2 minute read

Joyce Cary (Arthur Joyce Lunel Cary) Biography

(1888–1957), (Arthur Joyce Lunel Cary), The House of Children, Aissa Saved, An American Visitor

British novelist, born in Londonderry, educated at Clifton College and Trinity College, Oxford. Much of his childhood was spent in Ireland, in Donegal, which provides the setting of The House of Children (1941). Cary studied art in Edinburgh, served in the Balkan War of 191213, and in 1913 joined the Nigerian political service, where he remained, except for an interval with the Nigerian regiment during the Cameroons campaign of 191516, until 1920, when he resigned through ill health. His first novel, Aissa Saved (1932), set in Nigeria, is an objective picture of conditions there, ironically doubting the white man's success in improving the morals of the indigenous population. An American Visitor (1933), likewise located in Nigeria, combines political parable with an inter-racial love affair; it was followed by The African Witch (1936) and Castle Corner (1938). His best-known novel, Mister Johnson (1939), is a classic of colonial literature, and reflects Cary's own experiences in the Nigerian Administration. Focusing on the eponymous hero, a Nigerian clerk, the novel portrays a bygone colonial life and a remarkable insight into the mind of the African. His next two novels, Charley Is My Darling (1940) and A House of Children (1941), are centred on children. Cary's reputation rests on his blackly comic trilogy, Herself Surprised (1941), To Be a Pilgrim (1942), and The Horse's Mouth (1944; filmed 1959), described by Cary as a ‘Triptych’ and published together as First Trilogy (1958). Narrated in the first person, the trilogy is unified by the interrelated stories of the three main characters, all representing different backgrounds and offering different perspectives on art, morality, religion, and on each other's character: Sara Monday, ‘a simple country girl in service’, representing sensual domesticity but whose religious beliefs, having been inspired by the works of Charlotte M. Yonge, have given her ‘strength in adversity’; Tom Wilcher, a lawyer with a strong sense of duty who tries to preserve his family fortune; and Gulley Jimson, the scurrilous and egocentric artist influenced by Blake and Stanley Spencer, whose perception of creativity and the artist's role is the main focus of the trilogy. The chief work of Cary's later years was a political trilogy, Prisoner of Grace (1952), Except the Lord (1953), and Not Honour More (1955). Using the same device he employed in the earlier trilogy, he casts an identical set of characters into differently angled first-person narratives. Other works include Power in Man (1939) and The Process of Real Freedom (1943), philosophical apologias of his liberal beliefs; The Case for African Freedom (1941); and The Drunken Sailor (1947), an allegorical poem.

Additional topics

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Henry Carey Biography to Chekhov Biography