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McCullers, Carson (1917-1967)  

The fiction of the sexually ambiguous Carson McCullers offers uncomfortable resistance to the social ideal of neat heterosexuality.

When her first novel, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, was published to acclaim in 1940, McCullers, at only twenty-three, seemed set for a lifetime of literary glory. In fact, some believe that, in a life beset by illness, she never realized her full potential. Still, her corpus, though short, is impressive and spans a variety of genres from novel and short story to plays, the odd magazine article, and even some poetry. A number of her novels have also been brought to film.

Born in Columbus, Georgia, McCullers is characterized as one of the chief exponents of the so-called Southern gothic. Accordingly, she is renowned for her depiction of lonely, festering townships and her careful cataloging of the sexual and social alienation of their desolate occupants. Certainly her novels reflect both the bleakness and the strange beauty of the genre. Momentarily, love triumphs.

Thus, the affecting, yet strangely unaccountable, love of the deaf mute Singer for his friend Antonapoulos in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter serves as a focus and a catalyst for the other relations depicted in the novel. However, as befits the type, Singer's subsequent suicide projects the book onto another level of despair, its message of hope rendered ambiguous if not totally muted.

The other novels seem similarly hard to place and range from the tense antebellum tragedy of Reflections in a Golden Eye (1941) to the carnival hysteria of The Ballad of the Sad Café (1943).

Although never obviously either lesbian or gay, however, characters like the independent Miss Amelia, the belligerent tomboys Mick and Frankie, the sensitive Biff Brannon, and the tortured Captain Penderton offer uncomfortable resistance to the social ideal of neat heterosexuality. It is in this tendency to disrupt obvious categorization that McCullers's corpus holds an interest.

McCullers' own life is as ambiguous as her novels.

Married twice to the same man, Reeves McCullers, both declared their attraction for their own sex and in later life often pursued each other's amours. This complicated ménage ended with Reeves's suicide in 1953.

Carson's great love alongside Reeves was for fellow writer Annemarie Clarac-Schwarzenbach. This relation was unfortunately cut short by the latter's unexpected death in 1942. Since McCullers was always delightfully indiscreet about her love interests, there are numerous stories linking her romantically with Gypsy Rose Lee, Greta Garbo, and (the extremely reluctant) Katharine Anne Porter, before whose door she allegedly mounted guard.

Inevitably, much of this information is confined to rumor and speculation since Virginia Spencer Carr's biography The Lonely Hunter, though otherwise excellent, gives only the most discreet coverage to affairs of the flesh.

Clare Whatling


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Carson McCullers in 1931.
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Bloom, Harold, ed. Carson McCullers. New York: Chelsea, 1986.

Carr, Virginia Spencer. The Lonely Hunter: A Biography of Carson McCullers. New York: Doubleday, 1975.

_____. Understanding Carson McCullers. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1990.

Shapiro, Adrian et al. Carson McCullers: A Descriptive Listing and Annotated Bibliography. New York: Garland, 1980.

Westling, Louise. Sacred Groves and Ravaged Gardens: The Fiction of Eudora Welty, Carson McCullers and Flannery O'Connor. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1985.


    Citation Information
    Author: Whatling, Clare  
    Entry Title: McCullers, Carson  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated July 8, 2005  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  


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