Carson McCullers

By: Ingrid Schorr
February 19, 2010

To really get CARSON MCCULLERS (1917-67), maybe you need to have stood in the dark, fragrant shade of a scuppernong arbor. Summers in the south take on a sickening green sweetness, a crazy bright light that hurts. It’s not Eudora Welty’s curtain of green, or the harsh lightning that illuminates Flannery O’Connor’s Christ-haunted South. It burns from desire that turns treacherous when it is indistinguishable from obsession or even hatred. A tall, odd-looking girl in terrible health, McCullers yearned for connection and found it in exalted company. After leaving Columbus, Georgia, at age 17, for decades she divided her time between the artists colony at Yaddo (nine times, surely a record) and a Brooklyn Heights collective with W.H. Auden, Gypsy Rose Lee, and Benjamin Britten, among others, and produced such enduring works as Reflections in a Golden Eye and The Ballad of the Sad Cafe. McCullers’ short life was marked by repeated damage: paralyzing strokes, divorce and remarriage to the same unhappy man, alcoholism. At times she was physically unable to move a pen. Writing and infatuation sustained her. In a photo taken after the Broadway premiere of The Member of the Wedding she cuddles between Julie Harris and Ethel Waters, the play’s two stars, her head resting securely on Waters’ bosom.

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What do you think?

  1. You make me deeply regret that I’ve never stood in the dark, fragrant shade of a scuppernong arbor.

    I didn’t know she was tall. How did I miss this suddenly essential fact?

    I love the story of February House. I wish it were filmed as a bedroom farce, maybe with the cast of Are You Being Served. Gypsy Rose Lee could be the house mother and sane and grounded one. Britten and Paul Bowles could get in bitch fests about rehearsal time on the piano, while Carson and Jane snuck off to the corner for intimate conversations.

  2. David, I loved finding out that she was tall! Her biographer Virginia Spencer Carr writes that Lula Carson started smoking to stunt her growth when she was 14 and 5′ 8.5″.

    The February House farce would be fantastic! Leonard Bernstein and Marc Blitzstein used to drop in frequently too – can you imagine the soundtrack? It was apparently a total zoo, and that’s why McCullers had to go to Yaddo all the time to get work done.

    Scuppernongs are fat and delicious, especially warm off the vine. Seedy, though.

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