The southern writer William Faulkner said the only thing worth writing about is “the human heart in conflict with itself.” By that standard, few have surpassed Carson McCullers, for she probed the tormented recesses of inner emotions. Tracking problems of loneliness and love to their lair within the heart, she found joy mingled with suffering so intense that her characters may seem grotesque. Nevertheless, her readers gain insights into life as it actually is lived. Neither sentimental nor moralistic, McCullers’s novels make a more solid impact on the imagination than does merely sensational or experimental fiction.
Carson McCullers, born Lula Carson Smith, was reared in a small southern town, a milieu that she used in much of her fiction. Exhibiting early talent in both writing and music, she intended to become a concert pianist but lost her tuition money for the Juilliard School of Music when she went to New York in 1935. This loss led her to get part-time jobs while studying writing at Columbia University. She earned early acclaim for her first novel, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, written when she was only twenty-two. Her friends included many prominent writers, including Tennessee Williams, W. H. Auden, Louis MacNeice, and Richard Wright. Her health was always delicate; she suffered early paralyzing strokes, breast cancer, and pneumonia. She stayed remarkably active in literature and drama, however, even when confined to bed and wheelchair. She died of a stroke at the age of fifty.
Carson McCullers was born Lula Carson Smith on February 19, 1917, in Columbus, Georgia. Marguarite Smith, McCullers’s mother, was very early convinced that her daughter was an artistic genius and sacrificed herself and, to some extent, McCullers’s father, brother, and sister, to the welfare of her gifted child. McCullers grew up, therefore, with a peculiar kind of shyness and emotional dependence on her mother, combined with supreme self-confidence about her abilities. McCullers announced early in life that she was going to be a concert pianist, and she indeed displayed a precocious talent in that direction. Smith placed her daughter under the tutelage of Mary Tucker, a concert musician, who agreed that McCullers was talented....
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Carson McCullers’s life was one beset by intolerable illnesses and complex personal relationships. The last twenty years of her life were spent in the shadow of constant physical pain, but like her fellow southerner Flannery O’Connor, she continued working in spite of her handicaps, seldom complaining. She was married twice to the same man, an emotional cripple who drained her financially and psychically and who ultimately killed himself. That she left behind her a magnificent body of work and any number of devoted friends when she died at the tragically young age of fifty is a testament to the courage with which overwhelming obstacles can be overcome.
McCullers knew at first hand the small-town South that figures...
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Lula Carson Smith McCullers is widely regarded as one of the finest writers of the twentieth century, though critics argue over whether her writing should be classified as southern gothic or metaphysical. McCullers, who was born in Columbus, Georgia, on February 19, 1917, did not aspire to become a writer at all. Her parents, Lamar and Marguerite (Waters) Smith, had started her on piano lessons at a very early age, and music was the career forecast for her; a music teacher, Mary Tucker, played a large part in her early life. At the age of seventeen, McCullers was sent to the Juilliard School of Music in New York to become a concert pianist. By the time McCullers had arrived in New York, however, she had already lost her enthusiasm...
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Born Lula Carson Smith, McCullers was raised in a town near a big Army post in rural southwest Georgia by a successful jeweler and a remarkable mother who encouraged her genius. An aloof, precocious child, she longed to be rich and famous and live in the snowy North. By the age of eight years, she was producing little plays with neighbor children. At ten she took piano lessons and aspired to play concerts onstage. It is said that she read every worthwhile book in the local library. At fifteen, she came down with rheumatic fever, misdiagnosed at the time, which led to debilitating illnesses later.
After high school, her parents sold heirloom jewelry so she could sail to New York and study at the prestigious Juilliard...
(The entire section is 738 words.)