Joyce Cary

Joyce Cary

Joyce Cary

Joyce Cary

Excerpt

IN A famous passage in the Biographia Literaria , Coleridge isolates two opposed modes of the creative activity in their purest and most comprehensive expression. 'While Shakespeare', he says, 'darts himself forth, and passes into all forms of character and passion, the one Proteus of the fire and flood, Milton attracts all forms and things to himself, into unity of his own ideal. All things and modes of action shape themselves anew in the being of Milton; while Shakespeare becomes all things, yet for ever remaining himself.' Coleridge is not making a value-judgement; he is contrasting the objective imagination with the subjective, we might say the extravert as artist with the introvert.

Few poets and novelists are so completely of their type as Shakespeare and Milton; between the two extremes are infinite gradations. Yet if one looks at English fiction during the past thirty years in the light of Coleridge's distinction, it is apparent that it has been predominantly Miltonic, subjective, introvert; so much so that the Shakespearian, objective, extraverted writer stands out with the novelty of the exceptional. He appears old-fashioned, or at least out of step with his time. The neat generalizations we evolve to sum up contemporary writing do not seem to apply to him. And this, perhaps, is the first thing that strikes us when we contemplate the novelist Joyce Cary against the background of his contemporaries. We are immediately aware of his difference , and the first difference is that pre-eminently he is 'the one Proteus' of the English novel to-day. Like the poet as seen by Keats, he appears to have 'no identity--he is continually in for and filling some other Body'. So in turn, it seems without the slightest difficulty and with the greatest air of conviction, he becomes an African Negro warrior, an African native clerk from the mission school, an Irish landowner, an evacuee Cockney delinquent boy, a middle-aged domestic servant in prison . . .

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