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The Lonely Hunter: A Biography of Carson McCullers

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The Lonely Hunter is widely accepted as the standard biography of Carson McCullers. Author of such landmarks of modern American fiction as Reflections in a Golden Eye and The Ballad of the Sad Café, Carson McCullers was the enfant terrible of the literary world of the 1940s and 1950s. Gifted but tormented, vulnerable but exploitative, McCullers led a life that had all the The Lonely Hunter is widely accepted as the standard biography of Carson McCullers. Author of such landmarks of modern American fiction as Reflections in a Golden Eye and The Ballad of the Sad Café, Carson McCullers was the enfant terrible of the literary world of the 1940s and 1950s. Gifted but tormented, vulnerable but exploitative, McCullers led a life that had all the elements--and more--of a tragic novel.From McCullers's birth in Columbus, Georgia, in 1917 to her death in upstate New York in 1967, The Lonely Hunter thoroughly covers every significant event in, and aspect of, the writer's life: her rise as a young literary sensation; her emotional, artistic, and sexual eccentricities and entanglements; her debilitating illnesses; her travels in America and Europe; and the provenance of her works from their earliest drafts through their book, stage, and film versions. To research her subject, Virginia Spencer Carr visited all of the important places in McCullers's life, read virtually everything written by or about her, and interviewed hundreds of McCullers's relatives, friends, and enemies. The result is an enduring, distinguished portrait of a brilliant, but deeply troubled, writer.


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The Lonely Hunter is widely accepted as the standard biography of Carson McCullers. Author of such landmarks of modern American fiction as Reflections in a Golden Eye and The Ballad of the Sad Café, Carson McCullers was the enfant terrible of the literary world of the 1940s and 1950s. Gifted but tormented, vulnerable but exploitative, McCullers led a life that had all the The Lonely Hunter is widely accepted as the standard biography of Carson McCullers. Author of such landmarks of modern American fiction as Reflections in a Golden Eye and The Ballad of the Sad Café, Carson McCullers was the enfant terrible of the literary world of the 1940s and 1950s. Gifted but tormented, vulnerable but exploitative, McCullers led a life that had all the elements--and more--of a tragic novel.From McCullers's birth in Columbus, Georgia, in 1917 to her death in upstate New York in 1967, The Lonely Hunter thoroughly covers every significant event in, and aspect of, the writer's life: her rise as a young literary sensation; her emotional, artistic, and sexual eccentricities and entanglements; her debilitating illnesses; her travels in America and Europe; and the provenance of her works from their earliest drafts through their book, stage, and film versions. To research her subject, Virginia Spencer Carr visited all of the important places in McCullers's life, read virtually everything written by or about her, and interviewed hundreds of McCullers's relatives, friends, and enemies. The result is an enduring, distinguished portrait of a brilliant, but deeply troubled, writer.

30 review for The Lonely Hunter: A Biography of Carson McCullers

  1. 5 out of 5

    Paul Bryant

    Fascinated by the garish grisly life of Miss Carson McCullers I embarked upon this big fat bio, and first I thought it might be a mistake, as the last big fat bio I read (Sinatra) made me want to fly to America and disinter Sinatra's remains for the simple pleasure I might have gained in booting Frankie's skull about whilst yelling obscenities. Since you will not have read any recent report of a British man arrested whilst trying to break into the Sinatra family crypt, you will perceive that I m Fascinated by the garish grisly life of Miss Carson McCullers I embarked upon this big fat bio, and first I thought it might be a mistake, as the last big fat bio I read (Sinatra) made me want to fly to America and disinter Sinatra's remains for the simple pleasure I might have gained in booting Frankie's skull about whilst yelling obscenities. Since you will not have read any recent report of a British man arrested whilst trying to break into the Sinatra family crypt, you will perceive that I managed to suppress my unseemly impulse. This Carson bio, however, nearly defeated me on page one! Check out this sentence which appears in paragraph three: Deeply compassionate, the youngster was becoming increasingly aware that one's physical aberration was but an exaggerated symbol of what she considered everyman's 'caught' condition of spiritual isolation and sense of aloneless in spite of his intense desire and effort to relate to others. Pass the Anadin! This vile sentence must have passed through various drafts and editors and still ended up sprawled in front of us, on page one, obscene and twisted, hopelessly tangled in its own umbilical cord. Fortunately the rest of it was much better. As I read on, I turned the pages excitedly anticipating Carson's first stroke and first suicide pact - which would come first? It turned out to be a very fine biography, to be lapped up carefully like a cat trying not to spill one drop from an overfull bowl of milk. So many ideas swill and slosh around in these pages – in this life. For instance, sexual orientation. In an early episode of “Friends” Phoebe is hired to sing educational songs to pre-school kids in a library. So she sings this : PHOEBE: Sometimes men love women, sometimes men love men, and then there are bisexuals, though some just say they're kidding themselves. la la-la-la la-la-la-la-la-la-la... Now it could be I’m ignorant (strong likelihood), or it could be the author of this bio is deliberately evasive (but why? isn't an evasive biographer an oxymoron? or just a plain moron?), and of course it could very well be that Carson herself was confused, but I’m not so sure about all this Carson McCullers bisexual thing going on. Seems to me that Carson was gay. But conflicted. I know - quelle surprise. She didn’t want to shag men, and she kept falling in love with women. That was really a dead giveaway. Now you’re going to say wait – she was married – to that poor tortured fundamentally sweet guy called Reeves McCullers who had a very cool name and a very unlucky destiny, trying his best to play a rough hand of cards, all deuces and sevens, what can you do. This guy really did not get the breaks. But how many gay people in those days were driven into marriages because at first they thought all their feelings were wrong and marriage to some good man or woman would straighten them out? I bet that's what Carson did. This bio doesn't say so in as many words, but it seems clear to me. I mean to say, she liked to dress in men’s attire and she cut her hair short and was said to have mannish characteristics. And yet, – unless this exhaustive biography is actually omitting something important – it seems she’d not actually had a relationship with a female person yet unless it was a quick one with Gypsy Rose Lee, with whom she shared accommodation in 1940. But she did learn to smoke a pipe and drink like a fish. Anyway, the whole gay thing loomed fairly large, but yet larger loomed the whole ILL thing. She was a valetudinarian. Yes, ill all the time. She had stuff wrong with her the doctors couldn't put a name too. She was thirty years ahead of her time with her ailments. Good thing, then, that by her mid 20s she'd written all her major novels except one. Wow - rock & roll? Nope, not really. Fascinating bio of a great writer.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    It takes an extraordinary person to write such remarkable literature, and Carson McCullers was extraordinary to say the least. She has a complicated personality that ranged from vivacious and sweet to cold and sullen. She was an indulged child and an over-protected adult who lived as much in her own fantasies as she did in reality. She had an unusual number of friends who went to extreme lengths to prove their friendship, among them such notables as Tennessee Williams. She fed off of people and It takes an extraordinary person to write such remarkable literature, and Carson McCullers was extraordinary to say the least. She has a complicated personality that ranged from vivacious and sweet to cold and sullen. She was an indulged child and an over-protected adult who lived as much in her own fantasies as she did in reality. She had an unusual number of friends who went to extreme lengths to prove their friendship, among them such notables as Tennessee Williams. She fed off of people and belonging, but I wonder if she ever felt a true part of anyone outside of herself. She could sometimes seem very fragile, but her determination was limitless. Plagued by bad health and bad habits, she navigated her life like it was a story with an ever-changing plot, but belonging to someone else. After having known her husband Reeves for almost her entire life and having divorced and remarried him, and despite his attentive care during her illnesses, she dismissed his death as if it were just an inconvenience to her. That relationship seemed to me to speak volumes about her true character. I do not think I would have liked her at all. She was far too needy and egotistical. Had she not been a brilliant writer, I doubt she would have garnered the love of so many. She was excused so much by everyone because of her genius and she seemed to take for granted that everyone else's needs would, by right, come in line behind her own. I would have loved to have had one ounce of her talent, however, and we could all do with some of her perseverance. Carr managed to approach a very difficult subject with a great deal of care and honesty. She did not paint McCullers as anything other than a complex human being, neither good nor evil. I particularly enjoyed the section that dealt with the production of The Member of the Wedding for Broadway. So many of the people who made up McCullers friends and colleagues were well-known in their time, which made the reading all the more interesting. By the end of this thorough biography, you cannot help feeling that you know much of what made McCullers tick and have a deeper understanding of how her own life influenced her subjects and her work.

  3. 4 out of 5

    qtasha

    I don't know if this is the third or fourth time I read this book but, It reminds me of the old saying don't ever meet your idols in the flesh. I read this Literary biography and others like it Carson McCullers like other writers of merit carry around them, a cloud of destruction of themselves and others its the people who surround them who pay that price the hardest every time. That same combo of genius, will, and drive that makes excellent literature. when I read this book I always want her an I don't know if this is the third or fourth time I read this book but, It reminds me of the old saying don't ever meet your idols in the flesh. I read this Literary biography and others like it Carson McCullers like other writers of merit carry around them, a cloud of destruction of themselves and others its the people who surround them who pay that price the hardest every time. That same combo of genius, will, and drive that makes excellent literature. when I read this book I always want her and husband Reeves not to remarry but I know how the story sad, heartbreaking,story goes and Reeves went into the tangled web with open eyes got eaten alive by his love for Carson and his own weaknesses. Carson McCullers's mother whose blinding love for her daughter feeds and nurture her genius to the point of turning a blind eye to Carson's many faults. This bio reads like a sad saga novel. I want this book to go wherever I go and its always the book that starts my book collection.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Iona Stewart

    This is a voluminous, comprehensive, well-written book. Carson was a precocious, musically gifted child who played the piano with prowess from an early age. She originally intended to study music at an illustrious college but when she lost the tuition money, she turned to writing instead. Carson had always talked about how she was going to be rich and famous, though she didn’t know how; she thus proved the power of the spoken word. (Ok, I don’t know whether or not she actually became rich, but she This is a voluminous, comprehensive, well-written book. Carson was a precocious, musically gifted child who played the piano with prowess from an early age. She originally intended to study music at an illustrious college but when she lost the tuition money, she turned to writing instead. Carson had always talked about how she was going to be rich and famous, though she didn’t know how; she thus proved the power of the spoken word. (Ok, I don’t know whether or not she actually became rich, but she certainly became famous.) As a child, she was a prolific reader, reading all the classics – the books of Chekhov, Tolstoy, D.H. Lawrence, Flaubert, James Joyce, etc. etc. The book tells of Carson’s marriage and bisexual proclivities, of her female crushes, including on Greta Garbo, and her various friends, famous and otherwise. I wasn’t able to get through the totality of this work and skimmed through most of it. It is packed with information and I found it rather dense and not easy-to-read. We are provided with many photos of Carson at various ages and of her family, friends and husband, Reeves. Looking at the various photos of Carson, I found her astoundingly familiar, as though I’d known her well in a past or parallel life. I had never experienced this sort of thing before, strange! Carson smoked excessively and constantly drank alcohol, so it was not surprising that she suffered severe health problems including several incapacitating strokes. She died in 1967 at the age of 50. The author presents us with detailed information about Carson’s life and relationships. I borrowed the book from the library, but you would need to own it to have the time and opportunity to fully appreciate it.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Kevin Dawe

    This is an excellent biography of Carson McCullers. I would say that if you are a fan of McCullers, you will enjoy this. If not, it might be too in depth for non-fans (or just those who don't know of her). There is a great amount of detail which can sometimes bog it down slightly, but at the end you come away knowing there is likely very little (if anything) else to be known about Lula Carson. As I said it is very in depth and covers her entire life, which was full of interesting people and event This is an excellent biography of Carson McCullers. I would say that if you are a fan of McCullers, you will enjoy this. If not, it might be too in depth for non-fans (or just those who don't know of her). There is a great amount of detail which can sometimes bog it down slightly, but at the end you come away knowing there is likely very little (if anything) else to be known about Lula Carson. As I said it is very in depth and covers her entire life, which was full of interesting people and events. There were many, many tragedies in Carson's life, including her terrible health problems that began at an early age. However, while all the sad aspects are covered in depth, there is never a overly gloomy feel when reading. The author doesn't "milk" the tragedies; she presents the facts and lets the reader feel the rest. While my heart broke several times in her story, it still didn't have an overwhelmingly sad feeling, which might be expected given the life McCullers lived. While not the best biography I've ever read, this was highly enjoyable and for any McCullers fans it will be a good (if a little long) read, that will leave you feeling comfortable that you know all that you need to about Carson, and not the feeling of trying to search out other biographies. I think it's safe to say this is the definitive biography of one of the greatest fiction writers who has ever been published.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Natalie

    I am absolutely struggling through this biography. It has way too much irrelevant information and I am actually starting to skim the pages. I do not feel that it gives the reader all that much insight into carson Mc Cullers and her psychic and physical problems, but rather repeats itself incessantly about the same two books, and the same 5 friends: and at times reads more like a biography of Reeves Mc Cullers, her husband.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Catherine

    Despite having a NYT best-selling debut novel, subsequent novels that also did very well, short stories published in leading magazines, a stage play produced, and movie rights sold, Carson McCullers seems to have been always seeking financial support so that she could keep writing. She applied for three Guggenheims (got two), had a standing invitation to Yaddo, all expenses paid, received numerous grants, was always welcome in the homes of friends and fellow writers. And this in the so-called go Despite having a NYT best-selling debut novel, subsequent novels that also did very well, short stories published in leading magazines, a stage play produced, and movie rights sold, Carson McCullers seems to have been always seeking financial support so that she could keep writing. She applied for three Guggenheims (got two), had a standing invitation to Yaddo, all expenses paid, received numerous grants, was always welcome in the homes of friends and fellow writers. And this in the so-called golden age of American literature and American publishing. So when was it exactly that a writer could support herself with her writing?

  8. 5 out of 5

    Carol

    Well researched. It is interesting how reading a biography written a a while ago contains facts about a person's life that indicate information that was not specifically spelled out. I think this book, written in our current state of open sharing, would read much differently. I wanted to read this after reading "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter". Her best known novel, though very well written, for me, did not stand up over the course of time.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Brent

    I read this when it came out. I read it again later. I loved it and still love it. I think that Carr's bio is such a clear and loving portrait of Carson McCullers that I find it difficult to imagine a better one.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Grace K

    A super-sensationalist pot-boiler '70s biography. Way better than the more intellectually mature bio by Joysanne Savigneau; Virgina Spenser Carr seemed to believe everything anyone ever told her about Carson McCullers - from sherry-tea swilling to whorehouse living - making for a much better read.

  11. 5 out of 5

    T

    Fascinating--McCullers' tempestuous life story reads like a novel.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Murielle Cyr

    Set in the American south of the 1940’s, Carson McCullers, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, deals with the spiritual and emotional aloneness of people who are misfits. Biff, the generous Café owner who wears his dead wife’s perfume and collects old newspapers; Mick, the young girl who lives in her inner world of music; Dr. Copeland, the black doctor, whose dream of a better life for his people has driven his own family away; Jake whose forceful communist views make him an outcast; and there’s John Set in the American south of the 1940’s, Carson McCullers, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, deals with the spiritual and emotional aloneness of people who are misfits. Biff, the generous Café owner who wears his dead wife’s perfume and collects old newspapers; Mick, the young girl who lives in her inner world of music; Dr. Copeland, the black doctor, whose dream of a better life for his people has driven his own family away; Jake whose forceful communist views make him an outcast; and there’s John Singer, the deaf mute who mourns the lost of a dear friend, and because of his handicap is attributed god-like characteristics. The author depicts the stark reality of racism, poverty, and the alienation associated with being different. The characters are memorable and the plot, though not fast-paced, is well crafted. A touching story, though not for those who expect a happy ending.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Edward Creter

    This bio of author Carson McCullers is inspiring and sad, yet liberating. We understand what hell she lived thru for a chance at heaven. She's given us so much, even a mental handicap like me.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Rochelle Holt

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Superb book that reads like a novel! To read her brilliant novels makes the book come alive!

  15. 4 out of 5

    josé almeida

    trata-se da (monumental) biografia de carson mccullers, um trabalho de escrita e pesquisa que ocupou a autora durante vários anos. narrativa fluida, embora exaustiva nas referências factuais, fica-se preso logo desde as primeiras páginas, quando lula carson smith ainda era uma criança na cidade de columbus. para além da descrição de toda uma vida - sempre interligada com a obra - são-nos dados imensos episódios, comentários, personagens, etc etc, que conferem humanidade e autenticidade ao relato trata-se da (monumental) biografia de carson mccullers, um trabalho de escrita e pesquisa que ocupou a autora durante vários anos. narrativa fluida, embora exaustiva nas referências factuais, fica-se preso logo desde as primeiras páginas, quando lula carson smith ainda era uma criança na cidade de columbus. para além da descrição de toda uma vida - sempre interligada com a obra - são-nos dados imensos episódios, comentários, personagens, etc etc, que conferem humanidade e autenticidade ao relato, contribuindo para sentirmos que é um pouco como se também lá tivéssemos estado - e esse é um dos melhores detalhes desta biografia.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Vivian Valvano

    Fascinating life of a brilliant author.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Kat Masek

    I'm a out-and-out cheater to say I read this book. I made it through about 3/5 of it. In general, I don't enjoy biographies. However, I read several Carson McCullers works in a row and was so in love with her writing--particularly in "The Member of the Wedding," but also in "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter," that I wanted to know more about this person who was able to faultlessly express the souls of her characters in lean, beautiful prose. However, the author's biographer, Carr, turned out to be a I'm a out-and-out cheater to say I read this book. I made it through about 3/5 of it. In general, I don't enjoy biographies. However, I read several Carson McCullers works in a row and was so in love with her writing--particularly in "The Member of the Wedding," but also in "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter," that I wanted to know more about this person who was able to faultlessly express the souls of her characters in lean, beautiful prose. However, the author's biographer, Carr, turned out to be a sloppy, poor writer, and, as I said, I could only proceed 3/5 of the way through the biography. Carson McCullers was flawed, but so gifted. Virginia Spencer Carr appears to have been an admirer of McCullers, but not much more.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Tom Hooker

    From McCullers's birth in Columbus, Georgia, in 1917 to her death in upstate New York in 1967, The Lonely Hunter thoroughly covers every significant event in, and aspect of, the writer's life: her rise as a young literary sensation; her emotional, artistic, and sexual eccentricities and entanglements; her debilitating illnesses; her travels in America and Europe; and the provenance of her works from their earliest drafts through their book, stage, and film versions.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Ida

    I'm loving it so far. It's so dense, a zillion details...

  20. 4 out of 5

    Martha Steele

    Excellent biography. Reads like a novel. I'm a big fan of her writings but never knew anything about her life.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Mary Narkiewicz

    I read this many years ago and I should really read it again. This bio meant a lot to me when I went through my "Carson McCullers' phase".

  22. 4 out of 5

    Cynthia Freyer

    No loved this book... A little slow but great story.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Judith

    I registered a book at BookCrossing.com! http://www.BookCrossing.com/journal/12889043 I registered a book at BookCrossing.com! http://www.BookCrossing.com/journal/12889043

  24. 4 out of 5

    Booklover

    shw was a sad, sad person who didn't have a grasp on reality

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jeff

    There was a plainness and extraordinary, intense weirdness to this short life. Excellent biography, very well researched.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Mike Whaley

    Excellent biography of Carson McCullers. I appreciate her writings even more after reading this bio.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Cecily

    Prompted by Paul's review: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/... Prompted by Paul's review: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...

  28. 5 out of 5

    Nurzada Jakyp Kyzy

  29. 4 out of 5

    wayne

  30. 5 out of 5

    Richard

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