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.”

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