Joyce Cary (1888-1957)


Commentary

Commentary

Walter Allen, ‘The Future of Fiction’, in The Penguin New Writing, 36 (London 1949): ‘[..] Nor has anyone [104] yet written on Joyce Cary, in many respects the most remarkable living English novelist [...] Cary is a novelist of different, indeed, of opposed scope. Myers, like Graham Greene and Henry Green, turned everything into himself. Cary has the opposite faculty of seeming to be able to become all things at will. His early novels of West African life, Aissa Saved and The American Visitor, are gay, witty, tender, warmly sympathetic studies of native life. But it was during the war years that he reached full stature, in his trilogy Herself Surprised, To be a Pilgrim and The Horse’s Mouth – they are related, but suffer scarcely at all if read out of sequence. In these, like Defoe, he is what one is tempted to call the novelist pure and simple. Like Keats watching his sparrow, he loses his own identity and becomes in turn, seemingly at will, a domestic servant of warm heart and easy virtue, an opinionated and crotchety old liberal nonconformist solicitor who cannot resist the temptation towards indecent exposure, and an unscrupulous amoral painter of genius. Their stories he tells in the first person, and in every case the sense of identity is complete.’ [Cont.]

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Walter Allen, ‘The Future of Fiction’ (Penguin New Writing, 36, 1949) - cont. [new para.]: ‘The point of both these instances is that they illustrate the fact that the novel is made up not simply of autobiography and reportage. The novelist is not urged in the first instance either to tell the story of his own life or to describe the facts of existence in the pickle factory in whiph he once worked. It is probable that every novelist is working out in his art a highly personal and largely unconscious myth; but it will have no more obvious relation to his ordinary waking life [105] than a dream. He will make use of personal experience as it suits his purpose.What the novelist is doing, overtly and calculatedly, is to show human beings in action, in relation to God, to other human beings, to society, sometimes to a place. His vehicle is the story, the narrative of fictional events. To exhibit his human beings with maximum sharpness and clarity he may deal as arbitrarily as he pleases with actuality, with fact, and commit as many improbabilities as he can convincingly get away with [His job, at the lowest, is to be a convincingly liar [...].’ (pp.104-05.) Allen takes Cary with L. H. Myers as an unsung writer, and writes: ‘I take it that the ability to create a world of his own is one sign of the novelist as artist.’ (p.105.) Note: Allen became the author of a standard work on English fiction, as well as an early study of Cary in the British Council “Writers and their Work” in 1953. He was later appointed first Professor of English at the New University of Ulster (afterwards The University of Ulster, at Coleraine).

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Ethel Mannin, Brief Voices: A Writer's Story (London: Hutchinson 1959) - on her own 1953 novel Lover Under Another Name in the writing: ‘I was enjoying myself with this novel, which swung along with the sustained vigour and vehemence of Tom Rowse himself when I alighted upon Joyce Cary’s masterpiece, The Horse’s Mouth. To my dismay I found there a theme so close to my own that mine seemed like a plagiarism. Cary’s rumbustious artist was a painter and as full of Blake as was my crazy sculptor. The Thames was in it, and all that first-person vehemence. Admiring Cary’s work as I do I couldn’t have borne to have been accused of the blasphemy of plagiarism, and I wrote to him telling him of my dilemma and begging him to believe that only now, when I had drafted my own novel and started work on it, had I read his. I felt that so long as he believed that I was not cribbing The Horse’s Mouth it wouldn’t matter what anyone else chose to believe. He wrote me cordially that the theme was big enough for more than one novel and wished me luck. I should like to have written a novel as good as The Horse’s Mouth; I should like to have known Cary himself.’

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James Simmons, ‘“The Recipe for all Misfortunes, Courage”: A Study of Three Works by Ulster Protestant Authors: Apostate by Forrest Reid, Castle Corner by Joyce Cary and December Bride by Sam Hanna Bell’, in Across the Roaring Hill: The Protestant Imagination in Modern Ireland - Essays in Honour of John Hewitt, ed. Gerald Dawe & Edna Longley (Belfast: Blackstaff 1985): ‘[...] The range of Cary’s Castle Corner is so wide that it must strain the sympthies of many readers. In an early essay [‘Joyce Cary in Ireland’, in On the Novel, ed. B. S. Bendekz, Dent 1971]. I followed the story of Philip Feenix, a complete and satisfying tragedy, but that is only one thread in the tapestry. The book mainly concerns itself with the Corner family, but thorugh them with their neighbours and visitors, with people they meet in England and Africa, so that it is clear Cary wants to connect the colonial situation in Inishown (Annish in the novel) with the political climate in England before the Boer War, and also with imperial expansion in West Africa. He writes in the introduction to the Carfax edition that he was trying to raise such questions as, “Is there a final shape of society, to be founded upon the common needs and hopes of humanity?” He certainly shows his three societies in action, vividly and in detail, able to get inside the minds of Muslim emirs, pagan chiefs and warriors, women and children, radical politicians, big businessmen, an aesthete, a courtesan, as well as a huge cast of Ulster people. His method is to present vivid scenes of action and description with quick, glancing generalisations from a marvellously stocked and curious mind. Perhaps because he does so much (however well) he has not got the credit or readership he deserves. Like Conrad, he is a man of the world. [82; ...] I love Cary’s work and read Castle Corner in a continual simmer of wonder and excitement and assent; but I am of the same tribe, and as a tribe our day may be past. On the other hand it may be possible to follow Yeats’s example and throw ourselves so energetically into the struggles of the day, even in a negative way, that we claw our way into the future. ‘In the destructive element immerse,’ wrote Conrad. What of his case? It is also true that the most vivid characters in Cary’s novel are failures, men of talent and energy who cannot get to grips with life.’ [82; cont.]

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James Simmons (‘“The Recipe for all Misfortunes, Courage” [...]’, 1985) - cont.: ‘For all his personal courage and the energy of his style, his compassion and delight in courage, Cary presents society as very confused, with power ultimately in the hands of rich and powerful financiers who can manipulate the market and the press for their own ends, which seem to be chiefly the hunger for new markets, new worlds to conquer. All the characters live their lives under this shadow and, by and large, fall. Felix Corner, the most gifted person in the book, ends up going native up the Niger. John Chass survives at Castle Corner by grace of a lucky investment. The empire that Cocky Jarvis serves so bravely is not at all what he [89] thinks it. As it is with Mary Corner, so with most of these characters: their courage is bred into them by people confident of their right to rule and of their duties. They support as well as exploit others. Cary writes in his introduction: “The tragic dilemma of freedom is incurable; that it can’t have either security or justice, which belong only to robots, to machines; that because it has the power to know goodness, it must also suffer evil. In fact those who have the keenest intensity of happiness, in love and achievement, are those most exposed to suffering in loss and defeat.” / The poor Catholics in the novel, it must be said, are equally brave and more stylish. It is the two men who aspire to change society that suffer bitterness and failure, Con and Manus. The wily materialists Giveen and Slatter get what power is to be got within the system.’ (pp.89-90; see full text in RICORSO Library, “Irish Critical Classics”, via index, or direct.)

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Robert Welch, Changing States: Transformations in Modern Irish Writing (London: Routledge 1993): ‘Making and building are crucial activities in Cary’s conception of the world; he is wary of his reflective side and distrustful of philosophizing. Freedom was the freedom of the imagination engaged with actual life. It was necessary (and not just for philosophy tutors) to clear the site, so that the derelict ruins of prejudice and fixed opinion could be swept aside to allow for vitality and renewal. And yet Cary is no unthinking modernist. He has a very strong conservative streak in him, which, allied to his faith in imaginative freedom, creates all sorts of tensions which his creative work seeks to explore and comprehend. In the essay “Speaking for Myself” he writes of these tensions and gives them a specifically Anglo-Irish focus: “They say that tensions make the artist and writer. That is certainly true of the Anglo-Irish writers, and my childhood would have been full of tensions. Ireland was still a battle ground. My own family had been almost ruined by the rent strike, and my grandfather had [121] died of a broken heart. [...] Even as a small child, therefore, I knew something of real tragedy: the tragedy of social conflict in which personal quality counts for nothing; where a man is ruined not because he has done any wrong, but because he represents a class or race.”’ (pp.121-22.) ‘Cary’s method as a writer, from the start, was unusual, if not unique. He worked on several novels at a time, just as a painter will move from canvas to canvas. He did not write his novels straight through from beginning to end; he built them up, constructed them, bit by bit, working from the end to the start, then to the middle, then to climax, and so on. This method, a kind of literary pointilism, gives his writing a curious sense of presence, of life unfolding in the moment of apprehension; and it owes something, perhaps, to the concept of “epiphany” in Joyce, a writer whom he greatly admired and with whom he felt some familial affinity on his Joyce side.’ (p.125.)

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C[ecilia] R. Cecilia Dick (Fellow of Wolfson Coll., Oxford), in interview: ‘[...] Basic to female nature, he thought, was that women are masochists and want to be beaten - not beaten in the physical sense, of course. He talked a lot about his wife, and this idea related to what he thought about her: she was always boiling up into a state, which led to the beating, which Joyce thought was what she wanted. [...] He talked a lot about the sex relations of his friends and others. He could see cases where he thought special relations were justified. / I thought him wholly amoral. Much of his conversation was amoral. For example, one of many stories that he repeated often concerned Dylan Thomas and his wife Caitlin, who would dance solo at parties and this infuriated Dylan. There was no moral attitude in Joyce’s comments. He enjoyed it as a human situation. / Yet he could take moral attitudes. For example, you shouldn’t allow your daughter to slap you, which I did allow, if my child felt annoyed with me. I remember too, when Michael’s child Anthony was staying [161] there, and at lunch, there was a scene, and he was smacked and put out of the room, where he cried. He was a very small child, but Joyce approved of the treatment. The child had to be taught. But I must say that he was very good with children. His manner was so easy and direct. / I didn’t like much of his work. I think he treats people coldly, objectively. The best bits of his books are those where he has painted the scene, as a painter would. But his are rather nasty. I remember his telling me that Not Honour More was about the problem of good and evil, which I thought an incredible answer to my question. / He got his ideas into pigeon holes, and they were rather simple. I thought him naïve. His religion was simply that goodness exists, and that is God. He was convinced that all women are masochists; that all women would like to be at home doing the flowers, and he thought it terrible that all these other pressures were put upon them to do other things. His views were rather nineteenth century.’ (In Joyce Cary Remembered, ed. Barbara Fischer, Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1996, pp.161-62.)

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Elleke Boehmer, Colonial and Postcolonial Literature [1st edn. 1995] (Oxford UP 2005): ‘No doubt Cary’s novels suffered a cultural time-lag. They were based on observations taken as a colonial officer in the 1910s. It may also be that during the decade when the ruling-class consensus about colonization was gradually disintegrating, his reaction was defensive: an attempt to preserve the coherence of a familiar world. It is further true that his writing is often ironic. White characters’ racist remarks often reflect their own ignorance or lack of perception. Mister Johnson, for example, was intended as a satire of colonial Nigeria. Rudbeck, the Assistant District Officer, proves himself by using the error of his servant Johnson to his own advantage. And The African Witch, Cary emphasized, was not written as “a picture of contemporary conditions in West Africa”. Most importantly, on a linguistic level, he has set an example for later African writers. In a novel like Mister Johnson, he transposes the layering of languages in Nigeria (pidgin, Hausa, English, &c.) into what is a creatively heteroglot text. But even taking into account his own self-confessed peripheral stance as a writer - like Lawrence’s Kate he was Irish and not an English colonial officer - the effect Cary creates is to preserve the way things are, an effect which [147] his ironies ultimately only help to reinforce. In the midst of a volatile political situation, his African novels, as retrospective accounts, uphold and also clarify the workings of a long-established colonialism.’ [...; &c.; for longer extracts, see RICORSO Library > “Criticism” > Monographs, via inded or direct.]

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Quotations

Quotations


Mr Johnston (Penguin Edn. 1962 &c.): ‘Fada is the ordinary native town of the Western Sudan. It has no beauty, convenience, or health. It is a dwelling-place at one stage from the rabbit warren or the badger burrow; and not so cleanly kept as the latter. It is a pioneer settlement five or six hundred years old, built on its own rubbish heaps, without charm even of antiquity. Its squalor and its stinks are all new. Its oldest compounds, except the Emir’s mud box, is not twenty years old. The sun and the ram destroy all its antiquity, even of smell. But neither has it the freshness of the new. All its mud walls are eaten as if by smallpox; half of the mats in any compound are always rotten. Poverty and ignorance, the absolute government of jealous savages, conservative as only the savage can be, have kept it at the first frontier of civilization. Its people would not know the change if time jumped back fifty thousand years. They live like mice or rats in a palace floor; all the magnificence and variety of the arts, the ideas, the learning, and the battles of civilization go on over their heads and they do not even imagine them. [...]’ (p.111; for longer extracts, see attached.)

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Mr Johnston (Penguin Edn. 1962 &c.) - cont. [Johnson’s song]: ‘What fool chile stand in the way of Johnson?’ […] ‘This song becomes even more celebrated than the song of Bamu. It is repeated with new variations at many beer parties. Since a Fada man, like most primitives, looks upon the making of free verse as part of ordinary conversation, and, like an Elizabethan or an Irishman, uses the most poetical expression even in casual talk by the road; since, therefore, songs in Fada are in continual production by every member of the public from two to eighty, they are not carefully recorded. A party which calls upon Johnson for the song of Bamu, or the song of the drum beat, does not expect the same words, but only an improvisation on the same theme. What’s more, almost everyone who hears the song at once begins to improvise variations of his own and apply them to other circumstances. The drum beat which is the idea most catching, becomes part of the popular imagination. (pp.150-51; for longer extracts, see attached.)

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