The Lonely Hunter is widely accepted as the standard biography of Carson McCullers. Author of such landmarks of modern American fiction as Reflections in a Golden Eye and The Ballad of the Sad Café , Carson McCullers was the enfant terrible of the literary world of the 1940s and 1950s. Gifted but tormented, vulnerable but exploitative, McCullers led a life that had all the elements―and more―of a tragic novel.
From McCullers's birth in Columbus, Georgia, in 1917 to her death in upstate New York in 1967, The Lonely Hunter thoroughly covers every significant event in, and aspect of, the writer's her rise as a young literary sensation; her emotional, artistic, and sexual eccentricities and entanglements; her debilitating illnesses; her travels in America and Europe; and the provenance of her works from their earliest drafts through their book, stage, and film versions.
To research her subject, Virginia Spencer Carr visited all of the important places in McCullers's life, read virtually everything written by or about her, and interviewed hundreds of McCullers's relatives, friends, and enemies. The result is an enduring, distinguished portrait of a brilliant, but deeply troubled, writer.
Fascinated by the garish grisly life of Miss Carson McCullers I embarked upon this big fat bio, and first I thought it might be a mistake, as the last big fat bio I read (Sinatra) made me want to fly to America and disinter Sinatra's remains for the simple pleasure I might have gained in booting Frankie's skull about whilst yelling obscenities. Since you will not have read any recent report of a British man arrested whilst trying to break into the Sinatra family crypt, you will perceive that I managed to suppress my unseemly impulse. This Carson bio, however, nearly defeated me on page one! Check out this sentence which appears in paragraph three:
Deeply compassionate, the youngster was becoming increasingly aware that one's physical aberration was but an exaggerated symbol of what she considered everyman's 'caught' condition of spiritual isolation and sense of aloneless in spite of his intense desire and effort to relate to others.
Pass the Anadin! This vile sentence must have passed through various drafts and editors and still ended up sprawled in front of us, on page one, obscene and twisted, hopelessly tangled in its own umbilical cord. Fortunately the rest of it was much better. As I read on, I turned the pages excitedly anticipating Carson's first stroke and first suicide pact - which would come first?
It turned out to be a very fine biography, to be lapped up carefully like a cat trying not to spill one drop from an overfull bowl of milk. So many ideas swill and slosh around in these pages – in this life. For instance, sexual orientation. In an early episode of “Friends” Phoebe is hired to sing educational songs to pre-school kids in a library. So she sings this :
PHOEBE: Sometimes men love women, sometimes men love men, and then there are bisexuals, though some just say they're kidding themselves. la la-la-la la-la-la-la-la-la-la...
Now it could be I’m ignorant (strong likelihood), or it could be the author of this bio is deliberately evasive (but why? isn't an evasive biographer an oxymoron? or just a plain moron?), and of course it could very well be that Carson herself was confused, but I’m not so sure about all this Carson McCullers bisexual thing going on. Seems to me that Carson was gay. But conflicted. I know - quelle surprise. She didn’t want to shag men, and she kept falling in love with women. That was really a dead giveaway. Now you’re going to say wait – she was married – to that poor tortured fundamentally sweet guy called Reeves McCullers who had a very cool name and a very unlucky destiny, trying his best to play a rough hand of cards, all deuces and sevens, what can you do. This guy really did not get the breaks. But how many gay people in those days were driven into marriages because at first they thought all their feelings were wrong and marriage to some good man or woman would straighten them out? I bet that's what Carson did. This bio doesn't say so in as many words, but it seems clear to me. I mean to say, she liked to dress in men’s attire and she cut her hair short and was said to have mannish characteristics. And yet, – unless this exhaustive biography is actually omitting something important – it seems she’d not actually had a relationship with a female person yet unless it was a quick one with Gypsy Rose Lee, with whom she shared accommodation in 1940. But she did learn to smoke a pipe and drink like a fish.
Anyway, the whole gay thing loomed fairly large, but yet larger loomed the whole ILL thing. She was a valetudinarian. Yes, ill all the time. She had stuff wrong with her the doctors couldn't put a name too. She was thirty years ahead of her time with her ailments. Good thing, then, that by her mid 20s she'd written all her major novels except one. Wow - rock & roll? Nope, not really.
It takes an extraordinary person to write such remarkable literature, and Carson McCullers was extraordinary to say the least. She has a complicated personality that ranged from vivacious and sweet to cold and sullen. She was an indulged child and an over-protected adult who lived as much in her own fantasies as she did in reality. She had an unusual number of friends who went to extreme lengths to prove their friendship, among them such notables as Tennessee Williams. She fed off of people and belonging, but I wonder if she ever felt a true part of anyone outside of herself.
She could sometimes seem very fragile, but her determination was limitless. Plagued by bad health and bad habits, she navigated her life like it was a story with an ever-changing plot, but belonging to someone else. After having known her husband Reeves for almost her entire life and having divorced and remarried him, and despite his attentive care during her illnesses, she dismissed his death as if it were just an inconvenience to her. That relationship seemed to me to speak volumes about her true character.
I do not think I would have liked her at all. She was far too needy and egotistical. Had she not been a brilliant writer, I doubt she would have garnered the love of so many. She was excused so much by everyone because of her genius and she seemed to take for granted that everyone else's needs would, by right, come in line behind her own. I would have loved to have had one ounce of her talent, however, and we could all do with some of her perseverance.
Carr managed to approach a very difficult subject with a great deal of care and honesty. She did not paint McCullers as anything other than a complex human being, neither good nor evil. I particularly enjoyed the section that dealt with the production of The Member of the Wedding for Broadway. So many of the people who made up McCullers friends and colleagues were well-known in their time, which made the reading all the more interesting. By the end of this thorough biography, you cannot help feeling that you know much of what made McCullers tick and have a deeper understanding of how her own life influenced her subjects and her work.
I don't know if this is the third or fourth time I read this book but, It reminds me of the old saying don't ever meet your idols in the flesh. I read this Literary biography and others like it Carson McCullers like other writers of merit carry around them, a cloud of destruction of themselves and others its the people who surround them who pay that price the hardest every time. That same combo of genius, will, and drive that makes excellent literature. when I read this book I always want her and husband Reeves not to remarry but I know how the story sad, heartbreaking,story goes and Reeves went into the tangled web with open eyes got eaten alive by his love for Carson and his own weaknesses. Carson McCullers's mother whose blinding love for her daughter feeds and nurture her genius to the point of turning a blind eye to Carson's many faults. This bio reads like a sad saga novel. I want this book to go wherever I go and its always the book that starts my book collection.
This is a voluminous, comprehensive, well-written book.
Carson was a precocious, musically gifted child who played the piano with prowess from an early age. She originally intended to study music at an illustrious college but when she lost the tuition money, she turned to writing instead.
Carson had always talked about how she was going to be rich and famous, though she didn’t know how; she thus proved the power of the spoken word. (Ok, I don’t know whether or not she actually became rich, but she certainly became famous.)
As a child, she was a prolific reader, reading all the classics – the books of Chekhov, Tolstoy, D.H. Lawrence, Flaubert, James Joyce, etc. etc.
The book tells of Carson’s marriage and bisexual proclivities, of her female crushes, including on Greta Garbo, and her various friends, famous and otherwise.
I wasn’t able to get through the totality of this work and skimmed through most of it. It is packed with information and I found it rather dense and not easy-to-read.
We are provided with many photos of Carson at various ages and of her family, friends and husband, Reeves.
Looking at the various photos of Carson, I found her astoundingly familiar, as though I’d known her well in a past or parallel life. I had never experienced this sort of thing before, strange!
Carson smoked excessively and constantly drank alcohol, so it was not surprising that she suffered severe health problems including several incapacitating strokes.
She died in 1967 at the age of 50.
The author presents us with detailed information about Carson’s life and relationships. I borrowed the book from the library, but you would need to own it to have the time and opportunity to fully appreciate it.
First, the structure/format/writing. This biography makes great use of personal letters from/to McCullers and lots of recollections/interviews with people who knew her. But sometimes I had problems with how the author knew what anyone "felt" at any given time--there were a lot of passages that seemed to be constructed from documents AND a certain amount of imagination to make the writing flow, reconstruct conversations, or fill in gaps. All of this is especially interesting given the author's acknowledgement (on her own and through her sources) that McCullers often made things up and edited the truth to be a better story. So there's an interesting tension between documenting the artist's life and recreating the mood or should-be truth to any given situation/story. If you go along with it (and I certainly got swept up in the stories and the way the author tells them), it's a good ride. But I wonder how "true" or verifiable a lot of this is.
What else? There are a lot of same-sex "companions" and "friends" and "secretaries." The acknowledgement of LGBTQ+ people is understated, but still there. I guess I found it quaint, if "quaint" means "still damaging to people by not acknowledging their contributions and relationships in full." But it still comes through how fluid McCullers's sexuality was, and how similar people find each other and build community together. And how authors in the 1970s dealt with complex, controversial subjects. The more I read in history, the more I wonder about the variation in the attitudes of the day: tacit acceptance? Purposeful ignorance to avoid acknowledgement? Blindness? Outright support? How did that affect people in their daily lives, if their biographers have difficulty articulating it?
It jumps around a lot. There's a general chronology from start to finish, but then in places she'll add in an anecdote that happened way later if it (tangentially) relates to the theme at the moment. Sometimes this is hard to follow or just jarring to read.
Subject matter: WOW did I not know much about McCullers's life. I LOVED The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. I knew she was a Southern writer. And I had read some stuff by Gore Vidal calling her egotistical and hard to be around (typical pot, kettle, black stuff from him, for sure). No idea how young she was when her first novel came out, her complex marriage, her health problems, the literary and artistic circles she traveled in. Her relationship with Reeves really stands out as the prime example of how demanding she could be. Obviously, Reeves had his own part in things, and he dealt with the social pressures to be a "man" married to a successful writer who didn't need him to provide but needed him to be HER wife plus his own issues about his sexuality. And their drinking didn't help things, it sounds like (and also: "she never really seemed to be drunk no matter how much she consumed" is not the great defense the author seems to think it is. A person who drank that much and got into horrendous fights with her partner is certainly responsible for that, even if the author respects McCullers's ability to hold her liquor, which also reads like a critique of Reeves as a man who couldn't). She expected him to take care of the daily details of life, and she was the artist who did what she wanted and used that distance from the mundane to create beautiful works. And I suppose in a biography of a man, this would seem fairly standard. Flipping the gender script draws attention to how much "genius" requires a team of people sustaining the person being called the genius. And then to go back to the individuals, not these people as representatives of social trends but actual people with their own lives and desires: Reeves seems like such a tragic figure to me. He loved Carson, he wanted to support her, he had his own demons, he wanted to be a writer and probably at the beginning thought they'd take turns being the genius writer supported by a spouse. Then he felt like he had no way out but suicide. So sad. Carson said he tried to take her with him on several occasions: I wonder if those stories were meant to draw attention back to herself and her victimhood in stories that really should center HIS pain. (But here I am speculating on things I have no documentation for. But the author really does highlight how Carson cut him off before he died and how callous she seemed after his death. Plus all that story-telling and narcissism.) I found it interesting that a number of people the author spoke to emphasized how awesome Carson was but also how draining--how she consumed people and depended on them and sucked them dry, if they would let her. And some people were willing to make that connection and others kept their distance in the interest of self-preservation.
As for the writing/themes, I was surprised at her ability to create characters and situations out of her own imagination and compassion (as opposed to doing "research" about the things she wrote about) and that she purposefully avoided having her own point of view influenced--like not wanting to attend a conference for deaf people when writing about deaf people. She used her own experience living in a military town in order to build the frame for Reflections in a Golden Eye. And she stole mercilessly from everyone's stories, wanting to hear them again and again and then adopting them into her work (sometimes changing things, sometimes not). That has been a revelation to me, how much writers take from their own experience or whatever they can get from people around them--I guess I always assumed fiction was fiction and nonfiction was nonfiction. I still struggle with these labels.
But the writing makes up such a minor portion of the book. I mean, the author acknowledges her as an amazing writer, and catalogues the books and articles and achievements (2 Guggenheims!), and goes over McCullers's concept of the "grace of labor" (in which you work really hard on a thing, thinking about it, writing about it, working it out, and then you wake up one morning with the solution: I have felt that, I think the phrase captures something about intellectual/artistic labor). But there's also so much happening! The author recreates the world of 1940s New York so well: the house in Brooklyn with figures passing in and out (W.H. Auden, Richard Wright, a ton of others), the artists' colony at Yaddo. The parties and the effervescence and the shared ideas and inspiration. I was VERY jealous. (I was kind of like, "Wow, my life is really limited. I have so few people to feed me in my creativity and passions and to support in turn. Is that why I'm not more successful?" But then I also remembered that there's a pandemic on, and maybe I can build a bigger community once/if we get past this and maybe I shouldn't compare myself to major literary figures because that will only make me sad.) She knew so many people and touched so many lives. She went out and asked (demanded) that people pay attention to her, AND THEY DID. She put herself out there, had heartache, made connections. All of that comes through. At the end, there's a place where the author uses Mary Mercer's idea that Carson required a seemingly endless parade of people to reflect her zest for life. Especially at the end of her life, when she was bedridden and in constant pain, she required people around her to tell her stories and bring her presents and entertain her and love her. And she loved them in return and drew them out and connected with them. She was A LOT to deal with, it sounds like. But many people thought she was worth the trouble. The author fundamentally sides with Carson: she was worth it and why WOULDN'T people want to pay homage to her? But there are suggestions that not everyone felt this way.
And that leads me back to the writing. McCullers had a stroke at 30 (or 31) that left her with physical difficulties for the rest of her life (20 years). By then she'd produced three fine novels, and the adaptation of The Member of the Wedding for Broadway made her fortune and cemented her reputation. And the rest of her life was spent finishing her last two novels and writing other shorter things. And a lot of the biography in this book has people emphasizing how much she accomplished at the end, in spite of her disabilities. (She even wanted to write a book called In Spite Of to collect the stories of people who had succeeded despite difficulties.) But these works are not as well-respected (which in and of itself doesn't mean much, of course) and a lot of her admirers and friends quoted/used at this point in the biography say something like, "Well, they're not that great, BUT she was going through so much and that counts for something." And I think the author leaves that a bit open-ended (or maybe I just perceived that): while pointing out all of Carson's difficulties, there's still a suggestion of unfulfilled potential and also of a lowered bar of success to accommodate those difficulties. I don't know if I'm making sense (or being ableist) here. I guess the book made me think about how society deals with suffering bodies (especially those of women) especially for artists. And the pain becomes part of the story, even if the pain isn't evident in the works themselves. It's like those in the know expect us to make allowances for women artists in pain while simultaneously belittling them by even drawing attention to it. Like, "Well, that was pretty good for a woman. A woman in pain." It feels condescending in places even as it could also be inspirational. I don't know that there's resolution here, but I liked that the book made me think about these things and wonder about the themes we work with in describing artists and their lives and the overlap therein (again, does the all-consuming artist seem weird or grotesque here merely because she's a woman? And/or maybe do we need to change our ideas about the price of genius on the people around them?).
And that's where I get the personal reaction here. I have a person in my life who is SO DEMANDING and such a bottomless pit of need that I will never fulfill them. And this person rules the people in their life by illness and pain combined with charm and vulnerability. This person uses weakness and willful helplessness and ignorance to dominate others. And so much of this book made me think about how hard it is to care for someone like that: by that I mean how hard it is to love them (family=have to) and to physically care for them. And Carson's physical difficulties were substantial but also some people questioned how she used them or exaggerated them for sympathy AND attention. So this book reminded me of a specific version of cultivated fragility that is particularly toxic. But in Carson's case led to, again, deep connections and some beautiful artistic works. The person in MY life does not seem to put this power to use in that particular direction. I have often wondered how to create this power, to get other people to do my bidding or accept my quirks, especially from a position of relative weakness. And I cannot figure out how it operates, how to recreate it. More importantly, I have not figured out how to escape it. (And I also don't know that becoming this would make me happy. I don't think the person in my life who is like this is particularly happy, and I don't think Carson was. I think she experienced love and happiness and much of what life has to offer, but that frantic insatiability and dissatisfaction doesn't seem to lead to long-term happiness.) There's a lot of class envy here: who wouldn't want a team of people supporting you to see that you got to go to Ireland while virtually an invalid? To take out seats from a commercial airplane and fill them with a custom-made seat for you to sit in for your travels? And there are plenty of people with disabilities who would LOVE to have the level of care and attention devoted to this one woman who wrote some pretty good books those times. The book chronicles this last trip (to John Huston's estate in Ireland, after he directed Reflections in a Golden Eye) of hers in admiring detail, and all I could think was "Wow, that's a lot of resources for one person. How many people in her condition DIDN'T get to go to Ireland?"
So the author creates this sympathetic portrait, but in the end, I thought A LOT about some issues about the nature and cultivation of "genius" and the cost of personal relationships.
This is an excellent biography of Carson McCullers. I would say that if you are a fan of McCullers, you will enjoy this. If not, it might be too in depth for non-fans (or just those who don't know of her). There is a great amount of detail which can sometimes bog it down slightly, but at the end you come away knowing there is likely very little (if anything) else to be known about Lula Carson.
As I said it is very in depth and covers her entire life, which was full of interesting people and events. There were many, many tragedies in Carson's life, including her terrible health problems that began at an early age. However, while all the sad aspects are covered in depth, there is never a overly gloomy feel when reading. The author doesn't "milk" the tragedies; she presents the facts and lets the reader feel the rest. While my heart broke several times in her story, it still didn't have an overwhelmingly sad feeling, which might be expected given the life McCullers lived.
While not the best biography I've ever read, this was highly enjoyable and for any McCullers fans it will be a good (if a little long) read, that will leave you feeling comfortable that you know all that you need to about Carson, and not the feeling of trying to search out other biographies. I think it's safe to say this is the definitive biography of one of the greatest fiction writers who has ever been published.
I am absolutely struggling through this biography. It has way too much irrelevant information and I am actually starting to skim the pages. I do not feel that it gives the reader all that much insight into carson Mc Cullers and her psychic and physical problems, but rather repeats itself incessantly about the same two books, and the same 5 friends: and at times reads more like a biography of Reeves Mc Cullers, her husband.
Despite having a NYT best-selling debut novel, subsequent novels that also did very well, short stories published in leading magazines, a stage play produced, and movie rights sold, Carson McCullers seems to have been always seeking financial support so that she could keep writing. She applied for three Guggenheims (got two), had a standing invitation to Yaddo, all expenses paid, received numerous grants, was always welcome in the homes of friends and fellow writers. And this in the so-called golden age of American literature and American publishing. So when was it exactly that a writer could support herself with her writing?
Well researched. It is interesting how reading a biography written a a while ago contains facts about a person's life that indicate information that was not specifically spelled out. I think this book, written in our current state of open sharing, would read much differently. I wanted to read this after reading "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter". Her best known novel, though very well written, for me, did not stand up over the course of time.
A super-sensationalist pot-boiler '70s biography. Way better than the more intellectually mature bio by Joysanne Savigneau; Virgina Spenser Carr seemed to believe everything anyone ever told her about Carson McCullers - from sherry-tea swilling to whorehouse living - making for a much better read.
I read this when it came out. I read it again later. I loved it and still love it. I think that Carr's bio is such a clear and loving portrait of Carson McCullers that I find it difficult to imagine a better one.
Set in the American south of the 1940’s, Carson McCullers, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, deals with the spiritual and emotional aloneness of people who are misfits. Biff, the generous Café owner who wears his dead wife’s perfume and collects old newspapers; Mick, the young girl who lives in her inner world of music; Dr. Copeland, the black doctor, whose dream of a better life for his people has driven his own family away; Jake whose forceful communist views make him an outcast; and there’s John Singer, the deaf mute who mourns the lost of a dear friend, and because of his handicap is attributed god-like characteristics. The author depicts the stark reality of racism, poverty, and the alienation associated with being different. The characters are memorable and the plot, though not fast-paced, is well crafted. A touching story, though not for those who expect a happy ending.
This is a very detailed 569 page biography. Carson McCullers wasn't what I expected. I assumed she was female Faulkner, who wrote and lived in the South. But while she wrote about Southerners, she lived almost her whole life in New York state, or France. She more or less left GA at age 22.
Anyway, while a fine writer she lived a rather sad and odd life. She underwent Psychiatric care, had a rocky marriage to a bi-sexual who committed suicide, and no kids. McCullers was a heavy drinker (sometimes a bottle of brandy a day) and smoker, and had a massive stroke at 30, resulting in chronic pain and mobility issues. By the late 1950s her arms/hands were so weak she couldn't write for long periods. By 1962 she was confined to a wheelchair. Her last best selling novel, published 6 years before her death at 50, was a triumph of will over adversity. Ms Carr gives it all to us with everything sourced.
However, despite all the details her sexuality and that of her husband remain ambigious. Probably because Carson wanted it that way. For example, Spencer Carr shows the official story of her affair with David Diamond was a lie. Carson's version was that she had an affair with Diamond that resulted in Reeves McCullers demanding a divorce. In fact, while Diamond was infatuated with Carson (many Gay men were), he became sexually obsessed with Reeves and the two men lived together. Eventually, they separated - but the divorce was initiated by Carson over Reeves forging her signature on bank checks.
Most Interesting Tid bit: McCullers was responsible for getting Truman Capote published. But thought Harper Lee was copying her and a fake.
Cons: I would've liked more lliterary criticism. She also does little analysis of McCullers religious/Cultural/political beliefs. She states them - but that's it.
trata-se da (monumental) biografia de carson mccullers, um trabalho de escrita e pesquisa que ocupou a autora durante vários anos. narrativa fluida, embora exaustiva nas referências factuais, fica-se preso logo desde as primeiras páginas, quando lula carson smith ainda era uma criança na cidade de columbus. para além da descrição de toda uma vida - sempre interligada com a obra - são-nos dados imensos episódios, comentários, personagens, etc etc, que conferem humanidade e autenticidade ao relato, contribuindo para sentirmos que é um pouco como se também lá tivéssemos estado - e esse é um dos melhores detalhes desta biografia.
Thorough to a fault. There was a lot of potential here given who Carson McCullers was, but in the biographer's effort to name each and every last person who ever met with McCullers, it read like an Old Testament listing of "so and so" begat "so and so". A damn tedious read, devoid of any emotion. I'm a finisher, and that is the only reason why I slogged away at this one. And it deserves a three star given how much research went into the writing of it. I'm thinking I'll stick with fiction for a while.
I'm a out-and-out cheater to say I read this book. I made it through about 3/5 of it. In general, I don't enjoy biographies. However, I read several Carson McCullers works in a row and was so in love with her writing--particularly in "The Member of the Wedding," but also in "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter," that I wanted to know more about this person who was able to faultlessly express the souls of her characters in lean, beautiful prose. However, the author's biographer, Carr, turned out to be a sloppy, poor writer, and, as I said, I could only proceed 3/5 of the way through the biography. Carson McCullers was flawed, but so gifted. Virginia Spencer Carr appears to have been an admirer of McCullers, but not much more.
From McCullers's birth in Columbus, Georgia, in 1917 to her death in upstate New York in 1967, The Lonely Hunter thoroughly covers every significant event in, and aspect of, the writer's life: her rise as a young literary sensation; her emotional, artistic, and sexual eccentricities and entanglements; her debilitating illnesses; her travels in America and Europe; and the provenance of her works from their earliest drafts through their book, stage, and film versions.