Illumination and Night Glare: The Unfinished Autobiography of Carson McCullers (Wisconsin Studies in Autobiography Series)

Overview

More than thirty years after it was written, the autobiography of Carson McCullers, Illumination and Night Glare, will be published for the first time. McCullers, one of the most gifted writers of her generation—the author of Member of the Wedding, Reflections in a Golden Eye, and The Ballad of Sad Cafe—died of a stroke at the age of fifty before finishing this, her last manuscript. Editor Carlos L. Dews has faithfully brought her story back to life, complete with never-before-published letters between McCullers ...

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Overview

More than thirty years after it was written, the autobiography of Carson McCullers, Illumination and Night Glare, will be published for the first time. McCullers, one of the most gifted writers of her generation—the author of Member of the Wedding, Reflections in a Golden Eye, and The Ballad of Sad Cafe—died of a stroke at the age of fifty before finishing this, her last manuscript. Editor Carlos L. Dews has faithfully brought her story back to life, complete with never-before-published letters between McCullers and her husband Reeves, and an outline of her most famous novel, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.

Looking back over her life from a precocious childhood in Georgia to her painful decline from a series of crippling strokes, McCullers offers poignant and unabashed remembrances of her early writing success, her family attachments, a troubled marriage to a failed writer, and friendships with literary and film luminaries (Gypsy Rose Lee, Richard Wright, Isak Dinesen, John Huston, Marilyn Monroe), and the intense relationships of the important women in her life.

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Editorial Reviews

Elizabeth Millard
For anyone who has come to enjoy the graceful and down-to-earth writing of McCullers, this book will be indispensable.
ForeWord
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
On the heels of Ernest Hemingway's True at First Light and Ralph Ellison's Juneteenth, McCullers's disappointing unfinished autobiography should spark further debate over the ethics of publishing incomplete and flawed posthumous works by heralded authors. While McCullers (1917-1967) was one of the South's most lyrical and insightful novelists, this mishmash of a memoir is certainly one of her least successful ventures. Dews, a University of West Florida English professor, admits that the discursive, "free-associative style of the narrative" may be hard to follow, but he argues that a "chain of associations" provides its guiding organizational principle. Links in this "chain" include McCullers's relationship with her husband, Reeves McCullers, who killed himself in 1953; her maternal grandmother and friends, famous and otherwise; and her views on art. Still, the book remains a perplexing pastiche, and the author herself emerges as self-absorbed and dull. McCullers's discussions of other writers seem little more than exercises in name-dropping and benign gossip (surely, for example, more can be said of Isak Dinesen than that she had a late-life penchant for oysters and champagne). As for her own writing, McCullers too often expresses surprise over how "illumination," or "creative inspiration," would break upon her unexpectedly. But a long outline of McCullers's first novel, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, reveals the intensive planning and discipline that her art required. (Sept.) FYI: In The Flowering Dream: The Historical Saga of Carson McCullers, Nancy B. Rich surveys McCullers's major works and contends that they form "a saga of man's struggle for freedom in the western world." (Chapel Hill Press [100 Eastwood Lake Rd., Chapel Hill, N.C. 27514], $25 136p ISBN 1-880849-14-3; Aug.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
In the 50th and final year of her life (1967), McCullers began composing her autobiography, structured around her creative inspirations ("illumination") and the horrors and tragedies in her life ("night glare"). This publication, based on two typescripts housed at the University of Texas, is the draft she dictated to a group of friends, family members, and secretaries from her bed in Nyack, NY, before suffering a final stroke. As intended by McCullers, the appendixes include the outline of her first novel, The Mute, written in 1938 and published as The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1940), and the first publication of World War II correspondence between McCullers and her husband, Reeves. In this significant contribution to literary scholarship, editor Dews (English, Univ. of West Florida) provides an interesting biographical introduction with comments on the omissions and "exaggerations" in the autobiography and a chronology covering McCullers's life. Readers will find themselves as easily immersed in this work as in McCullers's fiction and will feel sad and rudely shaken when it ends abruptly.--Jeris Cassel, Rutgers Univ. Libs., New Brunswick, NJ Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Gray
...an extraordinary document. Dictated in an idiomatic, associative style, it exposes the doubleness of McCullers's life...A rich mine of information for anyone interested in McCullers, and American literary life in the 1950's, these memoirs are also a testament to the courage and sheer love of life of their author.
The Times Literary Supplement
Kirkus Reviews
Unfinished draft of a retrospection, including the inspirations for The Member of the Wedding and The Ballad of the Sad Café, and the "nightmare glare" of her paralyzing strokes. In her last year, 1967, McCullers described her projected autobiography as a means by which both future students and she herself could understand her life: her overnight literary success with The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter and her "holy terror" career, her crippling illnesses, her unstable husband, Reeves, and, supplying the work's title, her moments of inspiration and periods of depression. After two posthumous biographies, there are no great surprises or revelations here, only the advantage of McCullers's testimony in her own voice. Engaging in what editor Dews calls "de-mythologizing and re-mythologizing," McCullers vividly recounts her family life and childhood in Georgia and her intense friendships with her childhood music teacher, the émigrée Annemarie Clarac-Schwarzenbach, and her therapist, Dr. Mary Mercer (but omits entirely her fallen-out friend composer David Diamond). Although she had been writing her autobiography for a few years, Dews (English/Univ. of West Florida) suggests, the bulk of this text was dictated because of her deteriorating physical condition, and because of this, it has both a conversational tone and a looser prose style than her earlier personal essays, not to mention unpolished construction. In addition to the extensive outline to "The Mute," The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter's first incarnation, McCullers also wanted Illumination and Night Glare bulked up with extracts from letters exchanged between herself and Reeves during WWII before they remarried, lettersthat chart their relationship's fluctuations as Reeves re-wooed McCullers with grim tales of the European front, then fell silent once McCullers began writing regularly and passionately. Contains glimmerings of promised illuminations, as well as a great deal of humor about herself, but it feels hurried, as though she knew how little time she had left. (21 b&w photos, not seen)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780299164447
  • Publisher: University of Wisconsin Press
  • Publication date: 12/28/2001
  • Series: Wisconsin Studies in Autobiography Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 231
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Carlos L. Dews is associate professor and chair of the department of English and foreign languages at the University of West Florida. He is the founding president of the Carson McCullers Society and editor of the Library of America’s Carson McCullers: Complete Novels.

Biography

Carson McCullers, novelist, short story writer, and playwright, was born Lula Carson Smith on February 19, 1917, in Columbus, Georgia, the daughter of Lamar Smith, a jewelry storeowner, and Vera Marguerite Waters. Best known for her novels The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, The Ballad of the Sad Café, Reflections in a Golden Eye, and The Member of the Wedding, McCullers also won awards for her adaptation of The Member of the Wedding for the Broadway stage. After completing high school, Carson studied for two years in New York before marrying James Reeves McCullers and moving to New York permanently upon the publication of her first novel, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, in 1940 when McCullers was only 23. Heralded as a wunderkind by critics, McCullers' most significant was published between 1943 and 1950. Plagued by a series of strokes attributed to a mis-diagnosed and untreated case of childhood rheumatic fever, McCullers died at age fifty in 1967. With a collection of work including five novels, two plays, twenty short stories, over two dozen nonfiction pieces, a book of children's verses, a small number of poems, and an unfinished autobiography, McCullers is considered among the most significant American writers of the twentieth-century.

Author biography courtesy of The Carson McCullers Center for Writers and Musicians at Columbus State University, Columbus, GA.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Lula Carson Smith (birth name)
    1. Date of Birth:
      February 19, 1917
    2. Place of Birth:
      Columbus, Georgia
    1. Date of Death:
      November 29, 1967
    2. Place of Death:
      Nyack, New York

Read an Excerpt




Chapter One

Illumination and Night Glare
The Unfinished Autobiography of Carson McCullers


[Illumination and Night Glare]


       My life has been almost completely filled with work and love, thank goodness. Work has not always been easy, nor has love, may I add. My working life was almost blighted at the time I was seventeen and for a number of years, by a novel I simply could not understand. I had at least rive or six characters who were very clear in my mind. Each of these characters were always talking to the central character. I understood them, but the main character was unfocussed, although I knew that he was central to the book. Time and again I thought I would just write these characters as short stories, but always I was restrained, because I knew that this mysterious creation was going to be a novel.

    Then suddenly, as I was walking up and down the rug in my living room, skipping every other square in the design, and worn out with the problem I had set for myself, the solution all at once came to me. The central character, the silent one, had always been called Harry Minowitz, but as I was thinking and pacing, I realized that he was a deaf mute, and that was why the others were always talking to him, and why, of course, he never answered.

    This was a real illumination, lighting each of the characters and bringing the whole book into focus. [Straightaway], Harry Minowitz's name was changed to Singer, as the name was more expressive to the new conception, andwith this fresh understanding, the book was well begun. As a preface I wrote the following passage:


[The broad principal theme of this book is indicated in the first dozen pages. This is the theme of man's revolt against his own inner isolation and his urge to express himself as fully as is possible. Surrounding this general idea there are several counter themes and some of these may be stated briefly as follows: (1) There is a deep need in man to express himself by creating some unifying principle or God. A personal God created by a man is a reflection of himself and in substance this God is most often inferior to his creator. (2) In a disorganized society these individual Gods or principles are likely to be chimerical and fantastic. (3) Each man must express himself in his own way—but this is often denied to him by a tasteful, short-sighted society. (4) Human beings are innately cooperative, but an unnatural social tradition makes them behave in ways that are not in accord with their deepest nature. (5) Some men are heroes by nature in that they will give all that is in them without regard to the effort or to the personal returns.

    Of course these themes are never stated nakedly in the book. Their overtones are felt through the characters and situations. Much will depend upon the insight of the reader and the care with which the book is read. In some parts the underlying ideas will be concealed far down below the surface of a scene and at other times these ideas will be shown with a certain emphasis. In the last few pages the various motifs which have been recurring from time to time throughout the book are drawn sharply together and the work ends with a sense of cohesive finality.

    The general outline of this work can be expressed very simply. It is the story of rive isolated, lonely people in their search for expression and spiritual integration with something greater than themselves. One of these five persons is a deaf mute, John Singer—and it is around him that the whole book pivots. Because of their loneliness these other four people see in the mute a certain mystic superiority and he becomes in a sense their ideal. Because of Singer's infirmity his outward character is vague and unlimited. His friends are able to impute to him all the qualities which they would wish for him to have. Each one of these four people creates his understanding of the mute from his own desires. Singer can read lips and understand what is said to him. In his eternal silence there is something compelling. Each one of these persons makes the mute the repository for his most personal feelings and ideas.

    This situation between the four people and the mute has an almost exact parallel in the relation between Singer and his deaf-mute friend, Antonapoulos. Singer is the only person who could attribute to Antonapoulos dignity and a certain wisdom. Singer's love for Antonapoulos threads through the whole book from the first page until the very end. No part of Singer is left untouched by this love and when they are separated his life is meaningless and he is only marking time until he can be with his friend again. Yet the four people who count themselves as Singer's friends know nothing about Antonapoulos at all until the book is nearly ended. The irony of this situation grows slowly and steadily more apparent as the story progresses.

    When Antonapoulos dies finally of Bright's disease Singer, overwhelmed by loneliness and despondency, turns on the gas and kills himself. Only then do these other four characters begin to understand the real Singer at ail.

    About this central idea there is much of the quality and tone of a legend. All the parts dealing directly with Singer are written in the simple style of a parable.

    Before the reasons why this situation came about can be fully understood it is necessary to know each of the principal characters in some detail. But the characters cannot be described adequately without the events which happen to them being involved. Nearly all of the happenings in the book spring directly from the characters. During the space of this book each person is shown in his strongest and most typical actions.

    Of course it must be understood that none of these personal characteristics are told in the didactic manner in which they are set down here. They are implied in one successive scene after another—and it is only at the end, when the sum of these implications is considered, that the real characters are understood in all of their deeper aspects.]


    The next day I actually began the book: "In the town there were two mutes and they were always together." For a year or so I worked steadily and when my teacher, Sylvia Chatfield Bates, with whom I had studied writing for a semester at N.Y.U. wrote me that Houghton [Mifflin] was conducting a contest for a first novel, I wrote a detailed working outline of ["The Mute"] and submitted it to them along with the 100 or so pages I had already completed. That outline was a moral support to me, [although] I have never before or again worked so closely with an outline. That outline appears in the appendix. It did not win the prize, but [Houghton Mifflin] offered me a contract, which in my mind was almost as good, and so I returned to my writing.

    Meanwhile, in 1937 in my nineteenth year I had fallen in love and married with Reeves McCullers. I told my parents I didn't want to marry him until I first had experienced sex with him because how would I know whether I would like marriage or not? In doing so, I felt I had to confess to my parents. I said marriage was a promise & like other promises I did not want to promise Reeves until I was dead sure whether I liked sex with him. Reading Isadora Duncan & "Lady [Chatterley's] Lover" was one thing but personal experience was another. Besides in all the books there were little asterisks when it came to the point of what you really wanted to know. When I asked my mother about sex she asked me to come behind the holly tree & said with her sublime simplicity, "Sex, my darling, takes place where you sit down." I was therefore forced to read sex text books, which made it seem so very dull, as well as incredible.

    I told my parents my plan was to join Reeves who was living in Goldens Bridge for the winter. They respected me for my frankness and with some reluctance, let me go.

    The sexual experience was not like D. H. Lawrence. No grand explosions or colored lights, but it gave me a chance to know Reeves better, and really learn to love him. We treated ourselves to pink champagne and tomatoes out of season. I also told Reeves about "The Mute," my working title for "The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter" and he was as thrilled as I was. It was going to be a marriage of love and writing for both of us. In Sylvia Bates' class, I had actually had my first story published in 1936 in Story Magazine which was called ["Wunderkind"]. (It is hard to realize the prestige & importance that Story Magazine had at that time for young authors.) Exhilarated by this also, Reeves thought he himself would like to be a writer. On September 20, [1937] we were married, and I went on with "The Mute."

    After his brief series of courses; philosophy, psychology, in [N.Y.,] etc., Reeves found a job in North Carolina and we moved to Charlotte.

    My life was following a pattern I have always followed. Work and love.

    ["The Mute,"] my first title, later was changed to "The Heart [Is] a Lonely Hunter" by my publisher, a title which I was pleased with, took me two years to write, and they were very happy years for me. I worked hard and loved hard. Directly after "Heart" was finished in 1939, I immediately began another work which was "Reflections in a Golden Eye."


* * *


The pattern of love had begun when I was a child. I adored an old lady who smelled always of lemon verbena sachet. I slept with her and cozied in the dark. Often she would say, ["Bring] up the chair, darling, and climb to the top drawer of the bureau," and there I would find some goody. A little cup cake, or once, to my delight, some [kumquats]. This first love was my grandmother, whom I called Mommy.

    Her life had not been a happy one, although she never complained. Her husband had died of alcoholism after years of being tended by a strong man-servant who could control his sudden [fits.] However, Mommy never had bad feelings against alcohol. Once, towards the last of her illnesses, some ladies from the [Woman's Christian Temperance Union] came to call. [They] were so serious it looked like a delegation.

    "I know what you're here for," Mommy said. "You're here to arrange about that badge, purple and gold, to put over my body, but I tell you now I won't have it. I come from a long line of drinking men. My father drank, my son-in-law [Lamar] who is a saint drinks also. How sad it makes me when I hear that [POP,] and I know that all his home brew has exploded. And I drink also."

    The ladies said in shocked voices, "You could not Mrs. Waters!"

    "I do every night—[Lamar] fixes me a toddy, and moreover, I enjoy it."

    "Well! Mrs. Waters," the delegation said aghast.

    When [Daddy] came into the room, Mommy said mischievously, ["Is] it time for my toddy yet [Lamar]? I think it would be delicious now."

    "Would any of you ladies like to join us?" Daddy asked.

    But already the WCTU were fleeing in horror.

    "To tell you the truth [Lamar], those WCTU ladies are awfully narrowminded, although I guess it's wicked of me to say so."

    "Very wicked," my Daddy said, as he poured her toddy.

    She was supported by her father-in-law and her [brothers]. Her brothers came every day to her home for dinner at noon, but she had to ask them every time she wanted them to buy circus tickets for the children. It was a time and place when men did not think that women had good sense. Therefore, they themselves would order barrels of flour, salt-pork and other staples and have it sent to her house. They also ordered her children's clothes, which did not suit her at all, and very often did not even fit. Still, she was well provided for, perhaps too well provided for, for her taste.

    During Mommy's terminal illness, my brother, sister and I were sent to Aunt Tieh's, where we had five cousins. It was marvelous sleeping in the enormous sleeping porch. My eldest cousin would tell us fairy tales about the glass mountain, Aesop's fables, and we would happily doze off. Aunt [Tieh] had a wonderful [scuppernong] arbor and many fruit trees. There was always [Tupelo] honey at the breakfast table and often ripe, peeled figs over which we would pour fresh, thick cream. On Sundays we always had ice cream, and I was allowed to churn it and of course, lick the dasher. I hardly realized it when the [gardener] told me that my grandmother was dead. So we were driven home in the old Dodge car by Aunt [Tieh].

    At home, when I saw the wreath on the door, I knew that something strange and uncanny had happened. I flung myself to the floor in the hall and some moments later I had a convulsion. [When I was calm that afternoon] Mother wanted me to kiss my grandmother, but I said firmly, ["She's] dead isn't she, and you don't kiss dead people. [Kissing is for live people.]" Though my grandmother was dead, her spirit still lives with me, and I've always had a picture of her on my wall. A young, beautiful widow with five children.

    Mother and Daddy I also loved, but Mommy was someone always special to me. It was she who owned the house we lived in. It was a narrow house on 13th Street, Columbus, Georgia. [The floors creaked in the way of old houses.] She owned that house and the two properties behind it. It was in this house that I was born and lived throughout my early childhood. My parents and grandmother would not let me play with the neighbor's children, except Helen Harvey, the girl who lived across the street.


* * *


[missing text] ... of Health & Beauty, which made my parents roar, considering all the convulsions I'd had. School was all right as I learned easily & went straight to the piano in the afternoon. I spent practically no time on homework. I passed every grade, but that was all. I liked to climb a tree in the backyard & sit in a tree house my brother & I had made. We had an elaborate signal system for the cook, who was awfully nice to fasten a string in a basket & bring up goodies. Years later when I was troubled I would still take refuge in that same tree house.

    I had heard horrifying things about high school. I had heard, for instance, that when Miss Cheeves was dead her brain was going to be sent to the Smithsonian Institute Museum because she was so smart. Mother dressed me in a pink wool suit & I set out for that scary high school. It was not as bad as I thought. I still wanted to be a concert pianist so my parents did not make me go every day. I just went enough to keep up with the classes. Now, years later, the high school teachers who taught me are extremely puzzled that anyone as negligent as I was could be a successful author. The truth is I don't believe in school, whereas I believe very strongly in a thorough musical education. My parents agreed with me. I'm sure I missed certain social advantages by being such a loner but it never bothered me.

    The first week at school I was literally captured by a girl when I was in the basement. She threw me to the floor & said "Say fuck three times."

    "What is [it?"] I asked.

    "Never mind what it is, you lily pure innocent, just say it."

    All the time she was grinding my face against the cement floor.

    "Well [fuck,"] I [said.]

    "Say it 3 [times."]

    "Fuck, fuck, [fuck,"] I said quickly, and she let me go.

     I can still feel her foul breath on my face & her sweating hands. When I was released I ran straight home but did not tell my parents because I knew it was something ugly & wicked.

    "What happened to your face?" my mother asked.

    "Just one of the things in high school," I said. Although nothing else that dramatic ever happened to me, the dullness of school was a dreadful experience. When I graduated at 17, I didn't even attend ail the ceremonies, but asked the principal to keep my diploma, as my brother would pick it up the next day.

    However, my childhood was not lonely because when I was 5 years old [in] 1922, my Daddy bought a piano. My Aunt Tieh had a piano and I had touched it gingerly and even arranged a few chords, so when my piano arrived I sat down immediately and began to play. To my parents this seemed a miracle.

    "What was I playing?" they asked me.

    "A tune I had made up," I told them. [Then I swung into "Yes, We Have No Bananas."]

    They decided that I ought to have a music teacher, and so they asked Mrs. Kierce to give me lessons twice a week.

    I did not much like the lessons, and still preferred to make up my own tunes. Mrs. Kierce was impressed, and very conscientiously wrote down the music. I studied with her until I heard a recital by Mrs. Tucker, about ten years later, and I hoped that she could be my teacher. I discussed it with Mrs. Kierce, and she agreed with me.

    The work I played for my new teacher was the 2nd Hungarian Rhapsody. She once said it was the fastest, loudest Hungarian Rhapsody she had ever heard, and she accepted me as a pupil. Not only as a pupil—I spent every Saturday at her home, and she started me on Bach, whom I had never heard before.

    Mrs. Tucker was to me the embodiment of Bach, Mozart, and all beautiful music, which at age thirteen had enveloped all my soul. It was at a concert of Rachmaninoff that I met my first [grown] friend.

    He was twenty-three and I seventeen and we could talk about all sorts of things together. Not only music, but he introduced me to Karl Marx and Engels, that was one of the things that furthered my thinking about justice. I had realized so often during the [Depression], when I saw [Negroes] rooting through the garbage pails at home, and coming to the house to beg, that there was something fearful and wrong with the world, but I had not in any way thought of it intellectually.

    My new friend, Edwin Peacock, came every Saturday afternoon, and his visits were a joy to me. I was not ["in love"] but it was real friendship, which has indeed lasted throughout all my life.


* * *


It was my joy to go to town to shop with my Mother and Grandmother. Then, one day when they had taken me to buy material; my Mother always made my dresses, my Grandmother my underclothes, my Mommy sat down on a stool in the drug store and said she didn't feel so well. Mother arranged for a taxi and told me to take her home and have Cleo, the maid, undress her and put her to bed.

    "It's nothing," my Grandmother said, "just a little dizziness."

    Feeling very important, I got Mommy to the taxi and took her home. Cleo and I both undressed her. However, in spite of her protests, it was not just a slight dizziness. It was Pernicious Anemia, and she died a year later.


* * *


I yearned for one particular thing; to get away from Columbus and to make my mark in the world. At first I wanted to be a concert pianist, and Mrs. Tucker encouraged me in this. Then I realized that Daddy would not be able to send me to [Juilliard] or any other [great] school of music to study. I know my Daddy was embarrassed about this, and loving him as I did, I quietly put away all thoughts of a music career, and told him I had switched "Professions" and was going to be a writer. That was something I could do at home, and I wrote every morning.

    My first book was called "A Reed of Pan," and it was, of course, about a musician who really studied and accomplished things. However, I was not satisfied with the book and did not send it to New York, although I'd heard of agents and so forth. I was sixteen years old and kept on writing. The next book was called ["Brown River."] I don't remember very much about it except it was strongly influenced by ["Sons and Lovers."]


* * *


My grandmother had willed "to her gray-eyed grandchild" the only article of value that she had; a beautiful emerald and diamond ring. I put it on my hand just once, because I knew that I had to sell it. My Daddy, who was a jeweler in the town, sold it so that I was able to go to New York and take a course in creative writing and philosophy.

    So, at last, I was leaving home and going to study. A girl I'd never met before was taking courses at Columbia, and she invited me to share her room with her. Daddy took one look at her and was dubious about the arrangements, because the girl had dyed hair, at a time when only ["fast"] girls dyed their hair. However, he let me go.

    I [traveled] by boat from Savannah to New York, so for the first time I saw the ocean, and later, marvel of marvels, I saw snow.

    My new friend lived upstairs over a linen shop. Immediately I noticed that she was seldom at home—in fact, she had a boy-friend with whom she spent the night. A man followed me upstairs and tried to put his arms around me but I pushed him away so violently that he ricocheted against the wall. So I was stuck there in that lonely room, with a sense of menace and a fear of strange men. [In the daytime I'd go to Macy's and just sit in a telephone booth where I knew I was safe. Then back to the horror of a sleepless night.]

    Finally, I had the sense to go to the Dean of Women at Columbia, and ask her advice.

    "How old are you?" she asked me.

    "17," I said proudly.

    "You're much too young to be living alone in the city," and she suggested a [Girl's] Club for students.

    I got my belongings together and moved into the Parnassus Club. There, for the first time in more than a week, I slept. I slept for twenty-four hours.

    A girl at the Club was practicing a Bach Fugue, and I felt completely at home. I made friends easily and thankfully. When my first and special friend told me that she was going to move to the Three Arts Club, I decided to join her.

    Since my financial means were somewhat slender, I got a job with a magazine called [More Fun and New Comics.] Me, a tragic writer, editing the funny papers. The job was to be the ["front man"] for, as I soon discovered, the magazines were being sued. I was sincerely grateful when they fired me after a couple of months.

    I coasted along when my Daddy sent me a small check. Then I was faced with the job situation again, and I found one with Mrs. Louise B. [Field], who insisted on calling me a Real Estate "salesman." I checked with customers about apartments in New York. The main part of the job, I remember, was getting sour cream for Mrs. [Field], which she would eat with a long ice tea spoon. But once, when I was reading Proust behind the ledger and got involved in a long Proustian sentence, Mrs. [Field] caught me. She picked up the ledger and banged me over the head with it. Her parting, venomous shot was "you will never amount to anything in this world," and banged me again with the ledger. So, under such circumstances, I was fired again.

    Meanwhile, my friend Edwin in Columbus, had written me that while he was at the library he had met a young man and had invited him to his house for drinks. He said he was charming, and he thought that I would like him very much and we would get together when I came home. So in June of [1935] I went home and met Reeves McCullers at Edwin Peacock's apartment. It was a shock, the shock of pure beauty, when I first saw him; he was the best looking man I had ever seen. He also talked of Marx and Engels, and I knew he was a liberal, which was important, to my mind, in a backward Southern community. Edwin, Reeves and I spent whole days together, and one night when Reeves and I were walking alone, looking up at the stars, I did not realize how time had passed, and when Reeves brought me home, my parents were distressed, as it was two o'clock in the morning. However, my mother was also charmed by Reeves, and he would bring her beautiful records. At that time he was a clerk in the army at Ft. Benning, Georgia. We both loved sports and often Reeves would borrow Edwin's bicycle and we would go off to the Girl's Scout Camp, about thirty miles away. Mother would pack a lunch and we'd ride side by side, stopping off now and then for a cold [Coke]. Chess was his great hobby, and after swimming in the brown, cool water, we would play a game, (he would always beat me.) Then swimming again and then the long ride home. I was eighteen years old, and this was my first love. He was going to New York to study, and I knew his departure would be sad for me.

    I'd been writing for a couple of years and Reeves said he was going to be a writer also. Late that summer I developed a low-grade fever, and the [doctor] suspected Tuberculosis, so I was kept at home. It turned out to be a childhood attack of Rheumatic fever, but was never properly diagnosed, as [such.]

    Reeves left at the beginning of the school year in early September, having bought himself out of the army. At the same time his Aunt had left him some money which he very generously wanted to divide with me, but I refused and told him he would need it to get through school. I did not realize the lost quality of Reeves until he was truly lost.

    In the meantime, with Reeves gone and Edwin my only friend, I lived in the thought of his return at Christmas rime. Fearful & ill, I spent my time writing and hoping and waiting for Reeves. He came back at Christmas and for the first time we drank Sherry instead of the beer we had always drunk together. Occasionally he drank whiskey. No, I never recognized the lost quality of Reeves McCullers until it was much too late to save him or myself. He had a splendid constitution and I would not have recognized alcoholism in those days. We had never made love sexually because I told him I did not want that experience until I was clear in my mind that I would love him forever.

    After the Christmas holidays Reeves persuaded me to join him in New York. I was much better, although I still had the low-grade temperature. I told my parents I was going with him, and so we went to his apartment in Westchester.

    As soon as I arrived there Reeves dropped out of school, and we spent two months together. I told him I felt he should have a job before we married, so we went down South again. He went to Charlotte, North Carolina, while I stayed in Columbus. Finally, he wired he had a job and was coming to get me. When I think of my parents' patience and understanding I can only marvel.

    "She's the most truthful child I've ever known" my father always said, but now that I'm an adult, I wonder at their patience & understanding.

    So Reeves and I were married in 1937 in the living room at home, and went to Charlotte to begin married life.

    My cousin insisted I was married in a green velvet gown and oxfords. Could be? I can't remember. There was nobody at the wedding but Edwin and the immediate family. Edwin played the Bach double concerto for violins softly during the ceremony, and [Mother] wept as [mothers] are supposed to do, and [Daddy] blew his nose. After the ceremony we had the usual chicken salad and Champagne.

    The first days of my married life were happy although I made the usual bride's mistakes. I cooked a beautiful chicken, after carefully removing all the pin feathers, and put it in the oven, not realizing it also had to be cleaned. When Reeves came home he [said, "What] in the world is this awful odor in the house?"

    Absorbed in "The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter," I had not noticed anything. Reeves opened the windows, turned on the electric fan and [said,] "Baby, what is it?" I told him I was cooking a chicken and it seemed to be rotten. It took a little time before we realized my mistake; I had neglected to clean the inside of the chicken. He just laughed and said, ["We'd] better eat at the S & W tonight." In spite of that experience, married life was both exhilarating and a comfort. Every day when I'd finish my work, I would read it out loud to Reeves, and at one point I asked, ["Do] you think it's good?"

    He said, "No! I don't think it's good—I know it's great."

    The outline, which I more or less [stuck] to, was a moral support to me. In this respect, I must say, I had never written so detailed an outline, and that was only done because of the Houghton Mifflin contest.

    I looked forward to Saturday, because that was the day I cleaned the apartment instead of writing. Reeves gave [me moral support] and wrang out the wash which was too heavy for me.

    We had no [other] friends and were content to be alone. On Saturday night, the house shining and my pencils sharpened and put away, we went to the wine store and bought a gallon of Sherry, and occasionally Reeves would take me to the S & W, which was an inexpensive restaurant in town. I could feel in Reeves none of the unhappiness or dissatisfaction that later [led] to his ruin and death.

    Our aim in life during those days was to go to New York, and often we would just look at the parked cars with New York license plates and dream about the time when we, too, could go to the magic city.

    At 4:00 AM one morning, after about two years of marriage, and with my full consent, Reeves indeed set out for the city, while I waited at home. Home was not a pleasant place without him. I was more aware of the miserable surroundings after he left.

    It was a one family home, divided into little rabbit warrens with plywood partitions, and only one toilet to serve ten or more people. In the room next door to me there was a sick child, an idiot, who bawled all day. The [husband] would come in [and] slap her, and the mother would cry.

    "If I ever get out of this house," I would say to myself, but the words dwindled after the scream of the sick child, and the poor mother's useless efforts to calm her. I hated to go to the toilet because of the stench. I know my parents would have helped if they had seen me in such misery, but I was too proud.

    After one day of job searching Reeves returned. He had found nothing, but he said he had some leads.

    A month later we went to New York, as I had gotten some money from Houghton Mifflin who had finally published "The Heart." At that moment, Reeves had accepted an invitation to sail a boat to Nantucket, (he was a good sailor) with a friend called Jack, whom we had met a few months previously. After the poverty we had suffered, I hesitated to take a train, so I took a bus alone and went to stay temporarily with Miss Mills, whom I'd met in one of my writing classes. She found me a cheap boarding house somewhere on the West side, where there, cut off and lonely, I passed the day that my first book was published.

    Meanwhile, I got a mysterious telegram from Robert Linscott, whom I vaguely recognized as one of my publishers, to meet him the next day at the Bedford Hotel. My solitude was lightened. It was June, 1940, and I wondered what dress I should wear. Since my work had removed me quite from the world of fashion, I saw that none of my old clothes would do. I went to [Klein's] and in the heat and clamor of that store I bought a summer suit. So next day I was all ready for Mr. Linscott.

    In the meantime I had started a third novel; I guess that once started, I was unable to stop writing. It was to be a book about a Jew from Germany. I wanted advice desperately so I had written to [Erika] Mann asking for her help. She was very kind and set up an appointment with me, and it worked out that since both she and Mr. Linscott were staying at the Bedford Hotel, we were all able to meet each other for the first time that day in her room.

    We discussed the publication of "Heart," and I told Mr. Linscott I'd already written a second novel.

    "One thing at a time, my dear," he said.

    He invited me to come to Boston to stay with him and his family, and I promptly accepted. He was the best editor at Houghton Mifflin and he gave me good advice. At this same meeting I discussed the plans for my new book, and Miss Mann gave me welcome advice also.

    While we were thus engaged a stranger came into [Erika's] room. She had a face that I knew would haunt me to the end of my life, beautiful, blonde, with straight short hair. There was a look of suffering on her face that I could not define. As she was bodily resplendent I could only think of [Myshkin's] meeting with [Nastasya Filippovna] in the "Idiot," in which he experienced "terror, pity and love." She was introduced by [Erika] as Madame Clarac. She was dressed in the height of simple summer fashion, that even I could recognize as a creation of one of the great Paris [couturiers]. I did not know that a dear friend of hers picked out all of her clothes, as [Annemarie] wouldn't have cared or noticed.

    She asked me to call her [Annemarie] right away, and we became friends immediately. At her invitation, I saw her the next day and she said, "You don't know what it means to be cured of this terrible habit."

    "What terrible habit?" I asked.

    "Didn't anybody tell you about me?"

    "No," I said, "What's there to tell?"

    "I've been taking morphine since I'm eighteen years old."

    Knowing nothing of morphine or the effects of the habit, I was not as impressed as I should have been.

    She skipped abruptly to her wanderings in Afghanistan, Egypt, Syria and all the Far East. Fascinated as I was, I was bewildered.

    "I love you well enough to ask you to promise me that you will never take dope."

    "Dope?" I said, as it was the last thing that would ever occur to me.

(Continues...)

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Table of Contents

Illustrations
Preface
Acknowledgments
Introduction
Illumination and Night Glare 3
World War II Correspondence of Carson and Reeves McCullers 81
App. I Outline of "The Mute" 163
App. II Chronology 185
App. III Editorial Apparatus and Practices and List of Emendations and Corrections 209
Bibliography 225
Index 227
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