The Unfinished Autobiography of Carson McCullers
Email this review


Unfinished draft of a retrospection, including the inspirations for The Member of the Wedding and The Ballad of the Sad CafÇ, 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 ÇmigrÇe 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 (English/Univ. of West Florida) 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)

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-299-16440-3
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Univ. of Wisconsin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1999