Thursday, July 13, 2017
Darlings, Only Carson McCullers Could Get The Kind Of Dramatic Mileage Out Of The Material She Mines!!!!!!!!!!
Toward the end of "Reflections In A Golden Eye," there is one sentence that is not only a story in itself, but indicative of this writer's genius. The sentence refers to another soldier on the premises; an older Corporal, who, each day, writes, and mails off, a letter to Shirley Temple, offering a daily chronicle of his life. The novel takes place in the 1930's, when Shirley was at the height of her child stardom.
In lesser hands, this might have been camp, and pulpy. But Carson McCullers makes the reader brood on this sentence, pondering the major's story, and wanting to know more. Though every key incident from the John Huston film is rendered in the novel, McCullers' telling of things is more incisive than Huston's camera placement and pacing. The prose is languorous, in that Southern sort of way, and it is the little vignettes--like Captain Penderton having been raised by five spinster aunts, who invited other old maids to dinner, every Sunday; the revelation that Alison Langon's baby, a little girl, lived for about eleven months, long enough to be named Catherine, but was born with deformed fingers, two molded together on one hand, and a weak constitution, which caused the child to die, and Alison self punishing her womanhood by cutting off her nipples with the garden shears!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And, of course, there is the tender relationship between Alison and her house servant, Anacleto, only for the reader to learn that, following her death, even her husband, Major Langdon, pines romantically for the now vanished Filipino--that shows the true brilliance of this writer, and this work.
Had I, or anyone else, written such, "Reflections In A Golden Eye" would have either been hilarious camp, or lush pornography. I have to marvel that it was published in 1941; did anyone, save literate homosexuals, or the socially disenfranchised, understand the kinds of people she was writing about? That she was chronicling sexual torment and loneliness, as part of the human condition? I am not so sure, but it certainly registered with me, and I think it is even more revelatory in our own time.
During McCullers' time, this was a letdown, after the overwhelming success of "The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter." That was her first novel, and its illuminating insights and poetic prose made the young author a sensation. 'Reflections' followed that sensation, so was not as well received. Today, I think it is one of her best works, vastly underrated at the time, psychologically ahead of its time, and yes, just gosh darn fun, because it is so unabashedly Gothic.
Was Carson McCullers winking to her readers, as she wrote this? I think she was. She was telling her readers to have fun with it, only to turn that fun on its head by turning its moments into episodes that are, simultaneously, deeply exploratory. And she pulls this off!!!!!!!!!!!
This work deserves a higher place in the McCullers canon. If I were an English teacher--AP, of course!!!!!!!--I would teach this work to students. Of course, some communities today would ban me from even suggesting such a thing, but there is more richness in "Reflections In A Golden Eye," than in more ponderous, overbearing novels.
I mean, Proust and tea as refernces to homosexuality! Would there was such literacy and sophistication today!
Oh, and make no mistake, darlings! Anacleto still steals the show!!!!!!!!!!!!