecked on the cheek by a puffy McCullers. The image stuck in my mind, and I wanted to learn more about this improbable trio and their memorable winter encounter.”
posted by Fizz at 4:21 PM on March 4, 2017 [4 favorites]

What a wonderful article, Fizz. So much humanity in the trio.
posted by Strange_Robinson at 5:58 PM on March 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

I also just love the idea of all of these intellectual minds gathering together to drink, eat, and talk about their lives and their art. It's heartening.
posted by Fizz at 6:08 PM on March 4, 2017

I do too. The sad part is that Carson was probably past her third stroke by then, but by all accounts she never faded away as a result of any of her ailments.
posted by rhizome at 7:48 PM on March 4, 2017

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