Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Author Snapshot: Carson McCullers

Cover of "Heart Is A Lonely Hunter"

Cover of Heart Is A Lonely Hunter

As a writer and a reader I am curious about authors.  I like to poke, prod, and discover who they are to understand how they write. Some authors definitely have backgrounds which influence their writing.  One such author is Carson McCullers.

It was a bit of deja vu when I began reading The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. I then realized I had read it so long ago that I couldn’t really recall the story, so it was similar to revisiting a place attached with faded memories.  After reading the book I looked up Carson McCullers and immediately became fascinated by her background. Amazingly enough Heart was her debut novel–at 23.  The book registers such emotions and craftsmanship it is  unbelievable it came from the pen of a woman so young.

If you aren’t familiar with Carson McCullers here is a snapshot of an author who produced some fine writing despite the setbacks in her life.  Then again, maybe her writing is a result of the impediments she encountered.

McCuller’s style focuses on the loneliness and isolation of individuals of the South employing imagery which pinpoints an emotion, a moment which simple, yet breathtaking accuracy. Her writing has a sense of musicality, due no doubt to her interest in it.  The words flow and swirl much like notes in a recital piece.  In fact, she once described The Member of the Wedding as a fugue, and it actually reads much like a fugue would be played out.
What have I gained from reading Carson McCuller?  It is this: a realization that it is discovering a sense of beauty even when we are living out our imperfections, and that we often gain the most growth through adversity.  McCullers has a way of peeling back the façade and intensely scrutinizing the individual beneath. Once there, a realization occurs—other people have the same thoughts and feelings as I do.  Then again, do they?  This admission is daunting since her explorations tend to leave an undefined rawness, a discomfort, a vulnerability. And this can be uncomfortable.
The Member of the Wedding (1946)
 Other Works
The Square Root of Wonderful (1958), a play
Sweet as a Pickle and Clean as a Pig (1964), a collection of poems
The Mortgaged Heart (1972), a posthumous collection of writings, edited by her sister Rita
 Passage from The Member of the Wedding
Yesterday, and all the twelve years of her life, she had only been Frankie. She was an I person who had to walk around and do things by herself.  All other people had a we to claim, all other except her…Now all this was suddenly over with and changed.  There was her brother and the bride, and it was as though when first she saw them something she had known inside of her: They are the we of me.
A couple of noted facts:
  • First novel The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter at age 23
  • Planned to study piano at Julliard, but lost tuition and worked instead
  • Became invalid due to illness
  • Friends with Tennessee Williams
  • died at age 50

Her works have been adapted into plays and movies, and though she is no longer with us, her writing definitely  continues to influence the literary world. She is a stellar definition of the Southern gothic genre.

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4 thoughts on “Author Snapshot: Carson McCullers

  1. How interesting. I’ve only read “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter” and knew she had written it at a young age but didn’t know anything else about her.

    I also like what you wrote about starting the book and then realizing you had read it so long ago you didn’t remember the story anymore. That happens to me a lot when I reread a book.

    I either had remembered it differently or I suddenly realize in middle of reading it that I HAD read it many years ago and forgotten that I did… I think this happens to a lot of us!

  2. I realised half way through the film of Kazuo Ishiguro’s ‘Never Let Me Go’ that I had read it and that it had right royally traumatised me! I sat through it, a weeping, snotty, red-eyed mess….

    Carson McCullers though, quelle star!

  3. A good cry now then is therapy for the soul (but heck for our face) 🙂

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