Today marks the 94th birthday of Carson McCullers. She was able to camouflaged her love for other women in her fiction, but gay & themes are present in her work. The loneliness that her characters face is even more potent due to her own sexual confusion & alienation. She was married twice to the same gay man & she was frequently falling in love repeatedly with both women & men.
McCullers wrestled with bisexuality throughout her personal & literary life. Her deepest attachments were to her husband Reeves McCullers, & openly gay composer- David Diamond, who was in love with her husband. Her love interests required that McCullers deal with complicated & ultimately destructive triangles. She created fictional worlds peopled with characters engaged in 3way relationships. In her novels, Mick in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, Frankie from The Member of the Wedding, Miss Amelia in The Ballad of the Sad Cafe & Weldon Penderton from Reflections in a Golden Eye also reflect the author's sexual conundrums & inability to fit into the social structures of the South.
In 1935, McCullers met a handsome soldier & aspiring writer- Reeves McCullers. There was no question for either of them that they were meant to be together, & a tumultuous love affair began. Reeves really knew how to win a girl’s heart, he brought McCullers beer & cigarettes instead of flowers. They married in 1937. The happy couple spent every moment together drinking heavily, they would each go through a bottle of cognac every day. Reeves had army duties, but was home much of the time, yet wrote nothing. Sick or not, she wrote all the time.
Reeves’s family was shocked that he "allowed" her to wear men’s slacks, loose fitting shirts, blazers & loafers. But Reeves loved her that way.
At 23, her first book was published to great acclaim- The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. That first novel is only slightly more legendary than her tumultuous life. She was an artist who lived hard, died young, & left an amazing legacy.She was propelled instantly to celebrity status & notoriety for the story about racism in the South.
A year later, her next novel, Reflections in a Golden Eye was published. But, the pair was drinking & arguing so much that Carson filed for divorce. She was often ill, losing some of her vision to stabbing head pains. She was partially paralyzed for the rest of her life. She had pneumonia, pleurisy, & strep throat. At times she could barely type, but kept writing anyways.
McCullers landed a major fellowship grant & began work The Member of the Wedding, but in 1944 Carson had a nervous breakdown, lung problems, & a major case of the flu. Though she had divorced Reeves, they were never really apart. They married again in 1945. He wanted to take care of her.
The story then repeats itself: Carson suffers illness & strokes that leave her crippled & paralyzed. She writes, but Reeves never starts writing. They entertain in their home. They drink. Reeves quits drinking, then starts again. They both have homosexual liaisons.
After she finally left Reeves, McCullers moved to New York to live with the very gay George Davis, the editor of Harper's Bazaar. In Brooklyn, she became a member of the art commune February House. Among the residents were W. H. Auden, Benjamin Britten, Gypsy Rose Lee, & Paul & Jane Bowles. After World War II, McCullers lived mostly in Paris. Her close friends during these years included Truman Capote & Tennessee Williams. She died in Nyack, New York, on September 29, 1967, after a brain hemorrhage. She was 50 years old. McCullers dictated her unfinished autobiography- Illumination & Night Glare, during her final months.
After her death, a collection of essays, poems & stories was released, appropriately titled, The Mortgaged Heart.