The Novels

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The Kaywana Trilogy comprises Children of Kaywana, Hubertus (later republished as Kaywana Stock, 1959), and The Old Blood. All three novels are set in British Guiana (modern Guyana), a South American territory which was inhabited by Amerindians before the first European settlers, the Dutch, arrived in the early seventeenth century. The action begins in 1616 and, over a period of almost three and a half centuries, traces the course of social, political, and economic events while the colony changed hands many times between Dutch, French, and British rulers, until it finally became British in 1802. Often, these changes were rapid and unexpected, as during the last two decades of the eighteenth century, when the colony changed from Dutch ownership to British, to French, back to Dutch, and finally back to British. The turbulence and instability created by these changes are fully reflected in Edgar Mittelholzer’s accurate observation of purely historical episodes, and his invention of characters whose eccentric or unusual psychological features of personality seem to match the unstable conditions in which they live. The pattern in all three novels is to furnish scenes of authentic history as a milieu for characters engaged in unusual, romantic, and sometimes perverse relationships.

Children of Kaywana opens with the earliest Dutch attempts to establish trading posts and plantations in Guiana, or “The Wild Coast,” as they called it then. The Dutch resist many attacks from Spanish, French, and British rivals, and are able to establish their administration over the whole country, comprising three counties Essequibo, Berbice, and Demerara by the middle of the eighteenth century. Yet there is no real stability, and they have to contend with riots among their own soldiers and unrest among the African slaves, who provide labor for their sugar and coffee plantations. The action of Children of...

(The entire section is 798 words.)