Other Voices, Other Rooms
is a novel written by Truman Capote
published in January 1948
. Other Voices, Other Rooms
is written in the Southern Gothic
Other Voices, Other Rooms is significant because it is both semi-autobiographical and Truman Capote's first published novel. 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.
Truman Capote began writing the manuscript for Other Voices, Other Rooms
while he was living in Monroeville, Alabama
and 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 Cullers at the artists' community, Yaddo
, in Saratoga Springs, New York
to continue working on his novel. As friends, Carson helped Truman 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 rented cottage in Nantucket, Massachusetts
. Truman Capote took two years to write Other Voices, Other Rooms
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 rural Alabama, 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 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
Characters Joel Harrison Knox
: The 13-year-old protagonist of the story. Mr. Sansom
: Joel's father. Miss Amy
: Joel's stepmother who is sharp-tongued. Randolph
: Miss Amy's cousin. Randolph is in his mid 30's and is both effeminate
: A wild tomboy
who befriends Joel. Florabel
: Idabel's feminine
and prissy sister. Jesus Fever
: A dwarfish black
retainer at Skully's Landing. Zoo
: Jesus' granddaughter who has an elongated neck
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. 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 [sic. his father]. 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. 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.
Another theme is understanding others. John Knowles says, "The theme in all of his [sic. Truman Capote's] books is that there are special, strange gifted people in the world and they have to be treated with understanding.
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.
Reception and Critical Analysis
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. 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. 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
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.
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. 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. 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.
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. 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.
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.
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 twentieth 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.
- Austen, Roger Playing the Game: The Homosexual Novel in America. 1st ed., Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company. ISBN 978-067252287X.
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