Joyce Cary Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111207069-Cary.jpg Joyce Cary Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Arthur Joyce Lunel Cary successfully mated modern fiction’s playful experimentation with form and language to the traditional novel’s firm reliance upon plot and character. Shortly after Cary’s birth in Ireland, his father, Arthur Cary, moved the family to England. Cary was reared knowing three worlds: London, where his family lived; Devon, where the family went on holiday; and Ireland, where he vacationed with grandparents. These contrasting worlds taught him to see the world through varied perspectives. His mother, Charlotte, died when he was ten, and his stepmother, Dora, died when he was fifteen. Cary attended boarding school at Hurstleigh and Clifton, but he was an unremarkable student. For four years, Cary dreamed of becoming a painter. On a trip to France in 1904, he discovered Impressionism and moved to Paris in 1906 as an art student. A year later, he went to Edinburgh, but by 1908 he had decided that canvas was not his medium. The experiences of these years came to fruition in Cary’s first fictional trilogy about the artist Gulley Jimson, whose bohemian life and visual imagination infuse the novel with unpredictable emotion and vivid metaphors.

Cary entered the University of Oxford in 1909 to study law and took his degree in 1912. Without prospects for a profession, Cary went to the Balkans, where war had broken out. After his return to England a year later, he found a position in the colonial service and went to Nigeria in 1914. There, he fought against the German East African army for four years and assisted in postwar reconstruction. At various times he served as a policeman, tax collector, and engineer. Like other colonial administrators-turned-artists (Rudyard Kipling and George Orwell, for example) whose imaginations were shaped in England’s empire, Cary learned to see the world with non-British eyes. These years provided him with the situations, characters, and themes of four early novels that describe the sometimes comic, often tragic interaction of Western imperialism and African tribalism.

In 1920, Cary returned to England. With his wife, Gertrude Ogilvie, whom he had married in 1916 while on leave, Cary settled in Oxford. He lived in the same house for thirty-seven years. There, he wrote prodigiously, fathered five children, and nursed his wife through a fatal illness. Cary supported himself by penning predictable but lively short stories for popular magazines. Once he had achieved some financial security, he turned to serious fiction. His first novel, Aissa Saved, was neither a monetary nor a critical...

(The entire section is 1050 words.)


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Arthur Joyce Lunel Cary was born in Londonderry, Ireland, on December 7, 1888. His ancestors had been Irish landlords since the early seventeenth century. The Arrears Act of 1882, however, plunged his grandfather into ruinous debt, and his father, Arthur Cary, a prospective civil engineer, moved the family to London shortly after Cary’s birth. There the nexus of traditional family life was Cromwell House, owned by Cary’s Uncle Tristam. Cary never lost contact with his Irish roots and the legacy of his family history, spending childhood vacations at his grandparents’ cottages in Ireland and gaining familiarity with Devon, England, the point of his family’s origin. These settings, along with the familial stability and continuity they represented, were important to Cary’s fiction. Castle Corner deals with a half century of life in Ireland, England, and Africa, moving from the 1870’s to the brink of World War I; Charley Is My Darling deals with the World War II evacuation of thousands of London children to Devon; A House of Children is a poetical evocation of childhood based on Cary’s recollections of his Irish vacations; and The Moonlight and his two trilogies are set mainly in Devon.

A tragic note entered Cary’s life when his mother died in 1898, and his sense of life’s miseries was compounded when his stepmother died five years later. His performance as a student at Hurstleigh and Clifton was average at best, though he did show interest in telling stories and writing poetry. In 1904, at the age of fifteen, he went on a sketching trip with his aunt to France, which was his first exposure to Impressionist painting. Two years later, he went to Paris as an art student and experienced bohemian life. He then went to Edinburgh for formal artistic training; at the age of twenty, he decided that he was not good enough to be a first-rate painter: Writing would be his vocation and painting his hobby. Verses by Arthur Cary, a decidedly mediocre effort, was published in 1908.

These early experiences were later exploited in his fiction. The first fictional pieces he published were short stories that dealt with bohemian life in...

(The entire section is 900 words.)