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Wilson Harris (Wilson Theodore Harris) Biography

(1921– ), (Wilson Theodore Harris), The Guyana Quartet, Palace of the Peacock, The Far Journey of Oudin

Guyanese novelist, poet, and critic, born in New Amsterdam, educated at Queen's College, Georgetown, British Guiana. He was a land surveyor before leaving Guyana for England in 1959 to become a full-time writer. His exploration of the almost impenetrable forests, rivers, and vast savannahs of the Guyanese hinterland features prominently in many of his novels. Harris's novels are densely complex, alluding to diverse mythologies from different cultures, and eschew conventional narration in favour of shifting interwoven voices. His writing stems from a belief that in the West Indies the clash of widely different cultures has, at least potentially, made it possible for an almost universal consciousness to evolve. The Guyana Quartet (1985), made up of Palace of the Peacock (1960), his best-known novel, The Far Journey of Oudin (1961), The Whole Armour (1962), and The Secret Ladder (1963), a symbolic autobiographical work, together with Heartland (1964), chart Harris's first phase of novelistic exploration. His next four novels, also set in Guyana, explore the psyche and the workings of memory: The Eye of the Scarecrow (1965), The Waiting Room (1967), Tumatumari (1968), and Ascent to Omai (1970). Other novels in similar vein, but set in such diverse places as London, Edinburgh, and Mexico, include Black Marsden (1972), Companions of the Day and Night (1975), Da Silva da Silva's Cultivated Wilderness (1977), Genesis of the Clowns (1977), The Tree of the Sun (1978), and The Angel at the Gate (1982). Carnival (1985) is a Dantesque allegory, in which Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory are treated as states of mind about modern civilization. It is the first volume of ‘The Carnival Trilogy’; the second is The Infinite Rehearsal (1987), based on Goethe's Faust. The Four Banks of the River of Space (1990) fragments the epic figure of Ulysses into several personalities who conduct self-analyses to redefine the nature and function of myth. Resurrection at Sorrow Hill (1993), a novel, recounts a river voyage into the depths of the rainforest. Harris's poems are collected in Fetish (1951) and Eternity to Season (1978). Critical writings include Tradition, the Writer and Society (1967), Explorations (1981), and The Womb of Space (1983). The Radical Imagination (1992) is a collection of essays. See Hena Maes-Jelinek, Wilson Harris (1982).

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Bernard Gutteridge Biography to Hartshill Warwickshire