The Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century Fiction - Vol. 3

By John Clement Ball | Go to book overview

D

Dabydeen, David
LYNNE MACEDO

Acclaimed novelist and poet David Dabydeen is a professor of literary studies at the University of Warwick, a critic and broadcaster, and an ambassador-at-large for his native Guyana. Aspects of his multifaceted affiliations and hybrid personality are clearly reflected in his fiction, which contains discernible traces of his Caribbean background but nonetheless ranges freely across cultural, linguistic, and racial boundaries.

Dabydeen was born on a sugar plantation in Berbice, Guyana on December 9, 1955 and moved with his parents to England in 1969. After attending school in south London he won a scholarship to read English at Cambridge. An honors degree in 1978 was followed by a PhD from University College London in 1982. It was during his time at Cambridge that Dabydeen began the poems whose subsequent publication as Slave Song (1984) would lead to his first literary awards – the Quiller-Couch Prize and the Commonwealth Poetry Prize.

Slave Song was notable for focusing on the harsh lifestyle of Guyanese cane cutters and for using a very distinctive form of Creole. The deliberately crude rhythms of Dabydeen’s broken, monosyllabic, even painful language gave authenticity to the voice of his Indo-Guyanese characters. Coolie Odyssey (1988a), by contrast, is largely composed in Standard English and explores exile and alienation from a Caribbean homeland that is gradually transformed through its rendering in poetry. Turner (1994) features a title poem written in response to the celebrated Slave Ship painting by the artist J. M. W. Turner. Dabydeen gives voice to the submerged head of the African in the foreground of Turner’s painting, whose very absence from clear visibility highlights the West’s historical erasure of black life, history, and culture.

Dabydeen’s writing has shifted toward prose fiction since the 1990s, although the language of his novels is still poetic. The Intended (1991) won Dabydeen the first of three Guyana Prizes for Literature in 1992. The life of the unnamed young narrator bears more than a passing resemblance to Dabydeen’s own, as he wistfully contrasts his idealized boyhood in Guyana with the harsh realities of schooling in London and studying English in Cambridge. In Disappearance (1993), an Afro-Guyanese engineer is sent to England to help prevent cliffs from crumbling away along the Hastings coastline. His struggle to find a sense of identity among a range of eccentric villagers consciously echoes V. S. Naipaul’s exploration of similar themes in The Enigma of Arrival. Both of Dabydeen’s first two novels allude to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness in their exploration of the aftermath of Empire, while the ambiguous nature of Disappearance also pays homage to fellow Guyanese author Wilson Harris.

Harris’s influence can also be found in Our Lady of Demerara (2004), recipient of the 2004 Guyana Prize for Literature. Ranging from Coventry to the Guyanese interior, Dabydeen’s complex tale of illicit sexual relationships and murder is intertwined with the story of two Irish priests, teasingly named Father Wilson and Father Harris.

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The Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century Fiction - Vol. 3
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Editors i
  • The Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Literature WWW.Literatureencyclopedia.Com ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • List of Entries vii
  • Acknowledgments xiii
  • Notes on Contributors to Volume III xv
  • Introduction to Volume III 937
  • A 942
  • B 980
  • C 995
  • D 1034
  • E 1052
  • F 1066
  • G 1094
  • H 1121
  • I 1145
  • J 1154
  • K 1167
  • L 1180
  • M 1198
  • N 1252
  • O 1270
  • P 1277
  • Q 1296
  • R 1300
  • S 1325
  • T 1365
  • U 1370
  • V 1373
  • W 1378
  • Z 1398
  • Index 1400
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