Carson McCullers: Vain, querulous and a genius


There is a great deal of sweetness in the prevalent vision of McCullers as the poet of haunting oddbods, the laureate of American loneliness, the gifted bard of adolescent girls. But any reader of McCullers with a half-open eye knows her routing of sentimentality as one of the central actions of her fiction. The Member of the Wedding, published in 1946, has, in more recent years, picked up critical kudos as a mid-20th-century gay classic. It has influenced works as culturally inquiring and politically vibrant as Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye (1970) and Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar (1963), the first line of which profoundly echoes McCullers’s novel. The Bell Jar’s opening pages go out of their way to suggest a close kinship between them. As Morrison and Plath knew, The Member of the Wedding is a cutting piece of fiction, and its antecedents are equally sharp. But still the sentimental image persists.

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