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Reflections in a Golden Eye by Carson…
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Reflections in a Golden Eye (1941)

by Carson McCullers

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Read combined review here: Complete Novels of Carson McCullers ( )
  ManWithAnAgenda | Feb 18, 2019 |
The setting of this brilliantly written book is an army post.

There are several protagonists in this story.

There is Private Williams, who keeps himself to himself and behaves, mostly, or at least at first, in an exemplary fashion. He had never willingly touched, looked at, or spoken to a female since he was 8 years old.

There is Captain Pendleton, who is “something of a savant” but has “a sad penchant for becoming enamoured of his wife’s lovers. He is also a bit of a kleptomaniac.

Pendleton’s wife, Leonora, is a somewhat “feeble-minded”, sensual woman who “could not have multiplied 12 by 13” and has difficulty in writing a simple letter.

Her present lover is Major Morris Langdon, not a sympathetic character, whose wife, Alison, is in poor health.

Alison has a wonderfully empathic and solicitous Filipino servant called Anacleto, who is rather special and artistic; he loves ballet, classical music and paints water-colours.

Leonora’s horse, Firebird, also plays a key role.

Private Williams becomes infatuated with Leonora, and begins to enter her house at night and sit silently by her bed gazing at her.

Captain Penderton has various encounters with Private Williams and develops an obsessive hatred for him which turns into a sort of love.

This theme of strange, unrequited love echoes that in The Ballad of the Sad Café, a later book of Carson’s.

I found Carson’s characters to be unique and brilliantly delineated. This is another of the author’s masterpieces.

P.S. I see from other reviews that the book has been filmatized starring Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando. ( )
  IonaS | Jul 23, 2018 |
Reflections in a Golden Eye is in the "Southern Gothic" genre that McCullers and other southern writers produced in the mid-twentieth century (q.v. Flannery O'Connor and William Faulkner). For some reason (perhaps the fate of second novels after an astounding debut work) this short novel did not garner the critical praise heaped on "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter". Nonetheless, it is a riveting and deeply moving story.

The novel's setting -- an unnamed army post in the South in the 1930's -- is the perfect stage on which to explore the complex and distraught inner lives of the characters. On its face, a military post is where one might expect its inhabitants to evince order, discipline, self-control and mundane regularity of interactions, a place where hierarchy governs social relationships. In a sense, the structure of social relations on a military post might be analogous to the hierarchical race and class relations in the South. Far from an orderly tableau of functional relationships, McCullers reveals that there are deep and discordant currents of anger, angst and sadness that plague the soldiers and wives on the post.

Captain Penderton is a West Point graduate who's considered by his superiors a hard-working scholar of tactics, regarded as having potential for advancement to higher rank. His wife, Leonora, is a southern "belle" who is sociable and personable, but not at all intelligent. She is having an affair with Major Langdon, of which Penderton is aware but unwilling or unable to confront. Despite his veneer of competence, Penderton knows he is guided by his fears. He also has sublimated homoerotic feelings toward Langdon which check his anger about being cuckolded. Major Langdon is brusque and straight forward, not subtle in any sense. His wife, Allison, is intellectually superior to Langdon, but in frail health and grieving over the loss of an infant child a few years ago. She has no intellectual peers at the post apart from Lieutenant Weinchek, an odd duck who is failing in his military career. Allison has a devoted servant, Anacleto, a Filipino, who had accompanied the Langdon's from a previous posting. Anacleto is gentle and sensitive and he and Allison have a close intellectual bond not possible between she and her boorish husband.

Private Ellgee Williams is a loner who does not engage in camaraderie with his fellow enlisted men. His life has been a series of episodes in which he explosively breaks through his detachment to do something dramatic and destructive (he once killed a man). He is mostly an "watcher" of others and makes no effort to socially bond with anyone. Williams has become infatuated with Lenora after having glimpsed her partially naked while walking by the Penderton's home. He starts sneaking up to the home's windows at night just looking, but then begins to enter Lenora's bedroom in the middle of the night to watch her sleeping. Penderton often stays up late working, unaware that Williams is in his wife's bedroom. Even so, Penderton, after an incident with a horse ride, becomes obsessed with hatred for Williams. They do not have any interactions beyond the most superficial encounters, but Williams becomes the object of great disdain for Penderton.

Allison decides she can no longer abide with her loutish husband and must divorce him. Her health deteriorates (one suspects stemming from her depression.) She and Anacleto concoct half-baked plans to start a business somewhere so they can support themselves after she leaves Langdon. Before this happens Allison has an emotional breakdown which prompts Major Langdon to commit her to an asylum where she shortly dies.

Penderton's revulsion for Williams grows. He starts stalking him. Williams continues his night intrusion to Leonora's bedroom until one night Captain Penderton discovers him there and shoots him dead.

The contrast between the presumed orderliness of an army post and the tumultuous inner lives of the characters give this novel its "gothic" tone. McCullers imbues these characters with a depth of alienation and loneliness that is agonizing and even crippling to them. Captain Penderton is aware of his broken relationship with Leonora, but unable to deal with it. Perhaps his seething hatred of Williams, a social inferior, stems from his inability to react to his wife's affair with a military superior. Allison is grieving over the loss of a child, but even more over a life of barren personal relationships that cannot be changed. Williams is so completely incapable of establishing emotional ties with others, so much that he is really a "watcher" of the people in his world, never able to bridge the emotional gap he lives with. Right before the final incident with Penderton, Williams instigates a fight in the barracks, a sign that his repression of feelings is about the break down.

In all, this is a fine example of the genre of writing so well-crafted by McCullers and her Southern peers. ( )
  stevesmits | Sep 8, 2017 |
He had a sad penchant for becoming enamoured of his wife's lovers. Dark and fatalistic with sexual overtones, the novel is full of pathos for its fractured characters whose loneliness and desires for relationships erupt in sordid and disturbing ways. The claustrophobic nature of the isolated military community emphasises the unsettling and inescapable situation the characters find themselves in where the only possible outcome is to push everybody to their breaking points. Warning: a distressing read. ( )
  kitzyl | Oct 15, 2016 |
"For the formation of an idea involves the fusion of two or more known facts. And this the Captain had not the courage to do."

2016 has been such a strange year so far. Not only have we lost some of the great individuals of the performance arts, but my reading choices have led me sown some rabbit holes that can only be described as "messed up".

Reflections in a Golden Eye is another one of those messed up books. Don't get me wrong, there is no gore or torture or anything like that, but we get a cast of characters who are each in a state of torment - each for different reasons but all of them are connected and could be resolved if things were brought out in the open.
Except, this does not happen. There are attempts, but these are consistently thwarted.

I recently described this story to a friend as similar to Albee's famous opus Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? except that there is no fight, no catharsis.

What is striking about Reflections, however, is that this was written in 1939 (the same year as The Heart is a Lonely Hunter), just over 20 years before Albee's play, and that Carson McCullers was only 22 years old at the time.

I'm am amazed at the insight McCullers had into the human psyche and into the complexity of relationships at such a (still) young age, and this is why I keep coming back to her writing. Stylistically, I did not enjoy Reflections as much as The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and I had to re-read several pages over and over to keep up with the story, but the ideas put forward in this short novella make it well worth reading.

" ‘You mean,’ Captain Penderton said, ‘that any fulfilment obtained at the expense of normalcy is wrong, and should not be allowed to bring happiness. In short, it is better, because it is morally honourable, for the square peg to keep scraping about the round hole rather than to discover and use the unorthodox square that would fit it?’
‘Why, you put it exactly right,’ the Major said. ‘Don’t you agree with me?’
‘No,’ said the Captain, after a short pause.
With gruesome vividness the Captain suddenly looked into his soul and saw himself. For once he did not see himself as others saw him; there came to him a distorted doll-like image, mean of countenance and grotesque in form. The Captain dwelt on this vision without compassion. He accepted it with neither alteration nor excuse.
‘I don’t agree,’ he repeated absently.
Major Langdon thought over this unexpected reply, but did not continue the conversation. He always found it difficult to follow up any one line of thought beyond the first, bare exposition. With a headshake he returned to his own bewildering affairs."
( )
  BrokenTune | Aug 21, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 23 (next | show all)
Interesante novela en que con solo seis personajes logran crear un microcosmos en el que cada uno de ellos encierra sus propios demonios internos sin ser capaces de superar las adversidades. Lectura recomendada y de breve duración.
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Carson McCullersprimary authorall editionscalculated
Moering, RichardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For Annemarie Clarac-Schwarzenbach
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An army post in peacetime is a dull place.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0618084754, Paperback)

A new trade paperback edition of McCullers' second novel, REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE, immortalized by the 1967 film starring Elizabeth Taylor, Marlon Brando, and John Houston.
Set on a Southern army base in the 1930s, REFLECTIONS tells the story of Captain Penderton, a bisexual whose life is upset by the arrival of Major Langdon, a charming womanizer who has an affair with Penderton's tempestuous and flirtatious wife, Leonora. Upon the novel's publication in 1941, reviewers were unsure of what to make of its relatively scandalous subject matter. But a critic for Time Magazine wrote, "In almost any hands, such material would yield a rank fruitcake of mere arty melodrama. But Carson McCullers tells her tale with simplicity, insight, and a rare gift of phrase." Written during a time when McCullers's own marriage to Reeves was on the brink of collapse, her second novel deals with her trademark themes of alienation and unfulfilled loves.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:48 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Transfered to an army base in the American South of the 1930's, Alison Langdon watches her husband, his commanding officer, and the officer's wife get caught up in a web of passion and jealousy.

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