Other literary forms

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All of Joyce Cary’s short stories published under his own name are contained in Spring Song, and Other Stories (1960), edited by Winnifred Davin. Ten early stories published under the pseudonym Thomas Joyce are not included that collection. More than half a dozen of these stories, which deal with bohemian life in Paris, Cary sold to the Saturday Evening Post (1920) in order to support his serious writing. Cary’s self-admitted formula for these “potboilers” was a little sentiment, a little incident, and surprise.

Cary also published three booklets of verse and many essays, the latter appearing in such periodicals as Harper’s Magazine, The New Yorker, and the Sunday Times. The most significant pieces of Cary’s occasional writing have been gathered by A. G. Bishop into a volume titled Selected Essays (1976). This collection is of interest to the literary student because it includes some samples of Cary’s practical criticism and of his views on the theory and practice of writing as well as interesting material about his background and political views. Art and Reality (1958) is a sequence of meditations on aesthetics that Cary composed for the 1956 Clark Lectures at Cambridge University but was too ill to deliver.

Cary’s other nonfiction mainly articulates his views on the philosophy and practice of politics, concerning itself with such issues as history, imperialism, and war. These works include Power in Men (1939), The Case for African Freedom (1941; reprinted with other essays about Africa in 1962), Process of Real Freedom (1943), and Memoir of the Bobotes (1960). These works shed light on Cary’s treatment of ethical and political issues in his fiction. A collection of Cary’s unpublished manuscripts, papers, letters, and diaries is in the possession of the Bodleian Library at Oxford University.


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Joyce Cary’s major artistic achievements—the novel Mister Johnson and the trilogy comprising Herself Surprised, To Be a Pilgrim, and The Horse’s Mouth—are realistic works that reflect social, moral, and historical change as well as technical performances that embody the formal and linguistic innovations of literary modernism. This distinctive mixture of traditional realism and modernist style is Cary’s principal legacy as a novelist. Although he experiments with techniques such as stream of consciousness,interior monologue, disrupted chronology, shifting point of view, and present-tense narration, he consistently rivets the action—past or present—to a particular historical and social context. The continuity of exterior events never completely disintegrates, though it is sometimes difficult to reconstruct.

To be sure, the various novels offer the reader different perspectives and interpretations of social reality. The intention, however, is not to obscure that reality or to render it relative to the subjectivity of the narrator, but rather to layer it, to augment its texture. Cary’s perspective, therefore, is not nihilistic. His experiments in the trilogy form enhance the reader’s sense of dwelling in a shared or intersubjective reality, even though each novel in the series adroitly captures the idiosyncratic perspective of its first-person narrator. Cary refuses to endorse any sort of feckless relativism (he was repelled by the moral defeatism and philosophical pessimism of such post-World War I writers as Aldous Huxley) and yet manages to incorporate into his writing the innovations of modernism. His self-proclaimed comedy of freedom extends the range of traditional realism and offers new possibilities for the form of fiction.

Recognition of Cary’s literary merit came only late in his life. Under the pseudonym Thomas Joyce, he published in the Saturday Evening Post several stories based on his youthful experiences of bohemian life in Paris, but he considered these efforts to be potboilers rather than serious pieces of fiction. The magazine, in fact,...

(This entire section contains 493 words.)

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rejected his subsequent stories for being too “literary.” Not until 1932, when Cary was forty-three, was his first novel,Aissa Saved, published. It was not a commercial success. He continued to produce novels, and finally, in 1941, after the publication of A House of Children, his seventh novel, he won his first literary award: the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for the best British novel of the year. After this award, Cary’s reputation increased steadily. In 1950, the Adam International Review devoted a special issue to his work, and in 1953, Walter Allen’s seminal study of his work, Joyce Cary, appeared. Cary enjoyed a successful lecture tour in the United States in 1951, and he was asked to deliver the 1956 Clark Lectures at Cambridge University. During his lifetime, he was praised by such prestigious critics as Allen, John Dover Wilson, and Barbara Hardy. Since his death in 1957, Cary scholarship has grown steadily. In 1963, Modern Fiction Studies devoted a special issue to his work, and numerous books and articles continue to be published that address Cary’s achievements.


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Adams, Hazard. Joyce Cary’s Trilogies: Pursuit of the Particular Real. Tallahassee, Fla.: University Presses of Florida, 1983. Adams attempts to rescue Cary from what he views as misplaced critical emphasis by focusing on the particularity of Cary’s two trilogies. Includes two appendixes devoted to chronologies of the trilogies.

Allen, Walter E. Joyce Cary. Rev. ed. New York: Longmans, Green, 1963. Provides a brief overview of Cary’s life and works. A good place to start.

Christian, Edwin Ernest. Joyce Cary’s Creative Imagination. New York: Peter Lang, 1988. Analyzes Cary’s work to demonstrate the truth of Cary’s statement that “all my books are part of one expression: that is, they are like different chapters in one work, showing different angles of a single reality.” Includes bibliography and index.

Echeruo, Michael J. Joyce Cary and the Novel of Africa. London: Longman, 1973. Places Cary’s African novels in the tradition of the foreign novel and argues that they have a special place in this genre. Provides new insights into the growth of Cary’s art as well as valuable criticism of Cary’s African novels.

Erskine-Hill, Howard. “The Novel Sequences of Joyce Cary.” In The Fiction of the 1940’s: Stories of Survival, edited by Rod Mengham and N. H. Reeve. New York: Palgrave, 2001. Examines Cary’s two trilogies and describes how the six novels share a number of special features that distinguish them from other novel sequences.

Fisher, Barbara. Joyce Cary: The Writer and His Theme. Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1980. Interprets the novels as links in one spiritual autobiography.

Foster, Malcolm. Joyce Cary: A Biography. London: Michael Joseph, 1969. Exhaustive, informative study of Cary presents only brief discussion of each novel but offers some interesting insights into the author’s works. Foster had access to the Cary collection at the Bodleian Library in Oxford, England.

Hall, Dennis. Joyce Cary: A Reappraisal. London: Macmillan, 1983. Discusses all of Cary’s novels with conscientious thoroughness and makes the point that there are two Carys: the thinker and the artist. Hall is sympathetic to Cary but notes the unevenness of his work and concludes that Cary is “his own worst enemy.” Includes bibliography.

Levitt, Annette S. The Intertextuality of Joyce Cary’s “The Horse’s Mouth.” Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 1993. Study of The Horse’s Mouth analyzes the influence of William Blake and the other sources on which Cary drew in creating the novel. Includes bibliographical references and index.

Majumdar, Bimalendu. Joyce Cary: An Existentialist Approach. Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1982. Scholarly study of Cary is devoted to critical appraisal of his work. Focuses on the central existential theme in Cary’s novels: the uniqueness of the individual who “refuses to fit into some system constructed by rational thought.”

O’Brien, Colin Joseph. Art and Reality in the Novels of Joyce Cary. New Delhi: Commonwealth, 1990. An excellent critical study of Cary. Includes bibliographical references.

Roby, Kinley E. Joyce Cary. Boston: Twayne, 1984. After providing an overview of Cary’s biography, this brief volume surveys Cary’s fiction—all of which, according to Roby, is concerned with the “unchangeable changeableness of life.” Also gives glancing attention to Cary’s literary criticism and journalism. Includes chronology and select bibliography.

Ross, Michael L. “Joyce Cary’s Tragic African Clown.” In Race Riots: Comedy and Ethnicity in Modern British Fiction. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2006. Discusses how the racial humor in Cary’s works reflects Great Britain’s disdain for non-Europeans in the period before World War II.


Critical Essays