Edgar Mittelholzer Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Edgar Mittelholzer (MIHT-uhl-hohltz-ur) was born in New Amsterdam, Guyana (it was then British Guiana), in 1909 to William Austin Mittelholzer and his wife, Rosamond Mabel Leblanc. He later liked to stress his cosmopolitan origins as “an offshot of a Swiss-German plantation manager of the eighteenth century as well as of a Frenchman from Martinique and an Englishman from Lancashire—all in collaboration with a few of the African slaves.” Though he had a fair complexion and straight hair, his father regarded him as “a swarthy baby.” This parental disdain is elaborated in Mittelholzer’s autobiographical work, A Swarthy Boy. His father’s attitude toward miscegenation was one of the major psychological irritants to which Mittelholzer had to adjust; it manifested itself in the subject matter and thematic bases of his novels and in his personal life. As if to compensate for paternal disapproval, the son committed himself to a search for fame and affection elsewhere. Barno, as Mittelholzer was known to his intimates, took an active interest in cricket while a student at Berbice High School. He decided upon writing as a career and published a pamphlet, Creole Chips, a collection of dramatic and prose pieces of about 250 words each that offers a variety of comic vignettes of everyday life in Guyana and that might have become something more like V. S. Naipaul’s Miguel Street (1959) if attempted somewhat later. Seven of the short pieces had been published in a local newspaper; when they had been augmented, Mittelholzer peddled the booklet to householders. (Somewhat earlier, in two months during 1929, Mittelholzer had written a novel called “The Terrible Four,” but it—like so many of his later works—was rejected by publishers). Briefly, he tried his hand at poetry, and in 1941, an eight-page poem, “Colonial Artist in Wartime,” was printed. Though it is very uneven in quality, it does contain an indication of a fundamental concern when it asks rhetorically whether love rather than hate “will sprinkle on our souls the dew of calm.” This theme pervades all of his later fiction.{$S[A]Woodsley, H. Austin;Mittelholzer, Edgar}

In the same year Corentyne Thunder, which had been accepted two years earlier by a publisher who went bankrupt, was issued by Eyre and Spottiswoode, an established London publishing firm, and this success heartened Mittelholzer, for he had by this time...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Birbalsingh, Frank M. “Edgar Mittelholzer.” In Twentieth-Century Caribbean and Black African Writers, First Series, edited by Bernth Lindfors and Reinhard Sander. Vol. 117 in Dictionary of Literary Biography. Detroit: Gale Group, 1992. A comprehensive treatment of Mittelholzer’s life and work.

Gilkey, Michael. “Edgar Mittelholzer.” In West Indian Literature, edited by Bruce King. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1979. A balanced and comprehensive study.

Mittelholzer, Jacqueline. “The Idyll and the Warrior: Recollections of Edgar Mittelholzer.” Bim 17 (June, 1983): 33-89. A somewhat biased account of the writer’s life and books written by his wife. Full of interesting personal information.

Seymour, Arthur J. Edgar Mittelholzer: The Man and His Work. Georgetown, Guyana: Ministry of Information and Culture, National History and Arts Council, 1968. The text of four memorial lectures delivered in 1967 by Seymour, the celebrated editor of the Guyanese journal Kykoverall, who maintained a close friendship with Mittelholzer from their school days; it contains details to be found nowhere else and offers judicious evaluations of the writer and his works.