Other Voices, Other Rooms (novel)

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Other Voices, Other Rooms
Other Voices Other Rooms First.jpg
First edition hardback
Author Truman Capote
Country  United States
Language English
Genre Southern Gothic, Bildungsroman, Novel
Publisher Random House
Publication date
1948
Media type Print (Hardback)
Pages 231 pp
ISBN n/a
OCLC 3737623

Other Voices, Other Rooms is a novel written by Truman Capote published in January 1948.[1] Other Voices, Other Rooms is written in the Southern Gothic style and is notable for its atmosphere of isolation and decadence.[2]

Other Voices, Other Rooms is significant because it is both Truman Capote's first published novel and semi-autobiographical. It is also noteworthy due to its erotically charged photograph of the author, risque content, and debut at #9 on the New York Times Best Seller list,[3] where it remained for nine weeks.[4]

Conception[edit]

Truman Capote began writing the manuscript for Other Voices, Other Rooms after being inspired by a walk in the woods while he was living in Monroeville, Alabama. He immediately cast aside his rough manuscript for Summer Crossing and took up writing Other Voices, Other Rooms. After leaving Alabama, he continued to work on the manuscript in New Orleans, Louisiana. His budding literary fame put him in touch with fellow southerner and writer Carson McCullers. Capote joined McCullers at the artists' community, Yaddo, in Saratoga Springs, New York to continue working on his novel. As friends, McCullers helped Capote locate an agent and a publisher (Marion Ives and Random House) for Other Voices, Other Rooms. Capote continued to work on the novel in North Carolina and eventually completed it in a rented cottage in Nantucket, Massachusetts.[5] Truman Capote took two years to write Other Voices, Other Rooms.[6]

Plot summary[edit]

The story focuses on the lonely and slightly effeminate 13-year-old boy Joel Harrison Knox following the death of his mother. Joel is sent from New Orleans, Louisiana to live with his father who abandoned him at the time of his birth. Arriving at Skully's Landing, a vast, decaying mansion on an isolated plantation in Mississippi, Joel meets his sullen stepmother Amy, debauched transvestite Randolph, and the defiant tomboy Idabel, a girl who becomes his friend. He also sees a spectral "queer lady" with "fat dribbling curls" watching him from a top window. Despite Joel's queries, the whereabouts of his father remain a mystery. When he finally is allowed to see his father, Joel is stunned to find he is a mute quadriplegic, having tumbled down a flight of stairs after being inadvertently shot by Randolph and nearly dying. Joel runs away with Idabel but catches pneumonia and eventually returns to the Landing where he is nursed back to health by Randolph. The implication in the final paragraph is that the "queer lady" beckoning from the window is Randolph in his old Mardi Gras costume.

Characters[edit]

Joel Harrison Knox: The 13-year-old protagonist of the story. Joel is a portrait of Truman Capote in his own youth, notably being delicate, fair-skinned and able to tell outrageous tales without hesitation.[7]

Mr. Edward R. Sansom: Joel's paralyzed father, a former boxing manager.

Miss Amy Skully: Joel's sharp-tongued stepmother who is in her late forties and shorter than Joel. Miss Amy's character is reminiscent of Callie Faulk, an older cousin with whom Truman Capote lived in Alabama.[8] She is also reminiscent of Capote's maternal grandmother, Mabel Knox, who always wore a glove on her left hand to cover an unknown malady and was known for her Southern aristocratic ways.[9]

Randolph: Miss Amy's first cousin and owner of Skully's Landing. Randolph is in his mid 30s and is effeminate, narcissistic, and openly homosexual. Randolph's character is largely imaginary, but is a faint shadow of Capote's older cousin Bud Faulk, a single man, likely homosexual, and role model for Capote while he was growing up in Alabama.[10]

Idabel Thompkins: A gloomy, cantankerous tomboy who befriends Joel. Idabel's character is an exaggeration of Capote's childhood friend, Nelle Harper Lee, later the author of To Kill a Mockingbird.[8]

Florabel Thompkins: Idabel's feminine and prissy sister.

Jesus Fever: A centenarian, pygmyish, African American mule-driver at Skully's Landing, where he had been a slave 70 years before.

Missouri Fever (Zoo): Jesus' granddaughter who is in her mid 20s. She wears a scarf on her elongated neck to hide a large scar inflicted by Keg Brown, who was sentenced to a chain gang for his crime. Missouri Fever's character is based on a cook named Little Bit who lived and worked in the Alabama home where Capote, as a child, lived with his older cousins.[11]

Pepe Alvarez: A Latin professional boxer who is Randolph's original obsession and muse, and the prototype that led to Randolph's obsession with young Joel, as it is inferred that Joel resembles Pepe.

Ellen Kendall: Joel's kind, genteel aunt who sends him from New Orleans to live with his father.

Little Sunshine: A short, bald, ugly, African American hermit who lives at The Cloud Hotel.

Miss Wisteria: A blond midget who befriends Joel and Idabel at a fair traveling through Noon City.

Major themes[edit]

On more than one occasion Capote himself asserts that the central theme of Other Voices, Other Rooms is a son's search for his father. In Capote's own words, his father, Arch Persons, was, "a father who, in the deepest sense, was nonexistent."[12] Again, in his own words, Capote writes "the central theme of Other Voices, Other Rooms was my search for the existence of this essentially imaginary person."[13] This theme of searching and alienation is manifest in the novel by Joel's paralytic father who is physically inaccessible for most of the novel and whose only means of communication involves rolling tennis balls down the stairs.

Another theme is self-acceptance as part of coming of age. Deborah Davis points out that Joel's thorny and psychological voyage while living with eccentric Southern relatives involves maturing "from an uncertain boy into a young man with a strong sense of self and acceptance of his homosexuality."[14] Gerald Clarke describes the conclusion of the novel, "Finally, when he goes to join the queer lady in the window, Joel accepts his destiny, which is to be homosexual, to always hear other voices and live in other rooms. Yet acceptance is not a surrender; it is a liberation. "I am me," he whoops. "I am Joel, we are the same people." So, in a sense, had Truman rejoiced when he made peace with his own identity."[15]

In addition to the two specific themes above, John Berendt notes in his introduction to the 2004 Modern Library edition, several broad themes including the terror of abandonment, the misery of loneliness and the yearning to be loved.[16]

Another theme is understanding others. John Knowles says, "The theme in all of his [Truman Capote's] books is that there are special, strange gifted people in the world and they have to be treated with understanding."[17]

Gerald Clarke points out that within the story Randolph is the spokesperson for the novel's major themes. Clarke asserts that the four major themes of Other Voices, Other Rooms are "the loneliness that afflicts all but the stupid or insensitive; the sacredness of love, whatever its form; the disappointment that invariably follows high expectations; and the perversion of innocence."[18]

Publication history[edit]

Other Voices, Other Rooms was published in 1979 as part of the 60 Signed Limited Editions (1977–1982) series by the Franklin Library, described as a 'distributor of great 'classic title' books produced in fine bindings for collectors.'

Reception and critical analysis[edit]

The novel's reception began before the novel hit bookshelves. Prior to its even being published, 20th Century Fox optioned movie rights to the novel without having seen the work.[19] Additionally, Life magazine conferred Capote equal space alongside other writers such as Gore Vidal and Jean Stafford in an article about young American writers, even though he had never published a novel.[20]

Literary critics of the day were eager to review Capote's novel and express their opinions. Mostly positive reviews came from a variety of publications including The New York Herald Tribune, but The New York Times published a dismissive review. Diana Trilling wrote in The Nation about Capote's "striking literary virtuosity" and praised "his ability to bend language to his poetic moods, his ear for dialect and varied rhythms of speech."[21] Capote was compared to William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Carson McCullers, Katherine Anne Porter, and even Oscar Wilde and Edgar Allan Poe. Authors as well as critics, weighed in; Somerset Maugham remarked that Capote was "the hope of modern literature."[22]

After Capote pressured the editor George Davis for his assessment of the novel, he quipped, "I suppose someone had to write the fairy Huckleberry Finn." [23] Some twenty-five years later, Ian Young points out that Other Voices, Other Rooms notably avoided the period convention of an obligatory tragedy, typically involving suicide, murder, madness, despair or accidental death for the gay protagonist.[24] Other Voices, Other Rooms is ranked number 26 on a list of the top 100 gay and lesbian novels compiled by The Publishing Triangle in 1999.[25] More than fifty years after its publication, Anthony Slide notes that Other Voices, Other Rooms is one of only four familiar gay novels of the first half of the 20th century. The other three novels are Djuna Barnes' Nightwood, Carson McCullers' Reflections in a Golden Eye, and Gore Vidal's The City and the Pillar.[26]

When Other Voices, Other Rooms was published in 1948, it stayed on The New York Times Bestseller list for nine weeks, selling more than 26,000 copies.[27]

This much-discussed 1947 Harold Halma photo on the back of Other Voices, Other Rooms.

The promotion and controversy surrounding this novel catapulted Capote to fame. A 1947 Harold Halma photograph, used to promote the book, showed the then-23-year-old Capote reclining and gazing into the camera.[28] Gerald Clarke, a modern biographer, observed, "The famous photograph: Harold Halma's picture on the dustjacket of Other Voices, Other Rooms caused as much comment and controversy as the prose inside. Truman claimed that the camera had caught him off guard, but in fact he had posed himself and was responsible for both the picture and the publicity."[29] Much of the early attention to Capote centered around different interpretations of this photograph, which was viewed as a suggestive pose by some. According to Clarke, the photo created an "uproar" and gave Capote "not only the literary, but also the public personality he had always wanted."[29]

In an article titled A Voice from a Cloud in the November 1967 edition of Harper's Magazine, Capote acknowledged the autobiographical nature of Other Voices, Other Rooms. He wrote "Other Voices, Other Rooms was an attempt to exorcise demons, an unconscious, altogether intuitive attempt, for I was not aware, except for a few incidents and descriptions, of its being in any serious degree autobiographical. Rereading it now, I find such self-deception unpardonable."[30] In the same essay Capote describes how a visit to his childhood home brought back memories that catalyzed his writing. Describing this visit Capote writes, "It was while exploring under the mill that I'd been bitten in the knee by a cottonmouth moccasin--precisely as happens to Joel Knox." Capote uses childhood friends, acquaintances, places, and events as counterparts and prototypes for writing the symbolic tale of his own Alabama childhood.[19]

Adaptations[edit]

On October 19, 1995 Artistic License Films screened a film version of Other Voices, Other Rooms directed by David Rocksavage at the Hamptons International Film Festival. The movie starred David Speck as Joel Harrison Knox, Anna Thomson as Miss Amy Skully, and Lothaire Bluteau as Randolph. The movie had its official US release on December 5, 1997.

References[edit]

Notes
  1. ^ Stryker, Susan. Queer Pulp: Perverted Passions from the Golden Age of the Paperback (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2001), page 6.
  2. ^ Rudisill, Marie & Simmons, James C. The Southern Haunting of Truman Capote (Nashville, Tennessee: Cumberland House, 2000), page 116.
  3. ^ Davis, Deborah. Party of the Century: The Fabulous Story of Truman Capote and his Black and White Ball (Hoboken: John Wiley and Sons, 2006), pages 22 & 29.
  4. ^ Rudisill, Marie & Simmons, James C. The Southern Haunting of Truman Capote (Nashville, Tennessee: Cumberland House, 2000), page 113.
  5. ^ Davis, Deborah. Party of the Century: The Fabulous Story of Truman Capote and his Black and White Ball (Hoboken: John Wiley and Sons, 2006), page 25.
  6. ^ Capote, Truman, The Dogs Bark: Public People and Private Places (New York: Random House, 1973), pages 3 & 10.
  7. ^ Rudisill, Marie & Simmons, James C. The Southern Haunting of Truman Capote (Nashville, Tennessee: Cumberland House, 2000), page 115.
  8. ^ a b Berendt, John. "Introduction" in Truman Capote, Other Voices, Other Rooms (2004/1948) Random House. ISBN 0-679-64322-2 p. xiv.
  9. ^ Rudisill, Marie & Simmons, James C. The Southern Haunting of Truman Capote (Nashville, Tennessee: Cumberland House, 2000), page 126.
  10. ^ Rudisill, Marie & Simmons, James C. The Southern Haunting of Truman Capote (Nashville, Tennessee: Cumberland House, 2000), page 128-129.
  11. ^ Rudisill, Marie & Simmons, James C. The Southern Haunting of Truman Capote (Nashville, Tennessee: Cumberland House, 2000), page 120.
  12. ^ Plimpton, George. Truman Capote: In Which Various Friends, Enemies, Acquaintances, and Detractors Recall His Turbulent Career (New York: Doubleday, 1997), page 80-81.
  13. ^ Capote, Truman, The Dogs Bark: Public People and Private Places (New York: Random House, 1973), page 8.
  14. ^ Davis, Deborah. Party of the Century: The Fabulous Story of Truman Capote and his Black and White Ball (Hoboken: John Wiley and Sons, 2006), page 22.
  15. ^ Clarke, Gerald. Capote: A Biography (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988), pages 152-153.
  16. ^ Berendt, John. "Introduction" in Truman Capote, Other Voices, Other Rooms (2004/1948) Random House. ISBN 0-679-64322-2 p. xvi.
  17. ^ Plimpton, George. Truman Capote: In Which Various Friends, Enemies, Acquaintances, and Detractors Recall His Turbulent Career (New York: Doubleday, 1997), page 175.
  18. ^ Clarke, Gerald. Capote: A Biography (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988), page 151.
  19. ^ a b Capote, Truman, The Dogs Bark: Public People and Private Places (New York: Random House, 1973), page 6.
  20. ^ Capote, Truman, The Dogs Bark: Public People and Private Places (New York: Random House, 1973), page 7.
  21. ^ Plimpton, George. Truman Capote: In Which Various Friends, Enemies, Acquaintances, and Detractors Recall His Turbulent Career (New York: Doubleday, 1997), page 78.
  22. ^ Davis, Deborah. Party of the Century: The Fabulous Story of Truman Capote and his Black and White Ball (Hoboken: John Wiley and Sons, 2006), page 29.
  23. ^ Clarke, Gerald. Capote: A Biography (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988), page 158.
  24. ^ Young, Ian, The Male Homosexual in Literature: A Bibliography, Metuchen, NJ: The Scarecrow Press, 1975, page 154
  25. ^ The Publishing Triangle's list of the 100 best lesbian and gay novels
  26. ^ Slide, Anthony. Lost Gay Novels: A Reference Guide to Fifty Works from the First Half of the Twentieth Century, (Binghamton, NY: Harrington Park Press, 2003), page 2.
  27. ^ Clarke, Gerald. Capote: A Biography (New York: Carroll & Graf, 2005), page 158.
  28. ^ Bronski, Michael, ed. Pulp Friction: Uncovering the Golden Age of Gay Male Pulps (New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2003), pages 342-343.
  29. ^ a b Clarke, Gerald. Capote: A Biography (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988).
  30. ^ Capote, Truman, The Dogs Bark: Public People and Private Places (New York: Random House, 1973), pages 3 & 4.
Bibliography
  • Austen, Roger (1977). Playing the Game: The Homosexual Novel in America (1st ed.). Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company. ISBN 978-0-672-52287-1. 
  • Brinnin, John Malcolm (1986). Truman Capote: Dear Heart, Old Buddy (1st ed.). New York: Delacourte Press. ISBN 978-0-385-29509-3. 
  • Bronski, Michael (2003). Pulp Friction: Uncovering the Golden Age of Gay Male Pulps (1st ed.). New York, NY: St. Martin's Griffin. ISBN 978-0-312-25267-0. 
  • Capote, Truman (1973). The Dogs Bark: Public People and Private Places (1st ed.). New York: Random House. ISBN 978-0-394-48751-9. 
  • Capote, Truman (2004). Other Voices, Other Rooms (Modern Library ed.). New York: Random House. ISBN 978-0-679-64322-7. 
  • Clarke, Gerald (1988). Capote, A Biography (1st ed.). New York: Simon and Schuster. ISBN 978-0-241-12549-6. 
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  • Gunn, Drewey (2009). The Golden Age of Gay Fiction (1st ed.). Albion, NY: MLR Press. ISBN 978-1-60820-048-1. 
  • Plimpton, George (1997). Truman Capote: In Which Various Friends, Enemies, Acquaintances, and Detractors Recall His Turbulent Career (1st ed.). New York: Doubleday. ISBN 978-0-385-23249-4. 
  • Rudisill, Marie; Simmons, James (2000). The Southern Haunting of Truman Capote (1st ed.). Nashville, Tennessee: Cumberland House. ISBN 978-1-58182-136-9. 
  • Sarotte, Georges-Michel (1978). Like a Brother, Like a Lover: Male Homosexuality in the American Novel and Theatre from Herman Melville to James Baldwin (1st English ed.). New York: Doubleday. ISBN 978-0-385-12765-3. 
  • Slide, Anthony (2003). Lost Gay Novels: A Reference Guide to Fifty Works from the First Half of the Twentieth Century (1st ed.). Binghamton, NY: Harrington Park Press. ISBN 978-1-56023-413-5. 
  • Stryker, Susan (2001). Queer Pulp: Perverted Passions from the Golden Age of the Paperback (1st ed.). San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books. ISBN 978-0-8118-3020-1. 
  • Young, Ian (1975). The Male Homosexual in Literature: A Bibliography (1st ed.). Metuchen, NJ: The Scarecrow Press. ISBN 978-0-8108-0861-4. 

External links[edit]