Carson McCullers: A life of love and loneliness
Carson McCullers is well known for her novels like The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and The Member of the Wedding.
Constantly afflicted with health problems, Carson was a frustrated lover of women whose marriage to her husband was quite tempestuous.
Carson McCullers: Early Creativity
Born as Lula Carson Smith in Columbus on February 19, 1917, Carson was doted on by her parents, Lamar Smith and Marguerite Waters. To their delight, she had a knack for writing plays and skits.
However, writing wasn’t her first love– she dreamed of becoming a famous concert pianist. Carson was forced to give up after recovering from rheumatic fever, which left her unable to keep up with rigorous training.
While she was sick, she began to devour books and consider a career in writing. At 15, her father even bought her a typewriter to support her.
At 17, she moved to New York under the guise of taking up piano studies at the famous Julliard School of Music, but instead studied Creative Writing at Columbia University and Washington Square College.
While she recovered from illness during 1936, she began to work on her first novel, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, and had her first short story, “Wunderkind,” published.
Carson McCullers: Love and loneliness
Carson met and married James Reeves McCullers Jr., who was stationed at Fort Benning. It was a stormy marriage, afflicted by alcoholism, infidelity, rivalry, and sexual ambiguity.
Despite giving her moral support, Reeves envied her success after first novel received critical acclaim.
The McCullers moved to New York and divorced in 1941, after both fell in love with composer David Diamond– leading to a complicated love triangle. Carson also suffered a stroke and temporarily lost her sight.
Meanwhile, her next book, Reflections in a Golden Eye, was published and reviewed harshly due to its themes of homoeroticism and voyeurism.
As one of the few known gay novels in the first half of the 20th century, it reflected a disturbing reality of the people around her– one that her town and its characters weren’t ready for.
Carson fell for several women, including Katherine Anne Porter and Annemarie Clarac-Schwarzenbach. She pursued women aggressively, without seeming to have success having sex with them.
According to Virginia Spencer Carr, her biographer, Carson did tell her male cousin that she’d had sex with Gypsy Rose Lee once.
In 1945, things seemed to go well. Her third novel, The Member of the Wedding, was published, Carson and Reeves McCullers remarried and sailed for Europe together.
Carson McCullers: Writing the tragedies
However, in 1948, just a year after she endured two severe strokes, she attempted to commit suicide.
Then in 1953, it was Reeves who tried to convince her to commit suicide with him, but she feared for her life and fled. Soon after, Reeves killed himself in their Paris hotel by overdosing on sleeping pills.
These painful experiences were expressed in her novella, Ballad of the Sad Café, and a play, The Square Root of Wonderful.
The latter was one of her final works, which she considered a failure as it was cut short on its Broadway run.
Carson McCullers: Leaving her legacy
Carson suffered massive brain hemorrhage and died in the Nyack Hospital on Sept. 29, 1967. She was buried in Oak Hill Cemetery.
But despite all the pain and suffering that befell Carson, her writing gave her a reason to live– and her eventual legacy.
“I live with the people I create and it has always made my essential loneliness less keen,” she mused.