Friday, April 30, 2021

the last book I ever read (Chess Story by Stefan Zweig, excerpt five)

from Chess Story by Stefan Zwieg:

“All of this seems senseless, and in fact this kind of artificial schizophrenia or divided consciousness, with its admixture of dangerous excitation, would be inconceivable in a normal person under normal circumstances. But don’t forget that I had been forcibly wrenched out of any sort of normal life, I was a prisoner, unjustly held in captivity, exquisitely tortured with solitude for months, I had long wanted something upon which to vent my accumulated fury. And since I had nothing but this nonsensical playing against myself, my fury, my desire for vengeance was fanatically channeled into this game. Something in me wanted to come out on top, and yet all here was for me to fight was this other me in me; so as I played I worked myself up into a state of almost manic excitement. At the beginning my thinking was calm and considered, I took breaks between one game and the next in order to recover from my agitation; but gradually my frayed nerves refused to let me wait. My white self had no sooner made a move than my black self feverishly pushed forward; a game was no sooner over than I challenged myself to another, for one of the two chess selves was beaten by the other every time and demanded a rematch. I couldn’t even begin to say how many games this mad insatiability made me play against myself during these last month—a thousand, perhaps, maybe more. It was an obsession which I could not resist; from morning till night I thought of nothing but bishop and pawns and rook and king and a and b and c and mate and castling; my entire being and all my feeling were immersed in the checkered board. My pleasure in playing became a desire to play, the desire to play became a compulsion to play, a mania, a frenzy, which permeated not only my waking hours but gradually my sleep too. Chess was all I could think about, chess moves, chess problems were the only form my thoughts could take; sometimes I awoke with a sweaty and understood that I must have unconsciously gone on playing even while I slept, and if I dreamt of people, all they did was move like the bishop or the rook, or hopscotch like the knight. Even when I was summoned to an interrogation, I could no longer think coherently about my responsibilities; I have a feeling that during the final interrogations I must have expressed myself pretty confusedly, for the interrogators looked at each other with surprise. But while they asked questions and consulted with one another, all I was waiting for in my wretched craving was to be taken back to my cell so that I could go on with my playing, my insane playing, a new game and then another and another. Any interruption disturbed me; even the quarter of an hour while the guard cleaned the cell, the two minutes when he brought me my food, was a torment to me in my feverish impatience; sometimes the bowl containing my meal was still untouched in the evening; wrapped up in my playing, I had forgotten to eat. My only physical sensation was a terrible thirst; it must have been the fever of this constant thinking and playing; I drained the bottle in two gulps and pestered the guard for more, and yet my tongue was dry in my mouth a moment later. Finally my excitement while playing—and I did nothing else from morning till night—reached such a pitch that I could no longer sit still for a second; I walked up and down constantly while I thought about the games, faster and faster and faster, up and down, up and down, and more and more excitedly as a game’s critical point approached; my eagerness to win, to dominate, to beat myself, gradually became a kind of frenzy, I trembled with impatience, for one chess-self always found the other too slow. One urged the other on; as ridiculous as it may seem to you, I began to berate myself—‘Faster, faster!’ or ‘Go on, go on!’—when one me wasn’t quick enough with a countermove. Today, of course, it’s entirely clear to me that this state of mine was a thoroughly pathological form of mental overstimulation, for which I have found no name but one heretofore unknown to medicine: chess sickness. Ultimately this monomaniacal obsession began to attack my body as well as my mind. I lost weight, my sleep was troubled and fitful, when I woke up it always took special effort to force my leaden eyelids open; sometimes I felt so weak that when I held a glass it was all I could do to bring it to my lips, my hands were trembling so much; but as soon as I began to play, a furious energy came over me: I walked up and down with fists clenched, and I sometimes heard, as though through a red fog, my own voice addressing me with hoarse and ill-tempered exclamations of ‘Check!’ or ‘Mate!’

Thursday, April 29, 2021

the last book I ever read (Chess Story by Stefan Zweig, excerpt four)

from Chess Story by Stefan Zwieg:

“Now you’ll probably think that I immediately seized the book, examined it, and read it. Not at all! First I wanted to savor to the full the anticipatory pleasure of having a book, the artificially prolonged delight, with a wonderful arousing effect on my nerves, of imagining the stolen book in detail, imagining what sort of book I’d most like it to be: closely printed above all, with many, many characters, many, many thin pages, so there would be more to read. And then I wanted it to be a work that required intellectual effort, nothing shallow, nothing easy, but something you could study, learn by heart, poems, and preferably—I had the audacity to dream of such a thing—Goethe or Homer. But finally I could no longer control my eagerness, my curiosity. Stretched out on the bed, so that the guard wouldn’t catch me by surprise if he suddently opened the door, I tremblingly brought out the volumc from under my belt.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

the last book I ever read (Chess Story by Stefan Zweig, excerpt three)

from Chess Story by Stefan Zwieg:

“My own room in a hotel—that sounds awfully decent, doesn’t it? Believe me, though, if they house ‘celebrities’ like us in reasonably well-heated hotel rooms of our own, this was not intended to be more decent than cramming us by the score into an ice-cold barracks—it was just a subtler method. For the requisite ‘evidence’ was to be wrested from us by a force more sophisticated than crude beating of physical torture: the most exquisite isolation imaginable. They did nothing—other than subjecting us to complete nothingness. For, as if well known, nothing on earth puts more pressure on the human mind than nothing. Locking each of us into a total vacuum, a room hermetically sealed off from the outside world, instead of beating us or exposing us to cold—this was meant to create an internal pressure that would finally force our lips open. At frist glance the room assigned to me did not seem at all uncomfortable. It had a door, a bed, a chair, a washbasin, a barred window. But the door stayed locked day and night, no book, no newspaper, no sheet of paper or pencil was permitted to be on the table, the window faced a firewall; complete nothingness surrounded me both physically and psychologically. They had taken every object away from me—I had watch, so that I didn’t know the time; no pencil, so that I couldn’t write; no knife, so that I couldn’t slit my wrists; even the tiniest comfort, such as a cigarette, was denied me. Apart from the guard, who was not permitted to say a word or respond to questions, I never saw a human face, never heard a human voice; my eyes, my ears, all my senses received not the slightest stimulation from morning till night, from night till morning, all the time you were hopelessly alone with yourself, with your body, and with these four or five mute objects, table, bed, window, washbasin; you lived like a diver in a diving bell in the black sea of this silence, for that matter like a diver who guesses that the cable to the outside world has snapped and that he will never be hailed out of the silent deep. There was nothing to do, nothing to hear, nothing to see, nothingness was everywhere around me all the time, a completely dimensionless and timeless void. You walked up and down, you and your thoughts, up and down, over and over. But even thoughts, insubstantial as they seem, need a footing, or they begin to spin,to run in frenzied circles; they can’t bear nothingness either. You waited for something from morning until night, and nothing happened. You went on waiting and waiting. Nothing happened. You waited, waited, waited, thinking, thinking, thinking, until your temples throbbed. Nothing happened. You were alone. Alone. Alone.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

the last book I ever read (Chess Story by Stefan Zweig, excerpt two)

from Chess Story by Stefan Zwieg:

I soon found the man who had fled so hurriedly. He was on the promenade deck, reading in a deck chair. Before presenting myself I took the opportunity to study him. The angular head rested in an attitude of mild fatigue on the cushion; I was again especially struck by the remarkable pallor of the comparatively young face, framed at the temples by blindingly white hair. I had the feeling, I don’t know why, that this man must have aged abruptly. I had hardly approached him when he rose politely and introduced himself, using a name which was immediately familiar to me as that of a highly regarded old Austrian family. I recalled that one of the bearers of this name had been part of Schubert’s most intimate circle and that one of the old Kaiser’s personal physicians had descended from the same family. When I conveyed to Dr. B our request that he accept Czentovic’s challenge, he was visibly astonished. As it turned out, he had had no idea that it was a world champion, in fact the reigning one, against whom he had so magnificently held his own in that game. For some reason this information seemed to make a special impression on him, for he asked over and over if I was sure his opponent really was the acknowledged world champion. I soon found that this state of affairs made my task easier and, aware of his sensitivity, considered it advisable to conceal from him only that the financial risk of possible defeat was being borne by McConnor. After hesitating for quite a while, Dr. B. finally declared himself ready for a match, though not without expressly asking me to warn the other gentlemen that it was imperative nto to place exaggerated hopes in his abilities.

“You see,” he added with a pensive smile, “I honestly don’t know if I can play a proper chess game according to all the rules. Please believe me, it was absolutely not out of false modesty that I said I hadn’t touched a chess piece since grammar school—that was more than twenty years ago. And even then I wasn’t considered a player of any particular talent.”

Monday, April 26, 2021

the last book I ever read (Chess Story by Stefan Zweig, excerpt one)

from Chess Story by Stefan Zwieg:

On the great passenger steamer, due to depart New York for Buenos Aires at midnight, there was the usual last-minute bustle and commotion. Visitors from shore shoved confusedly to see their friends off, telegraph boys in cocked caps dashed through the lounges shouting names, trunks and flowers were carried past, and inquisitive children ran up and down the companionways, the orchestra playing imperturbably on deck all the while. As I was standing a bit apart from this hubbhub, talking on the promenade deck with an acquaintance of mine, two or three flashbulbs flared near us—apparently the press had been quickly interviewing and photographing some celebrity just before we sailed. My friend glanced over and smiled. “That’s a rare bird you’ve got on board—that’s Czentovic.” I must have received this news with a rather blank look, for he went on to explain, “Mirko Czentovic, the world chess champion. He’s crisscrossed America from coast to coast playing tournaments and is now off to Argentina for fresh triumphs.”

Sunday, April 25, 2021

the last book I ever read (My Autobiography of Carson McCullers: A Memoir by Jenn Shapland, excerpt fourteen)

from My Autobiography of Carson McCullers: A Memoir by Jenn Shapland:

The year Clock was published, Mary quietly divorced her husband, Ray. Carson and Mary traveled together to visit friends—Edwin and John in Charleston, Mary Tucker in Virginia, and Edward Albee on Fire Island, where he and Carson worked on a stage production of The Ballad of the Sad Café. Albee wrote each morning for four hours, then, at night, returning from walking the beach, he read aloud to Carson and Mary. He read Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days and his own Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and the first act of Ballad. One of the major obstacles to staging Ballad was the question of Amelia’s motivations. Albee asked Carson for an explanation: “What went on upstairs when Marvin Macy tried to get in bed with Miss Amelia? Was Miss Amelia a lesbian? According to Albee, Carson wanted this left ambiguous.

Carson held a now-famous lunch for Marilyn Monroe, Arthur Miller, and Karen Blixen (pen name Isak Dinesen), a friend to whom she’d been writing for years, at her house in Nyack. She served oysters and champagne, the only things Blixen would eat at the time. Writing to Mary, who was traveling during the festivities, she says how she missed her at the party, that it was a day they would have relived together in their golden years. When Carson traveled, Mary came to meet her at the airport, the contemporary definition of love.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

the last book I ever read (My Autobiography of Carson McCullers: A Memoir by Jenn Shapland, excerpt thirteen)

from My Autobiography of Carson McCullers: A Memoir by Jenn Shapland:

I often feel bedridden and work from bed. It’s hard to write on the days when I can’t sit up. Sometimes I just feel bad, weak, foggy. Illness is lonely and frequently hard. I’m left with my own ongoing wondering if this sense of loneliness is just me or if it’s a human feeling. I think this is one thing that drew me to Carson’s fiction in the first place. On the page, Carson is at pains to articulate the inarticulable, to find a way to express feelings of isolation, lonelinees, and longing that I associate with queer life, with life as a sick person, and with life as a writer.

I get a lot of sleep, I try not to drink too much, I eat well, I go on long walks for my weak heart, but I am still a queer, sick, writing person—woman—living in the world. I get lonely. I am alone because I don’t have the energy to participate as much as I’d like to, I’m alone because writing demands that I be alone, and I feel lonely because the world that finds its way through to me, via the internet, or invitations I often turn down, or cancelled plans, suggests that life is happening elsewhere. It is someplace outside my home, where I work, and outside my mind, where I often live. It can be lonely to be queer, especially if you choose to forego the usual signposts of a complete life, like marriage and children. And it is lonely to be a writer, to put your work first and your income second in a world that would rather you find a full-time job and earn more money. To stay home, to be sick, to write can make all of my life feel like a place out of time. In Austin, in my twenties, when I needed to remember that the world was still there, that I was still in it, I used to sit out on the porch smoking cigarettes, staring into the middle distance, wondering what my neighbor was doing. In my new, quieter life in New Mexico, I walk outside several times a day to babysit the puny vegetables, or look out at the mountains over our adobe walls.

Friday, April 23, 2021

the last book I ever read (My Autobiography of Carson McCullers: A Memoir by Jenn Shapland, excerpt twelve)

from My Autobiography of Carson McCullers: A Memoir by Jenn Shapland:

In the fall of 1951, back in Nyack with Reeves and Bebe, Carson began a piece about a pharmacist called “The Pestle,” the seeds for her final novel, Clock Without Hands, which she would publish ten years later. She and Reeves sailed one last time for Europe, to Naples and then Rome, and finally to a home outside Paris, “a small house, but Reeves and I had separate bedrooms and there was a guest room.” Reeves was drinking constantly in the cellar beneath his “studio,” where he claimed to be writing a book, and he was continuing to threaten Carson. He had his sights set on a double suicide, convinced that they could never be happy, together or apart, and the only solution was to die as a couple. I read this as his acceptance of Carson’s love for women and his own unspeakable love for men, that because they are queer they can never love each other completely, though it’s impossible to know what he was thinking. (He had proposed the same solution, joint suicide, to David Diamond once, going so far as to push him toward the edge of a bridge.) In late summer, 1953, Reeves drove Carson into the woods. At her feet, on the floor of the passenger side, Carson saw the ropes. They stopped at a gas station and while Reeves was inside, Carson fled the car, fled Reeves, fled France. This time, thank god, for good.

I remember feeling horrified when I first read this in one of Carson’s biographies. She doesn’t describe the scene in Illumination, but she refers to Reeves as a potential murderer multiple times. To me it shows how far manipulation and possessiveness can go in a relationship. Silence and secrecy around queer desires—Reeves’s refusal to accept his own sexuality, Carson’s “imaginary friends”—can create a desperation that leads to extreme beliefs about a single relationship’s importance and ability to define a person’s whole identity, whole world. I’m furious that Carson stayed with Reeves this long, but I also think I understand how hard it was to see a way out when so much was governed by Reeves’s increasing delusions and manipulations.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

the last book I ever read (My Autobiography of Carson McCullers: A Memoir by Jenn Shapland, excerpt eleven)

from My Autobiography of Carson McCullers: A Memoir by Jenn Shapland:

Over the next four years, Carson finally published The Member of the Wedding, received her second Guggenheim Fellowship, met Tennessee Williams, learned to ski in Italy, had two more strokes, and attempted suicide. Tenn had written her a letter out of the blue in 1946 after staying up all night reading Wedding, and invited her to stay with him in Nantucket. Carson showed up in shorts and together they spent “a summer of sun and friendship” at the beach. “Every morning,” she writes, “we would work at the same table, he at one end, and me at the other.” She cooked Spuds Carson “almost every day,” her own recipe which “consisted of baked potatoes, mashed with butter, onions, and cheese. After a long swim it was good fare.” She befriended and later grew to despise Pancho Rodríguez, Tenn’s partner, and told Tenn all about Reeves. Unexpectedly, Annemarie’s old girlfriend, Baroness Margot Von Opel, stayed with them for some of the summer. Carson began a play version of Member of the Wedding in Nantucket, and Tenn helped her find a new agent, Audrey Wood.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

the last book I ever read (My Autobiography of Carson McCullers: A Memoir by Jenn Shapland, excerpt ten)

from My Autobiography of Carson McCullers: A Memoir by Jenn Shapland:

Reeves went to war in November 1943 and was wounded at Normandy the following year, while Carson was at Yaddo. That same summer, she received news that her father had died. She returned to Columbus for the funeral in August. Her mother refused to go inside the house on Stark Avenue after he died. Carson, Bebe, and Rita all moved together to an apartment in Nyack, New York, a town on the Hudson River where Carson would spend most of her remaining years.

Bebe’s unwillingness to return to their Georgia home makes more sense in light of a 2003 revelation in Virginia Carr’s introduction to the reissue of her 1975 biography. In Illumination, Carson had written, “in the middle of these years of fury and disaster my father suddenly died of a Coronary Thrombosis. He died in 1944 at his jewelry store.” According to Carr, this is not at all the truth. She writes, “both the coroner and the obituary in the local newspaper reported that Mr. Smith had died in his jewelry shop of a heart attack. But I learned later than he had died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head—Bebe, his wife, ‘insisted that we tell no one.’” It is another rewrite, one that makes it into Carson’s own retelling of her life. She does not speak of her father’s death to Mary in the therapy transcripts.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

the last book I ever read (My Autobiography of Carson McCullers: A Memoir by Jenn Shapland, excerpt nine)

from My Autobiography of Carson McCullers: A Memoir by Jenn Shapland:

Patricia Highsmith, lesbian novelist, called her two months at Yaddo her “summer of peace.” She was only in residence once, in 1948, and no written record of her stay remains in the Yaddo archives. Nowhere in Elizabeth’s notes does she appear. At Yaddo, she wrote the bulk of Strangers on a Train and spent plenty of time drinking in Saratoga Springs after working hours. She found a queer community of her own while in residency, befriending the gay novelist Marc Brandel and talking to him at length about sexuality as they walked the grounds. (He soon proposed, four different times, hoping to establish a marriage of convenience.) When Highsmith died, unbeknownst to anyone at Yaddo, it was revealed that she had named the sole beneficiary of her estate: $3 million at the time, plus any future royalties, including proceeds from films made from her books, like The Talented Mr. Ripley and Strangers on a Train and, recently, Carol. Nestled in my brand-new cabin, I liked to imagine that the heated floors and walls of windows were derived directly from Carol’s box office success. Chelsea and I listened to the audiobooks of Strangers on a Train and The Price of Salt on road trips when we were first in New Mexico, enthralled by Highsmith’s ability in both books to render creepy queer romance as transcontinental crime drama. She published The Price of Salt, on which Carol is based, in 1952 under the pseudonym Claire Morgan, concerned, she wrote in 1990, that she might be labeled a “lesbian book writer” if she used her real name. She was also trying to protect the people on whom she based her characters. It’s her only novel that charts a lesbian romance, and it’s still credited as one of the first lesbian novels of the era to end happily—rather than with the typical death or straight marriage. I wonder if Carson read it.

Monday, April 19, 2021

the last book I ever read (My Autobiography of Carson McCullers: A Memoir by Jenn Shapland, excerpt eight)

from My Autobiography of Carson McCullers: A Memoir by Jenn Shapland:

Giddily picking out places we might live when we escaped Texas, Chelsea’s hometown, Birmingham, made the short list. But when we visited, I noticed that everywhere we went—every restaurant, store, bar—we were the only couple that wasn’t visibly straight. We couldn’t see a community where we’d belong, and the idea of starting our own seemed too daunting. Not so in Santa Fe. As we house hunted at a distance, just about every Craigslist ad for a rental came with a woman landlord: metalsmiths, weavers. We moved to Santa Fe in part because of the stereotype of women living on their own in New Mexico, which reflects a long history of lesbian artists and writers. Our current landlord, Jan, wove tapestries for Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party. She calls herself an Amazon warrior.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

the last book I ever read (My Autobiography of Carson McCullers: A Memoir by Jenn Shapland, excerpt seven)

from My Autobiography of Carson McCullers: A Memoir by Jenn Shapland:

In a photo taken in June 1958 by Richard Avedon, Carson wears her red Russian coat over a striped shirt. Her hair is a messy pixie, and her face is almost absent of expression, yet her eyes look deep into the camera. Avedon writes, “I remember her saying to me, ‘I just want to look like Greta Garbo.’” When Carson was first coming into her own, it was a bold, scandalous choice for a woman to wear pants or shorts, one that Carson stuck to for most of her life. A headline from the 1930s reads “GARBO IN PANTS!” In Harper’s Bazaar in 1948, a review of restaurants in Paris mentions that “Carson McCullers used to astound the Parisians by appearing for lunch in her blue jeans” at La Méditerranée, where Marlene Dietrich and Jean Gabin were “a daily twosome.” I never know what to make of these coded but still quite obvious references to queer culture, to women toeing the line of feminity and straightness in public. Like when Carson and Tenn were featured on facing pages in a Vogue article called “Incessant Prizewinners,” Carson’s Russian coat, her lapels and cufflinks, her cigarette, her gaze all a clear reflection of Tenn. Of the day Carson asked to look like Greta Garbo—whose name she pronounced “Greeta”—Avedon says, “Even though she was in pain, she couldn’t have been giving more of herself. She had a complete understanding of the complexity and complicitly between the sitter and the photographer and the fact that a portrait has nothing to do with the truth.”

Saturday, April 17, 2021

the last book I ever read (My Autobiography of Carson McCullers: A Memoir by Jenn Shapland, excerpt six)

from My Autobiography of Carson McCullers: A Memoir by Jenn Shapland:

Slowly I settled in, though there were things about living in a museum that were not totally comfortable or clear. I kept taking long, migraineous naps on the couch where the director told me Carson wrote Clock Without Hands, a mod white sofa that is allegedly grimy—I didn’t remove the slipcover to see. The couch appears in a photo of Carson taken by Cecil Beaton. She’s stretched out in her embroidered vest holding her cane. I didn’t even know if I was supposed to sit on it—or on any of the furniture—but there really wasn’t anywhere else to sit. Yet only a few years prior, working in an archive, I handled the belongings of writers, Carson included, wearing white gloves and tissue paper. I got a quilt from the closet—hers? I hoped not—and within a week I was sleeping and eating dinner and watching movies on the couch. I watched Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and other burned DVDs Chelsea sent me in the mail from her collection, annotated with Post-it notes: “Classic—academic horrorshow—brilliant—60s.” The movie made me feel a little glum about relationships; the two are so horrible to each other, and I kept thinking about Carson and Reeves. I rented Reflections in a Golden Eye, the movie made of Carson’s second novel right before she died, and laughed out loud at the absurd last shot. The camera flashes back and forth from one character to another after Elizabeth Taylor’s gay husband shoots the private he’s been obsessed with throughout the film—the private who, meanwhile, had been sneaking into his bedroom to watch his wife sleep.

Friday, April 16, 2021

the last book I ever read (My Autobiography of Carson McCullers: A Memoir by Jenn Shapland, excerpt five)

from My Autobiography of Carson McCullers: A Memoir by Jenn Shapland:

Carson wasn’t comfortable in New York at first. Her roommate, a student at Columbia, had a boyfriend and was never home. On her way back to the room one day, a man came up the stairs behind Carson. He “tried to put his arms around me but I pushed him away so violently that he ricocheted against the wall,” she recalls. “So I was stuck there in that lonely room with a sense of menace and a fear of strange men. [In the daytime I’d go to Macy’s and just sit in the telephone booth where I knew I was safe. Then back to the horror of a sleepless night.]” She moved to women’s group housing at the Parnassus Club, then the Three Arts Club, and found sleep more easily surrounded by other creative women. I flashed back to my own six-month stint in New York, a semester at NYU my sophomore year of college, when I thought I’d finally find my people, my life, and everything I wanted that had yet to surface at my small, preppy Vermont school. Instead, I showed up in the city in Birkenstocks and knew immediately that I was on my own. I spent all my days alone in coffee shops and on benches and taking long, slow walks. I was queer but closeted. I mailed arduous letters to my girlfriend, abroad in Athens. I spent a lot of time at the Strand. I remember it as the loneliest time of my life.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

the last book I ever read (My Autobiography of Carson McCullers: A Memoir by Jenn Shapland, excerpt four)

from My Autobiography of Carson McCullers: A Memoir by Jenn Shapland:

Carson also found company in books. Her longtime favorite was the autobiography of dancer Isadora Duncan, My Life. “When I was fourteen years old, the great love of my life, which influenced the whole family, was Isadora Duncan,” she writes. She tried to start a dance company and informed her father that the family would be moving abroad to support her dancing dreams, which were short-lived. As a kid, Carson was frequently ill, with almost yearly bouts of pneumonia, and missed a lot of school. Her closest friends were adults: aunts and grandmothers were significant early on, and her nannies and maids all makes appearances in Illumination—black women role models even if, in the 1920s small-town South, they were household servants. In therapy she calls her piano instructor, Mary Tucker, one of her first loves and describes her as a kind of personal deity. For years, she took lessons at Tucker’s house every Saturday and planned to be a musician, attending high school only sporadically and spending most of her time on music. Cue the song of the queer, creative childhood, the telltale signs of growing up isolated, independent, and artistic in a conservative place. She writes, “I yearned for one particular thing; to get away from Columbus and to make my mark in the world."

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

the last book I ever read (My Autobiography of Carson McCullers: A Memoir by Jenn Shapland, excerpt three)

from My Autobiography of Carson McCullers: A Memoir by Jenn Shapland:

The Chick-fil-A was how I knew where to turn for Carson’s house, which is green with another green house next door, and a code to get inside, and a feeling of dead dust. Her neighborhood, which used to perch on the rural outskirts of Columbus, now borders an excruciatingly typical main thoroughfare lined with fast food, a Rite Aid and a Walgreens, and a Circle K. I have never eaten Chick-fil-A, for obvious political reasons, but the drive-thru lane was always overflowing and blocking the turn for Stark Avenue. Instead, one night I ordered a pizza, and the delivery guy showed up on Carson’s porch and asked, “Do you live here?”

“Yes,” I said immediately, concerned that his handing over the pizza depended on a correct answer. “Well, sort of.”

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

the last book I ever read (My Autobiography of Carson McCullers: A Memoir by Jenn Shapland, excerpt two)

from My Autobiography of Carson McCullers: A Memoir by Jenn Shapland:

As therapy, Carson and Mary’s sessions were life-changing. Carson’s quest for self-knowledge, which coincided with narrating her disastrous marriages and articulating her love for women, took place well into her adulthood. The tapes document a forty-one-year-old woman just figuring out who she is, dictating it in her soft southern purr. Carson’s letters to Mary after each session are awash in the joy of self-revelation, among other joys. But Carson never published her therapy transcripts. After reading them over, she was heartbroken to find them garbled and indecipherable. Yet I read them as if they were an unpublished manuscript, a draft tucked away in a a drawer for a lifetime, only to find its way to a numbered folder in a numbered box in an archive. Carson may not have ultimately seen a book in them, but I do. I see the only story she ever wrote: a lonely misfit wrestles with her hidden self, unable to articulate her own longings.

Monday, April 12, 2021

the last book I ever read (My Autobiography of Carson McCullers: A Memoir by Jenn Shapland, excerpt one)

from My Autobiography of Carson McCullers: A Memoir by Jenn Shapland:

Carson McCullers, when she is remembered, is remembered as a novelist who grew up in Columbus, Georgia, moved to New York in her twenties, and spent the rest of her life writing about misfits in the American South. Her characters are mute or too tall or black or queer and almost always lonely and out of place in conservative small town that looks a lot like her own. In 1940, her first novel, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, brought her fame at twenty-three. Her books were made into films and Broadway plays. One of her best friends was Tennessee Williams—she called him Tenn—and she feuded with copycat Truman Capote for years. She married the same man, Reeves McCullers, twice, and is rumored to have chased after women. She was often drunk, chronically ill, and, like so many of her era, she died young. If you’ve heard of her, you’ve probably heard some version of this.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

the last book I ever read (Gluck: Her Biography by Diana Souhami, excerpt fourteen)

from Gluck: Her Biography by Diana Souhami:

A few days after the finish of the show, and before returning to ‘the Steyning dullness,’ Gluck slipped in her hotel room alone at night and broke her right wrist. She suffered the pain until morning, then was taken to the hospital. The next day she went home with her arm in plaster. It was a symbolic return, for her painting days were done and her broken wrist and swollen hand were the literal expression of this finish. Trivialities she professed to abhor consumed her attention again. Something was wrong with the Aga and Miss Vye was off on holiday. Gluck and Edith packed to spend the month of July with Nesta, the travel arrangements all seen to by Louis. It was to be Edith’s last holiday. Nesta arranged for a physiotherapist to treat Gluck’s hand three times a week: ‘I am very upset to think that I shall perhaps be a nuisance over this but it is apparently crucial to my recovery for painting or even perhaps living,’ Gluck forlornly told her (11 June 1973). She still had the same unwavering desire to create, but the blaze of glory was over, though the longing for a truth she could live and the desire to reach the haven of death with a prize in her hand stayed with her until the end.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

the last book I ever read (Gluck: Her Biography by Diana Souhami, excerpt thirteen)

from Gluck: Her Biography by Diana Souhami:

In November 1972, preparations began in earnest for the show the following Spring. Nesta called at The Fine Art Society, impressed them with her charm, told them she was ‘whirling wih contacts’ and began putting the word about to her numerous influential friends. Gluck signed all pictures in her possession, advertised The Times and The Telegraph to trace the whereabouts of those sold long ago, negotiated with a framemaker, worried about the lettering of the flag to be hung outside the gallery, the quality of photography in the catalogue, the design of the room, the publicity, and whether champagne or sparkling wine would be drunk at the party. She allowed no one to get on with their job without intervention from her.

Friday, April 9, 2021

the last book I ever read (Gluck: Her Biography by Diana Souhami, excerpt twelve)

from Gluck: Her Biography by Diana Souhami:

Gluck’s brother, Louis, took over as Steward of The Fund in 1940 – the key job in administering the complex structure of trusts and investments, claims and practical problems of the family dynasty. He lost his seat as Conservative MP for Nottingham East in the Labour landslide of 1945, but despite his parliamentary disappointments he was to hold a plethora of public offices: President of the Albert Hall, President of the Marylebone Conservative Association, President of the Liberal Jewish Synagogue, Chairman of the GLC. He was knighted in 1953. As the years passed he got more busy, autocratic, uncompromising and impressive. The jokiness shared by him and Gluck when young evaporated and they continued to try to avoid direct negotiations with each other over her financial affairs. There was a bond of kinship, Gluck stayed with him when in London, but they had lost common ground. She got on his nerves and he would turn the sound up on the television when she came in the room. When for years she ceased to paint, and herself got more autocratic, she no longer in his view justified her eccentricity.

And as if there was not enough to divide them, their mother, after the war, began evincing symptoms of madness. She became even more hyperactive, showed signs of paranoia, her moods changed erratically and she stopped looking after her appearance or eating enough. When she thought no one was looking, she slipped chicken legs or buttered rolls off her plate and into her handbag to avoid eating them, and the room she lived in at the Cumberland became chaotic.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

the last book I ever read (Gluck: Her Biography by Diana Souhami, excerpt eleven)

from Gluck: Her Biography by Diana Souhami:

It seems that Edith was the last of Yeats’s lovers. She first met him when, aged twenty-one, she was in Manchester attending a lecture of his. Of their early relationship there is no record, but after Gluck’s death in 1978 about sixty letters from Yeats to Edith were sold to the Houghton Library, Harvard. Personal and passionate in tone, they date from 1937 until his death in 1939, keep her informed of all aspects of his work, invite her comments on the progress of his poems and cover such matters as his radio broadcasts with Dulac, the affairs and disputes of the Abbey Theatre, his family, friends and contemporaries. In 1937, when Edith was fifty-three and Yeats seventy-two, he was writing to her (29 May 1937) sentiments that echoed her own views on the ‘better bouquets than those we get at our first dances.’ He wrote, in words that commend the romantic sensibilities of older people, of how, had Edith been younger, true intimacy between them would have been impossible. He told her he thought the finest bond of all occurs ‘when we have outlived our first rough silver’ and of how sweet this bond can be to the old and the half old. He spoke of his profound hopes for their friendship and of how peaceful the understanding and sympathy she accorded him made him feel. In a letter to Maud Gonne in June 1938 he described Edith as ‘one of the best-paid women journalists in the world. She found she had no leisure so she gave up the most of it.’

He stayed for months at a time in the Chantry House. Edith evidently revered him and provided him with an ideal environment for work. The ‘Yeats Room,’ as it was called, was kept just for his use. He wrote many of his later poems and plays for the Peacock Theatre there and discussed his work with her: ‘When we meet at the end of the month I shall have much poetry to read you … ‘ When in England he would stay with the poet Lady Dorothy Wellesley (who, though married to eh Duke of Wellington, had a sexual preference for women) at her home Penns in the Rocks in the village of Withyham, about thirty miles from Steyning, and then move on to the Chantry House.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

the last book I ever read (Gluck: Her Biography by Diana Souhami, excerpt ten)

from Gluck: Her Biography by Diana Souhami:

The Heald sisters had lived together harmoniously for most of their lives. Mother, to whom they were devoted, lived with them until her death shortly before the move to Chantry in 1934. She was in later years a dumpy figure rather like Queen Victoria and had a reputation for making the best coffee in London. Before moving to Steyning they owned a fine Regency house at 24 St Petersburg Place, near Hyde Park, with a red Riley in the garage and a flat for the chauffeur at the top of the house. (Edith was an erratic driver, known to go to sleep at the wheel.) They earned their standard of living through ability and hard work. They were not, like Gluck, born into money. Their family, originally from Larne in County Antrim, Ireland, moved to Accrington in Lancashire. ‘ … my Lancashire great-grandmother smoked a pipe among her men folk and joined in their discussion on that startling fellow Tyndall and he possible effect of the newly projected Atlantic cable … ‘ Edith wrote in the Sunday Express, 19 July 1927. Throughout her life she kept up the Irish connection. She had a cottage in Rosapenna, in Donegal, and she and Gluck went on walking holidays there. In later years Gluck painted landscapes on these Irish holidays.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

the last book I ever read (Gluck: Her Biography by Diana Souhami, excerpt nine)

from Gluck: Her Biography by Diana Souhami:

The last painting which linked directly with Nesta’s life was of her mother, Ethel Sawyer. Gluck’s second picture of her showed her as she lay dying in 1943. The next year Gluck and Nesta were to part. The painting was the flip side of the YouWe profile. Resemblance between mother and daughter is strong, but now the eyes are closed, the face tired of life, creased with pain, all vision gone. Somewhere in Gluck’s psyche it had registered that Eternity in love is hard to find. ‘Nothing but happy pictures since YouWe,’ she had written to Nesta in 1936. Seven years later she was painting the death of her lover’s mother.

Monday, April 5, 2021

the last book I ever read (Gluck: Her Biography by Diana Souhami, excerpt eight)

from Gluck: Her Biography by Diana Souhami:

So, while Graham Sutherland painted red landscapes and black landscapes, David Bomberg mauve and orange landscapes and underground bomb stores, Henry Moore frail figures sheltering from bombs in underground shelters and Paul Nash bleak, unpeopled, desolate warscapes, Gluck painted the most shortlived of wild flowers, violets and convolvulus, and the people whom she knew. It was her personal world beyond the reach of politics. The war went on outside as Virginia Woolf, living a few miles away at Lewes, noted in her diary: “’They’re at it again” we say as we sit, I doing my work, Leonard making cigarettes. Now and then there’s a thud. The windows shake. So we know London is raided again.’

Sunday, April 4, 2021

the last book I ever read (Gluck: Her Biography by Diana Souhami, excerpt seven)

from Gluck: Her Biography by Diana Souhami:

Within weeks, Bolton House was commandeered by the Auxiliary Fire Service. She handed the whole thing over to her Trustees to sort out, kept the studio as a London pied-á-terre and moved in with Nesta’s mother, Mrs Sawyer, while searching for a house close to Nesta’s to rent. Mrs Gluckstein, mindful of the hints Nesta had dropped of her mother being less than enamoured of Gluck as a house guest, wrote to thank Mrs Sawyer. ‘I do not want thanks when it is a pleasure to me to have Gluck,’ Mrs Sawyer replied.

The upheaval and uncertainty unsettled Gluck and she felt Nesta was not helping all she might. ‘My looks say I am well, my spirit is a mess at the moment and my body and nerves almost at the end of their tether,’ she wrote to her mother (24 September 1939). But she soon found a house and because of petrol rationing got herself a bicycle, which she quickly learned to ride. Nesta bought a motorbike, which she rode around the lanes at alarming speed.

Saturday, April 3, 2021

the last book I ever read (Gluck: Her Biography by Diana Souhami, excerpt six)

from Gluck: Her Biography by Diana Souhami:

Gluck went, while Nesta was away, to a season of surrealist films at The Everyman, Hampstead, and to an exhibition of eighteenth-century wallpapers at Sanderson which she found ‘beautiful and somehow consoling.’ She saw Mae West in I’m No Angel. ‘Gawd! I was fascinated but never want to see her again’ and the Dionne Quints in The Country Doctor which she found marvellous, amusing and fascinating.

She tried to cut down on smoking, forty a day of Players Medium Cut (‘It’s the Tobacco that Counts’), and tried to cut down on Dial, but very often it was her only way of getting a good night’s sleep. She endured frequent visits to the dentist, a Mr Simpson, who told her he had never met anyone with such sensitive teeth. She bought new turtles for the fish tank, which she cleaned out regularly, but with equal regularity the turtles died. To salve the pangs of separation Nesta sent photographs of herself which Gluck scrutinized under a magnifying glass: ‘the little haze of mist round your mouth which is your beloved breath on the cold air – I nearly died of that in the side view one.’

Friday, April 2, 2021

the last book I ever read (Gluck: Her Biography by Diana Souhami, excerpt five)

from Gluck: Her Biography by Diana Souhami:

‘Medallion’ is a portrait of Gluck in love with Nesta Obermer. She went with Nesta to Fritz Busch’s production of Mozart’s ‘Don Giovanni’ at Glyndebourne on 23 June 1936. They sat in the third row and she felt the intensity of the music fused them into one person and matched their love. She called ‘Medallion’ the ‘YouWe’ picture and it stood in her studio in Bolton House while she worked on other paintings for her 1937 exhibition. The gaze of aspiration and direction and the determined jaws have something of the feel of socialist revolutionary art. Nesta’s fair hair forms a halo around Gluck’s dark head. There is no ‘setting.’ To describe it Gluck took a quote from Coleridge’s Kubla Khan:

And all who heard should see them there, And all should cry, Beware! Beware! His flashing eyes, his floating hair! Weave a circle round him thrice, And close your eyes with holy dread, For he on honey-dew hath fed, And drunk the milk of Paradise.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

the last book I ever read (Gluck: Her Biography by Diana Souhami, excerpt four)

from Gluck: Her Biography by Diana Souhami:

The life of Gluck’s London in the thirties went on relatively undisturbed by the turbulence of international money markets, unemployment at home and German rearmament. She continued to produce ever more polished paintings and her 1937 exhibition was as successful as that of 1932. Two years later war swept away the world of high style she inhabited. She lost her home, her social circle, her sense of direction. She faded from the public eye and was never to regain her early fame. But more violent than war was the onslaught of love. It hit her in 1936 and gave her great pleasure and then great pain. She never really recovered from it.