“Here is a book which faces directly the overwhelming question of good and evil and reaffirms our faith in the dignity of life. J.T. Malone, the unwilling hero of this powerful novel, is engaged in an inner struggle that parallels his impending death. Through extreme moral suffering he discovers the greatest danger is not death but the loss of one’s own self in life, and because of a decision of conscience, he acts and finds himself. His story is interwoven with that of the old Judge and former Congressman, Fox Clane, and Jester, the Judge’s adolescent grandson. All three characters move to their accomplished destiny through Sherman Pew, a blue-eyes Negro boy. Their story is told with that curious blend of humor, compassion, irony and power, which characterizes all of Carson McCullers’ writing.” – 1961 hardcover jacket notes.
“Carson’s heart was often lonely and it was a tireless hunter for those to whom she could offer it, but it was a heart that was graced with light that eclipsed its shadows.”-Tennessee Williams“Until now, no one had won the approval of McCullers’s literary executors to allow publication of Illumination and Night Glare. Carlos Dews, a daunting and meticulous scholar, has done just that, and the results are astounding; moreover, he was allowed to publish the ‘war letters’ of McCullers and Reeves, her ill-fated husband, a feat that throws important new light on their ambivalent relationship during the years between their anguished divorce and remarriage. Surely, this important book will lead readers and scholars alike back to McCullers’s remarkable fiction.”-Virginia Spencer Carr, author of The Lonely Hunter: A Biography of Carson McCullers
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 The Member of the Wedding, Reflections in a Golden Eye, and The Ballad of the 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, friendships with literary and film luminaries (Gypsy Rose Lee, Richard Wright, Isak Dinesen, John Huston, Marilyn Monroe), and her intense relationships with the important women in her life.
When she was interviewed by Rex Reed in the Plaza Hotel on her final birthday, McCullers revealed her reason for writing an autobiography: “I think it is important for future generations of students to know why I did certain things, but it is also important for myself. I became an established literary figure overnight, and I was much too young to understand what happened to me or the responsibility it entailed. I was a bit of a holy terror. That, combined with all my illnesses, nearly destroyed me. Perhaps if I trace and preserve for other generations the effect this success had on me it will affect future artists to accept it better.”
From Booklist , August 19, 1999
McCullers’ autobiography is somewhat like her life–fragmentary, painful, flitting, sad, and short. Written almost 30 years ago–she died at age 50–the volume was finally allowed to see the light of day by her protective estate. The book consists of three segments. First is a novella-sized fragment, which is more vignettes than narrative, but is marred by repetition and a time line that keeps hopping about. The second segment contains the World War II correspondence between Carson and Reeves, her star-crossed and two-time husband (who himself fell victim to suicide), which above all demonstrates Carson’s love but also her insecurities and obsessiveness that must have been factors in her own drinking problems. Finally, the third segment includes an original outline of “The Mute” –which metamorphosed into McCullers’ brilliant novel The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. Enough to whet the appetite of literary groupies, but the book leaves one pining for a full-scale biography. Still, an important piece of the puzzle for literary historians. Allen Weakland Copyright© 1999, American Library Association. All rights reserved
From Kirkus Reviews
Unfinished draft of a retrospection, including the inspirations for The Member of the Wedding and The Ballad of the Sad Caf, 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 migre 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 Hunters 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, letters that 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) — Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
“A grotesque human triangle in a primitive Southern town. . .A young boy learning the difficult lessons of manhood . . . An experience in a fateful encounter with his native land and former love. . . These are parts of the world of Carson McCullers–a world of the lost, the injured, the eternal strangers at life’s feast. Here are brilliant revelations of love and longing, bitter heartbreak and occasional happiness — tales that probe the very heart of human existence. Here are the artistry, compassion and pitiless insight of one of the truly great writers of our time” (back cover of Bantam’s 1976 paperback version)
The Ballad of the Sad Cafe
Madame Zilensky and the King of Findland
A Domestic Dilemna
A Tree- A Rock- A Cloud
When she was only twenty-three Carson McCullers’s first novel The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter, created a literary sensation. She is very special, once of American’s superlative writers who conjures up a vision of existence as terrible as it is real, who takes us on shattering voyages into the depths of the spiritual isolation that underlies the human condition.
“Rarely has emotional turbulence been so delicately conveyed,” said The New York Times of Carson McCullers’s achingly real novel about Frankie Addams, a bored twelve-year-old madly jealous of her brother’s impending marriage. Frankie was afraid of the dark and envious of the older girls. But as F. Jasmine, in a pink dress, she looked sixteen. No longer a child, she accepted a date with a red-haired soldier and purchased a sophisticated gown for the wedding. F. Jasmine had plans. –Bantam 1985 Paperback edition.
“…What makes this story so unusual is the fact that most of it takes place through the medium of desultory conversations between three really weird people sitting in an even weirder kitchen. Nothing or almost nothing occurs here, and yet every page is filled with a sense of something having happened, happening, and about to happen. This in itself is a considerable technical feat; and, beyond that, there is magic in it.” – Saturday Review. March 30, 1946.
“Winner of the Donaldson Award and the New York Drama Critics’ Prize for the best american play of the 1950 season.” – Book Club Edition of the play.
“Out of the poignant loneliness of adolescence and the strange bond between Negro and white in the American South, Carson McCullers has fashioned one of the most beautiful plays ever to appear on the Broadway stage. In the role of Bernice Sadie Brown, the colored cook who mothers the motherless Frankie Addams, and who is so magnificently portrayed by that great actress and great human being Ethel Waters, Mrs. McCullers has created a figure on the classic scale. As Brooks Atkinson has written (in the New York Times): “Everything of basic importance to the truth of life seems to have been gathered up into the personal experience of this simple housekeeper who has loved and lost more than once in her lifetime and can now view the trouble of her juniors with wisdom.
Writing in The Saturday Review, John Mason Brown said of The Member of the Wedding: “Mrs. McCullers’s study of the loneliness of an over-imaginative young Georgian girl is no ordinary play. It is felt, observed, and phrased with exceptional sensitivity. It deals with the torturing dreams, the hungry egoism, and the heartbreak of childhood in a manner as rare as it is welcome. Quite aside from the magical performances its production includes, it has a magic of its own. The script shines with an unmistakable luster. Plainly it is the work of an artist, of an author who does not stoop to the expected stencils and who sees people with her own eyes rather than through borrowed spectacles. Common speech becomes uncommon in Mrs. McCullers’s usage of it. The girl Frankie, the Negro cook, and the young boy, are as vividly drawn as any characters to have come out of the contemporary theatre.” – Book Club Edition of the play.
Stephen Bourne has published a book about Ethel Waters, one of the actresses in the original stage production of The Member of the Wedding. Click the link below for more information and to purchase the book:
Alfre Woddard and Anna Paquin star in the USA Networks Original Special Event Presentation, “The Member of the Wedding,” an adaptation of Carson McCullers’ classic novel about the coming-of-age of a young girl struggling to understand adolescence and her emerging feelings of adulthood. Set in the South in 1944, the story focuses on Frankie Adams (Anna Paquin) and her relationship with the family cook, Bernice Sadie Brown (Alfre Woodard).
For more information, check the IMDB.
“An artistic vision of a human hell…. This particular hell is an army post in the South. Its inhabitants: a sexually disturbed officer; his sensual animal of a wife; his fellow-officer and wife’s lover; a delicate, sensitive woman who must live with her husband’s infidelity; and the driven young private who brings the searing drama to a head. From these elements, one of America’s superlative writers has produced a vision of existence as terrible as it is real – a shattering voyage into the depths of human hatred and desire.” — 1970 paperback cover.
“In its sphere, the novel is a masterpiece. It is as mature and finished as Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw, though still more specialized. Its story is about life as Carson McCullers sees fit to create it in a Southern Army camp, and is almost desperately psychomedical. Within its 183 pages a child is born (some of whose fingers are grown together), an Army captain suffers from bisexual impotence, a half-witted private rides nude in the woods, a stallion is tortured, a murder is done, a heartbroken wife cuts off her nipples with garden shears.” – Time. Feb. 17, 1941.
“It is a more tightly bound tale, more confidently constructed than the first, but the complete answer as to Carson McCuller’s ability as a writer is not here. Again she shows a sort of subterranean and ageless instinct for probing the hidden in men’s hearts and minds, again a strange grace of movement in exploring dark channels of disturbing moods. But the final impression she leaves with the reader is not of creative perfection, but of his waking up from a nightmare, of relief in knowing that what has passed was neither real nor probable.” – New York Herald Tribune Books, Feb. 16, 1941.
“As spokeman for the publishers, Louis Untermeyer calls Reflections in a Golden Eye one of the “most compelling, one of the ‘most uncanny stories ever written in America.’ This is not an unusual phrase to find on the jacket of a novel. The unusual thing is that it is perfectly true.” – Kansas City Star. Feb 15, 1941.
A List of Resources
Links Pertaining to the Book
Links Pertaining to the Movie Version
Internet Movie Database – Reflections in a Golden Eye
“When she was only twenty-three this, Carson McCuller’s first novel, created a literary sensation. She is very special, one of America’s superlative writers who conjures up a vision of existence as terrible as it is real, who takes us on shattering voyages into the depths of the spiritual isolation that underlies the human condition. This novel is the work of a supreme artist, Carson McCullers’s enduring masterpiece. The heroine is the strange young girl, Mick Kelly. The setting is a small Southern town, the cosmos universal and eternal. The characters are the damned, the voiceless, the rejected. Some fight their loneliness with violence and depravity, some with sex or drink, and some — like Mick — with a quiet, intensely personal search for beauty.” (1981 Bantam paperback.)
“This book is planned according to a definite and balanced design. The form is contrapuntal throughout. Like a voice in a fugue each one of the main characters is an entirety in himself–but his personality takes on a new richness when contrasted and woven in with the other characters in the book.”–Carson McCullers
“This book is literature. Because it is literature, when one puts it down it is not with a feeling of emptiness and despair (which an outline of the plot might suggest), but with a feeling of having been nourished by the truth. For one knows at the end, that it is these cheated people, these with burning intense needs and purposes, who must inherit the earth. They are the reason for the existence of a democracy which is still to be created. This is the way it is, one says to oneself – but not forever.” – May Sarton. “Pitiful Hunt for Security: Tragedy of Unfulfillment Theme of Story That Will Rank High in American Letters.” Boston Evening Transcript. June 8, 1940.