Illumination and Night Glare: The Unfinished Autobiography of Carson McCullers (University of Wisconsin)
More than thirty years after it was written, the autobiography of Carson McCullers, Illumination and Night Glare, is published for the first time. McCullers--one of the most gifted writers of her generation, author of The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, The Member of the Wedding, Reflections in a Golden Eye, and The Ballad of the Sad Café--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.
From the Times Literary Supplement
"Illumination and Night Glare is an extraordinary document. Dictated in an idiomatic, associative style, it exposes the doubleness of [Carson] McCullers's life. . . . A rich mine of information for anyone interested in McCullers, and American literary life in the 1950s, these memoirs are also a testament to the courage and sheer love of life of their author."
By Richard Gray.
From Library Journal
In the 50th and final year of her life (1967), McCullers began composing her autobiography, structured around her creative inspirations ("illumination") and the horrors and tragedies in her life ("night glare"). This publication, based on two typescripts housed at the University of Texas, is the draft she dictated to a group of friends, family members, and secretaries from her bed in Nyack, NY, before suffering a final stroke. As intended by McCullers, the appendixes include the outline of her first novel, The Mute, written in 1938 and published as The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1940), and the first publication of World War II correspondence between McCullers and her husband, Reeves. In this significant contribution to literary scholarship, editor Dews provides an interesting biographical introduction with comments on the omissions and "exaggerations" in the autobiography and a chronology covering McCullers's life. Readers will find themselves as easily immersed in this work as in McCullers's fiction and will feel sad and rudely shaken when it ends abruptly.
By A Jeris Cassel, Rutgers Univ. Libs., New Brunswick, NJ. Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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.
By Allen Weakland.
From Kirkus Reviews
Unfinished draft of a retrospection, including the inspirations for The Member of the Wedding and The Ballad of the Sad Café, 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 emigre 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 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 Hunter's 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)
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