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Illumination and Night Glare: The Unfinished Autobiography of Carson McCullers (Wisconsin Studies in Autobiography) Hardcover – July 6, 1999


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

On the heels of Ernest Hemingway's True at First Light and Ralph Ellison's Juneteenth, McCullers's disappointing unfinished autobiography should spark further debate over the ethics of publishing incomplete and flawed posthumous works by heralded authors. While McCullers (1917-1967) was one of the South's most lyrical and insightful novelists, this mishmash of a memoir is certainly one of her least successful ventures. Dews, a University of West Florida English professor, admits that the discursive, "free-associative style of the narrative" may be hard to follow, but he argues that a "chain of associations" provides its guiding organizational principle. Links in this "chain" include McCullers's relationship with her husband, Reeves McCullers, who killed himself in 1953; her maternal grandmother and friends, famous and otherwise; and her views on art. Still, the book remains a perplexing pastiche, and the author herself emerges as self-absorbed and dull. McCullers's discussions of other writers seem little more than exercises in name-dropping and benign gossip (surely, for example, more can be said of Isak Dinesen than that she had a late-life penchant for oysters and champagne). As for her own writing, McCullers too often expresses surprise over how "illumination," or "creative inspiration," would break upon her unexpectedly. But a long outline of McCullers's first novel, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, reveals the intensive planning and discipline that her art required. (Sept.) FYI: In The Flowering Dream: The Historical Saga of Carson McCullers, Nancy B. Rich surveys McCullers's major works and contends that they form "a saga of man's struggle for freedom in the western world." (Chapel Hill Press [100 Eastwood Lake Rd., Chapel Hill, N.C. 27514], $25 136p ISBN 1-880849-14-3; Aug..
-, $25 136p ISBN 1-880849-14-3; Aug.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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 (English, Univ. of West Florida) 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.AJeris Cassel, Rutgers Univ. Libs., New Brunswick, NJ
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Series: Wisconsin Studies in Autobiography
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: University of Wisconsin Press; 1 edition (July 6, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0299164403
  • ISBN-13: 978-0299164409
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.3 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,451,968 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Carson McCullers (1917-1967) was the author of numerous works of fiction and nonfiction, including The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, The Member of the Wedding, Reflections in a Golden Eye, and Clock Without Hands. Born in Columbus, Georgia, on February 19, 1917, she became a promising pianist and enrolled in the Juilliard School of Music in New York when she was seventeen, but lacking money for tuition, she never attended classes. Instead she studied writing at Columbia University, which ultimately led to The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, the novel that made her an overnight literary sensation. On September 29, 1967, at age fifty, she died in Nyack, New York, where she is buried.

Customer Reviews

3.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

38 of 39 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 25, 1999
Format: Hardcover
The first part of this book is McCullers' "unfinished" autobiography. For me, reading this was like having a one-on-one conversation with a writer that I have read and admired since high school. The second part, wartime correspondence between McCullers and her then ex-husband Reeves, provided a great deal of insight into the personalities of both. I found these letters to be very moving. Also included in the book are previously published notes on THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER along with a detailed chronology of McCullers' life and works. ILLUMINATION AND NIGHT GLARE is a treasure for literary enthusiasts--especially fans of McCullers.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By cynicalgirl on December 4, 2008
Format: Paperback
Not long before her death, Carson McCullers dictated some disjointed, random recollections to a secretary in an effort to create an autobiography. Very little was accomplished; what she did come up with has been presented in this book as her "unfinished autobiography." Actually it doesn't come close to being an autobiography, "unfinished" or otherwise. It doesn't even seem like the beginnings of one. It really is that unsubstantial.

This book was obviously published in hopes that fans of Carson McCuller's novels and stories will rush out and and buy it. If they do, they're in for a big disappointment; there is nothing very interesting here and McCullers tended to play fast and loose with facts pertaining to events in her life, her relationships with other people and her tortured marriage to Reeves McCullers. She also liked to gloss over the numerous flaws in her own personality; her alcoholism, her overinflated ego, her immaturity, her tendency to suck the life out of people with her unceasing demands for attention and adulation.

The book is padded with dull letters McCullers and her husband sent each other and the outline of a book called "The Mute", which eventually became "The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter." It would seem the publishers were willing to fill this slim volume out with anything in order to make this seem like something appropriating a memoir of sorts.

Don't be fooled. This isn't even an "unfinished" autobiography. This should not have even been published. That's how little this odd little book of meandering thoughts is worth.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Cami Parsons on July 3, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I don't know why you'd read this unless you're a McCullers fanatic or you need a reference for a paper, but either way, you are going to be pleasantly surprised. This book takes you behind the scenes of McCullers' life, her thought processes, and her life. And in case you don't know already, she's a very interesting subject. Bisexual and mysterious, she not only experienced pleasure and pain-love and hurt-but also got into a love triangle with her husband. They both loved the same man and wanted him to themselves! You get to read letters that had previously been secret and private and get to hear her motivation and conception of The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter from McCullers' own mouth. It's entertaining and informative and when you finish this book you'll have a sense of understanding and intrigue-like you've uncovered a mysterious secret.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Knowledge Contagion on June 30, 2013
Format: Paperback
Had I not read The Lonely Hunter: A Biography of Carson McCullers immediately before reading this, I would have been completely lost. I would like to think that had she lived long enough to finish this, someone could have persuaded her to at least put her musings in some kind of order because it's obvious that she had no clue what "chronological" meant (which is fine - she just proved it in such a way to render fluid, non-confused reading impossible). The editing involved was also a bit irritating because Dews used brackets all over the place to indicate ... something.

I realize this is an unfinished "autobiography" (I think "memoir" would be more appropriate), but I am still going to complain about the fact that she didn't get into why she decided to write this: to tell readers about her experiences with fame and success in the hopes that they won't make the mistakes she did.

I love to read other people's letters, but I did not find myself enjoying the ones included. I realize they were in love with each other again and missed each other, but I still found them repetitive and monotonous for the most part.
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