When The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter was published in 1940, Carson McCullers was instantly recognized as one of the most promising writers of her generation. The novels that followed established her as a master of Southern Gothic. This Library of America volume collects McCullers’s complete novels for the first time in a single-volume edition that reveals the power and breadth of her haunting vision.
“McCullers’s gift,” writes Joyce Carol Oates, “was to evoke, through an accumulation of images and musically repeated phrases, the singularity of experience, not to pass judgment on it.” McCullers effortlessly conveyed the raw anguish of her characters and the weird beauty of their perceptions. Set in small Georgia towns that are at once precisely observed and mythically resonant, McCullers’s novels explore the strange, sometimes grotesque inner lives of characters who are often marginal and misunderstood. Above all, McCullers possessed an unmatched ability to capture the bewilderment and fragile wonder of adolescence.
In The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1940), one of the most extraordinary debuts in modern American literature, an enigmatic deaf-mute draws out the haunted confessions of an itinerant worker, a young girl, a doctor, and a widowed owner of a small-town café. The disfiguring violence of desire is explored with shocking intensity in two shorter works, Reflections in a Golden Eye (1941) and The Ballad of the Sad Café (1943).
The Member of the Wedding (1946), thought by many to be McCullers’s masterpiece, hauntingly depicts a young girl’s fascination with her brother’s wedding. In 13-year-old Frankie Addams, confused, easily wounded, yet determined to survive, McCullers created her most indelible protagonist. Clock Without Hands (1960), her final novel, was completed against great odds in the midst of tremendous physical suffering. Set against the background of court-ordered school integration, it contains some of McCullers’s most forceful social criticism.
LIBRARY OF AMERICA is an independent nonprofit cultural organization founded in 1979 to preserve our nation’s literary heritage by publishing, and keeping permanently in print, America’s best and most significant writing. The Library of America series includes more than 300 volumes to date, authoritative editions that average 1,000 pages in length, feature cloth covers, sewn bindings, and ribbon markers, and are printed on premium acid-free paper that will last for centuries.
About the Author
Carson McCullers was born Lula Carson Smith in Columbus, Georgia, on February 19, 1917. At the age of nineteen she published her first short story, "Wunderkind," in Story magazine, and soon was contributing fiction to The New Yorker, Harper's Bazaar, and Mademoiselle. She won early critical and commercial success with her first novel, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1940), published when she was only twenty-three. Over the next quarter-century she published four more novels and a collection of short stories, and found Broadway success with her play The Member of the Wedding (produced in 1950). After a series of increasingly debilitating strokes, she died in Nyack, N.Y., in 1967, at the age of fifty.
Carlos L. Dews is the editor of the two-volume Library of America Carson McCullers edition as well a Illumination and Night Glare: The Unfinished Autobiography of Carson McCullers (University of Wisconsin Press, 1999). He is chair of the Department of English Language and Literature at John Cabot University, Rome, and the Director of JCU's Institute for Creative Writing and Literary Translation.
Date of Birth:February 19, 1917
Date of Death:November 29, 1967
Place of Birth:Columbus, Georgia
Place of Death:Nyack, New York
Education:Columbia University and New York University, 1935
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter - A book about dignity. I can't believe she wrote this when she was 23. It has a wise old salt sort of insight into human nature about it. Very sad, but somehow affirming for all that. (Read early 2005)
Member of the WeddingThis is a coming of age story about Frankie Adams, a twelve year old girl who lives in a small Southern town with her widowed father. Frankie spends most of her time with Berenice Sadie Brown who is the black cook for the family and her six year old cousin John Henry West. They are usually in the kitchen talking about whatever comes to mind.Frankie is at that age where she is not sure who she is, she changes her name to F. Jasmine during the story, or where she is going. Early in the story her brother Jarvis decides to marry his fiancee Janice and invites Frankie to the wedding. Frankie decides that she will become part of their family and live with them after the wedding. She only tells a few people and Jarvis and Janice are not included.The rest of the plot is how her plan for a happily ever after threesome works out. Using this story as a backdrop the author does an excellent job of following the meanderings of a twelve year old girl in a small town. Frankie has some very interesting conversations with Bernice about Bernice's three husbands. Bernice tries to impart some adult wisdom to Frankie but more often than not the child in Frankie rejects it. When dealing with John Henry it is Frankie who tries to appear the adult and is often outdone by John Henry's childish wisdom. All of the dialogue between these three is excellent and it gave me the feeling that I spent some time sitting in that kitchen.There is an incident where a sailor tries to treat Frankie like an adult and ends up with a big bump on the head.In the end reality is imposed on Frankie and she learns that she has to accept it. She turns thirteen and moves on a little older and wiser. This is not the type of story I would expect to enjoy but the author's writing skill helped me get to know and like Frankie and her friends. It stirred some of my memories from being young and living in a small town in the South. More than anything the author portrays the gamut of emotions and the silliness and pain of the bumpy road of growing up.