Richard Hughes Essay - Critical Essays

Hughes, Richard (Vol. 1)

Hughes, Richard 1900–

British novelist, now living in Wales, best known for A High Wind in Jamaica. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.)

[Richard Hughes'] first novel, A High Wind in Jamaica…, is one of the classic novels of childhood and a completely original work. The originality consists in the stance Hughes adopts towards the children whose adventures he relates. Hughes shows us his children from the outside. He does, certainly, by an effort of will and imagination, interpret their modes of thinking and feeling for us; but what we are in effect given is a natural history of children, with Hughes the observing, recording, interpreting naturalist.

Walter Allen, in his The Modern Novel (© 1964 by Walter Allen; published by E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc. and used with their permission), Dutton, 1964, p. 58.

Praised long ago by such discerning novelist-critics as Arnold Bennett and Ford Madox Ford, Richard Hughes' first novel, A High Wind in Jamaica, seems since to have fallen into that limbo specially reserved for so-called "minor classics," books that represent a conquest of a kind without offering the final challenge and bafflement of great art. Published in 1929, the novel has only recently emerged from the semi-obscurity of mere respectability. This has occurred partially because of the success of that superficially similar novel, Lord of the Flies, which carries on the tradition of the novel of the "child mind," partially because of the appearance in 1961 of Hughes' masterly third novel, The Fox in the Attic….

I believe [much] can be said for A High Wind in Jamaica as a work of fiction, and that as such, it not only stands up to close analysis, but reveals itself as a novel of profound irony, closer to Conrad than to Lewis Carroll….

Hughes takes pains to make clear his distinction between the three kinds of mind possible in normal homo sapiens: the baby mind, the child mind, and the adult mind. Babies are not human and their minds cannot be fathomed by human adults….

A High Wind in Jamaica is a profoundly moving book, funny, beautiful, and finally terrifying. It suggests that children are different from adults because they are literally more animal and less social and conventional. It explores the ironies that grow out of the different views of the world held by children and adults. It shows the difficulty of knowing the truth, especially in situations that provoke our conventional social judgments. It reveals that conventional villainy is more convention than evil; and what Hughes sees (and makes us see) as "real evil"—the seduction of Margaret, the callousness of the adults to her plight, the murder of the Dutch captain, the judicial murder of Captain Jonsen, the final acceptance of deceit by Emily—are all the more frightening for being set in a context of pseudo-evil.

The path from animal unselfconsciousness to social participation is difficult and has its costs; yet if we are to be fully human, it is a journey each of us must make. Reading Hughes, we can perhaps become more alert to the traps with which life surrounds us. Surely this is one of the permanent values of good literature.

T. J. Henighan, "Nature and Convention in A High Wind in Jamaica," in Critique: Studies in Modern Fiction, Vol. IX, No. 1, 1966, pp. 5-17.