Edgar Mittelholzer

Guyana's Greatest Novelist (1909-1965)

Monday, March 06, 2006


Edgar Mittelholzer (1909-1965)

The general outline of the life of Edgar Austin Mittelholzer, from his birth in New Amsterdam (in then British Guiana) on December 16, 1909, to his sensational and much-publicized suicide near Farnham, Surrey, England, on May 5, 1965, is a pretty clear one. We are fortunate to be able to draw on his autobiography, A Swarthy Boy ( 1963), his book of Travel Essays, With a Carib Eye ( 1958), and the recollections of his second wife recently published in Bim ( "The Idyll and the Warrior: Recollections of Edgar Mittelholzer," 1983), as well as those of A. J. Seymour and Frank Collymore. Together, these give us important information which is missing in the case of most major West Indian novelists. It could also be said that a large portion of Mittelholzer's biography lies in his books and to write about his books is, in a sense, to write about his life for he drew to a remarkable extent on his real life experiences for his fiction, and the places he visited or lived in, the attitudes and beliefs he held, inevitably surfaced in what he wrote. In the end, his fictional world and characters were to prefigure and influence his life in a terrifyingly tragic way.

Mittelholzer was the son of William Austin Mittelholzer and his wife Rosamond Mabel, née Leblanc. He tells us he was the "offshoot of a Swiss-German plantation manager of the 18th century as well as of a Frenchman from Martinique, an Englishman from Lancashire" (on his mother's side [ Jacqueline Mittelholzer , "The Idyll and the Warrior," 1983, p. 80]) though somewhere along the line, probably through his paternal grandfather--Colin Rickards guesses--

Edgar Mittelholzer's father acquired "a degree of negro parentage" ( Colin Rickards , "A Tribute to Edgar Mittelholzer," 1966, p. 98), though he himself was "fair-complexioned, with hair of European texture as were his brothers and sisters" ( Edgar Mittelholzer, A Swarthy Boy, 1963, p. 17). Always a "confirmed negrophobe" ( A Swarthy Boy, p. 17), Mittelholzer's father could barely contain his resentment toward, and intense dislike for, this child of his who had "turned out a swarthy baby" ( A Swarthy Boy, p. 17). It is from this firsthand experience that Mittelholzer undoubtedly derived one of the main thematic concerns in his novels, that of racial admixture and the prejudice, animosity, and hatred engendered by such mixtures.

His restricted and repressed upbringing aroused a rebellious streak in the young Mittelholzer which manifested itself as an urge to violence. As he says, "Any situation that contained the factor of conflict stimulated me" ( A Swarthy Boy, p. 129), and any disturbance would dissolve the "restless harmony" in him into "roaring chaos" ( A Swarthy Boy, p. 126). This approach to life was to influence him deeply because he saw everything in terms of a struggle between weak and strong, with the weak being inevitably destroyed. His account of his attempts to get published is cast always in terms of battle and assault, and the last chapter of his autobiography is "Sieg oder Tod" (Victory or Death), an ominously prophetic title.

The autobiography tells us, too, of the sources of inspiration for the young Mittelholzer's literary imagination: the silent film serials, the Buffalo Bill stories, and the detective stories involving Nelson Lee and Sexton Blake. His desire "to create heroes of my own in tales as exciting as those on the screen" led him to decide in January, 1928, having just turned nineteen, that he "had to be a writer" ( A Swarthy Boy, p. 146). Once he had made the decision, Mittelholzer turned single-mindedly to the task of writing a stream of short stories. He wrote incessantly and quickly, a habit which lasted through his lifetime.

In January, 1929, he began his first novel, The Terrible Four, and completed it on the first of March. It was rejected first by Hodder and Stoughton and then by Hutchinson. In this, too, his early life was to prefigure the later struggles to get his work published. In 1937 Mittelholzer published his first book, Creole Chips, and Jan Carew recalls that "he published it at his own expense and then walked about the town and country selling it door to door" ( Rickards, p. 101).

By 1938 Mittelholzer had had about fifteen rejections of his work, but he persisted. Wilson Harris remembers: "He would never take no for an answer and after each rejection he would try again" ( Rickards, p. 101). Receiving a favorable response to the first 30,000 words of Corentyne Thunder ( 1941), Mittelholzer sent the remainder of the novel to a British publishing firm, but before he could get a final reply, war was declared. He volunteered for the army and went into training for six weeks, but the group was soon disbanded for lack of numbers.

In October, 1939, Mittelholzer heard that Thornton Butterworth would publish

Corentyne Thunder in the spring of 1940, but in May the firm went into liquidation. In March of 1941 he moved to Georgetown, where he took a variety of jobs ranging from a tally clerk on a ship, a typist with an American company building military bases on the Demerara, an assistant to an electrical engineer, to a meteorological officer.

In December, 1941, Mittelholzer left Guyana for Trinidad as a recruit in the Trinidad Royal Volunteer Naval Reserve, and Corentyne Thunder was published by Eyre and Spottiswoode. He served in the TRVNR, "one of the blackest and most unpleasant interludes" in his life ( Letter from Mittelholzer, cited in Seymour , Edgar Mittelholzer, 1968, p. 12), until he was discharged on medical grounds in August, 1942, and decided to make Trinidad his home, having married a Trinidadian, Roma Halfhide, in March, 1942. He continued to write and live there for the next five years, during which time he turned his attention to the American market, with the same lack of success. Indeed, he completed a novel, For Better Things, which was "intended for the American fiction public" (cited in Edgar Mittelholzer, p. 13) and which was to later become A Morning at the Office ( 1950).

In 1947, Mittelholzer decided that he should go to England since he was convinced that only by so doing would he stand a chance of succeeding as a writer. He had been maintaining himself and his family with a variety of odd jobs such as receptionist at the Queen's Park Hotel and clerk at the Planning and Housing Board. He sailed for England with his wife and daughter in 1948, taking the manuscript of A Morning at the Office with him. Thus, Mittelholzer was the first of the West Indian writers to journey into exile, recognizing, as Michael Gilkes has suggested, that he needed "a metropolitan audience for his art to grow" ( The West Indian Novel, 1981, p. 50).

In London, Mittelholzer went to work in the Books Department of the British Council as a copytypist. Through a fellow worker he met Leonard Woolf in June, 1949, and the result was the publication in 1950 by the Hogarth Press of A Morning at the Office. Peter Nevill published his third novel, Shadows Move Among Them, in April, 1951, and in 1952 brought out the first volume of Mittelholzer monumental historical epic, Children of Kaywana. After its appearance, and despite hostile reviews, Mittelholzer took the crucial decision to give up his job at the British Council and to live entirely by his writing.

In May, 1952, Mittelholzer was granted a Guggenheim Fellowship for Creative Writing. He decided to spend the year in Montreal and to use his time there finishing the second volume of the Kaywana trilogy. The long Canadian winter of 1952-53 made him decide to move to Barbados with his wife and four children, and he spent the next three years in the West Indies. In that time he completed The Life and Death of Sylvia ( 1953), the second volume of the trilogy, Hubertus ( 1954), and his terrifying ghost story, My Bones and My Flute ( 1955). He was also to use this Barbadian setting for four other novels.

In May, 1956, Mittelholzer returned to England. His marriage was deterio-

rating steadily, and he was granted a divorce in May, 1959, with his wife receiving custody of the two boys and two girls. In August, 1959, he met Jacqueline Pointer at a writers' workshop and married her in April, 1960.

From 1950 to 1965 (with the exception of 1964) Mittelholzer had published at least one novel a year. He had stopped using an agent and handled all his books himself. At first it seemed a wise move, and in 1952 he began an association with Secker and Warburg that was to last over nine years and thirteen books, but in 1961 there was a falling-out over The Piling of the Clouds, which they refused to publish because it was "pornographic." The novel was to be rejected by five publishers before Putnam published it in 1961, to be followed by The Wounded and the Worried ( 1962) and his autobiography in 1963. He had promised them a second volume which never materialized after he broke with them as well.

Mittelholzer's problems were steadily growing, and critical reception of his work was increasingly hostile. He had acquired the reputation of being "a problem author," and after 1961, he tells us, he lived "under an ever-darkening cloud-pall of opprobrium" ( Jacqueline Mittelholzer, "The Idyll and the Warrior," p. 86). He felt persecuted, convinced that the poor reviews of his books were damaging his literary reputation and interfering with the publication of his work. The Aloneness of Mrs Chatham ( 1965), for example, was refused by fourteen publishers.

The difficulties he encountered in having his books published toward the end of his life affected Mittelholzer seriously. He was badly in need of money to support his first wife and children, as well as his second wife and son. He was putting "a great deal of energy into trying to win a fortune on the football and cricket pools," his second wife tells us ( The Idyll and the Warrior, p. 53).

For Mittelholzer, death had always been a possible solution, as was suggested in that last chapter of his autobiography. If he could not be victorious over the events in his life, then he would rather be dead. He had attempted suicide twice before, once in the 1930s and once after his second marriage. This time he made sure. As "the precarious symbiosis dissolved into roaring chaos" ( A Swarthy Boy, p. 126), he poured kerosene over himself and set fire to it.

In many ways, it was the logical culmination to the life of one who had always admired the Gotterdamerung of Wagner and whose fiction had been so obsessed with disturbed states of being, death, and suicide. Certainly, as Frank Birbalsingh has observed, Mittleholzer's death in circumstances similar to Garvin Jilkington's in his last novel is not perverse coincidence but the "direct result of the unsuccessful sublimation of his own needs and expectations by means of his art" ( "Edgar Mittelholzer: Moralist or Pornographer?" 1969, p. 102). The fiction and the reality had tragically and finally merged.


One immediately striking characteristic of all Mittelholzer's novels is their strongly evoked sense of place. This is as true of his best work, the early novels

Corentyne Thunder, Shadows Move Among Them, A Morning at the Office, and The Kaywana Trilogy, as it is of his later work, including those set in England. He has the ability to conjure up and make vivid any setting, whether it is the tangled Guyanese jungle from which plantations have been newly hacked (as in Children of Kaywana) or the dense, insect-infested river forest and moss-covered ruins of Berkelhoost in Shadows Move Among Them, or a sleepy English town like Middenshot. This is partly owing to the fact that Mittelholzer drew from his own experience of such places and always used in his fictional world places he had lived in the real world, such as Barbados in Eltonsbrody( 1960), and Bagshot, Surrey, in The Weather in Middenshot ( 1952).

Throughout his life Mittelholzer was concerned with the weather, and this, too, entered into his fiction. The result is a complex interweaving of setting, atmosphere, and character that is entirely convincing and functions at many levels. In The Weather in Middenshot, for example, Mittelholzer has noted that as far as he was concerned, the weather was the chief character, and the at mosphere of that book contributes to its effect because our sense of fear and tension is heightened considerably by the dense fog that envelops the town and under cover of which four gruesome murders take place. Thus, the atmosphere reinforces the plot, the characters, and their actions. Old Herbert Jarrow's ob session with corpses and ways of poisoning people, his taste for newspaper horrors, and his morbid jokes are the psychic equivalent of the physical darkness in the novel.

In Corentyne Thunder, on the other hand, we get a depiction of the vast open landscape of the Corentyne coast and a celebration of its physical beauty. Ram golall and his daughters are seen to be in complete harmony with that landscape, and that identification with the land indicates to the reader that they are whole and sane. But it is not just in his depiction of landscape that Mittelholzer excels. In A Morning at the Office he charts for us not only the physical setting of an office in Trinidad but also its psychological dimensions. The barriers and walls erected by color and class prejudice are clearly delineated by Mittelholzer as he shows the shifting emotions of dislike, fear, and envy among the multiracial inhabitants of the office, without scorn or bias.

In addition, then, to his sense of place, Mittelholzer also creates a fascinating array of characters who are sharply individualized and who are three-dimensional, whether it is the ferocious and beautiful Hendrickje van Groenwegal, who dom inates the first volume of the Kaywana trilogy with her savage and inhuman treatment of husband, children, and slaves, or the well-meaning and earnest Hubertus, the wretched Sylvia of The Life and Death of Sylvia, who cannot survive in the world because she lacks emotional stability, or the delightfully precocious twelve-year-old Olivia in Shadows Move Among Them.

Many of Mittelholzer's creations are memorable because they are far from normal. Jacqueline Mittelholzer tells us, "He liked to make the characters in his novels 'a little nutty' for he felt that this would excuse any extraordinary views they express--or any extraordinary incidents he invented" ( "The Idylland the Warrior,"

and the Warrior," p. 34). His characters certainly betray a wide range of ab normality, from the eccentric Herbert Jarrow in The Weather in Middenshot,who maintains for seventeen years that his wife is dead, though she cooks for him every day, to the deeply disturbed and deranged Charles Pruthick in The Piling of Clouds, who first rapes, then murders his neighbor's nine-year-old daughter and then commits suicide, or Mrs. Scaife in Eltonsbrody, who delights in cutting people up and stringing their bones together, with the help of a Black assistant.

People with suicidal tendencies exerted a powerful fascination for Mittelholzer, and he has over fifteen characters who at some time or the other either actively contemplate suicide or actually succeed. We can understand Mittelholzer's con tinuing fascination with this aspect of abnormal psychology in the light of his own three attempts at suicide, the last successful. Indeed, in The Wounded and the Worried all the guests at the house party are attempted suicide cases. In one of his last books, The Aloneness of Mrs Chatham, he depicts a thirteen-year-old girl who lies down in the road in front of any oncoming motorist she wishes to seduce. Many of these characters are isolated beings who cannot relate to other people because of some deep personality flaw and who seek to invest life with some kind of meaning by doing violence either to themselves or others.

As such, then, we find that Mittelholzer's novels are packed with exciting and frequently violent action, ranging from injecting a murderer and rapist with hydrocyanic acid ( The Weather in Middenshot) to physical beatings, whippings, castration ( Children of Kaywana), and murder. This love of action can be traced, in part, to the fact that Mittelholzer's first literary inspiration derived from a love of cheap detective fiction and silent film serials, where frenzied action was the main staple.

But Mittelholzer's work is not just filled with mentally deranged characters or wild and violent action. In the 1950s he wrote to A. J. Seymour that "sex and religion are my themes as a writer" (cited in Edgar Mittelholzer). While the religious part is less clear, he was certainly right that sex and sexuality in its many aspects played an important part in his work, some would say dismayingly so.

Judging from Shadows Move Among Them, it would seem that Mittelholzer approved of a free and frank sexuality between consenting adults. This would come about only in a new and truly civilized social system. This he depicts at Berkelhoost, organized and ruled by the benevolent dictatorship of the Rev. Gerald Harmston, one hundred miles upstream the Berbice River. In this mission outpost, all the traditional rules of orthodox religion have been abandoned for a religion of Christ the Man where "hard work, frank love, wholesome play, spiced with make-believe" are shown to be "the life of the kingdom of heaven" . Young Gregory Hawke, who comes to his uncle's jungle mission, is so charmed by his experiences at this hedonistic utopia that he quite forgets his neurosis over his wife's death and is lulled into marriage with the Harmstons' eldest daughter, Mabel. In a sense, this is Mittelholzer's happiest view of the sexual union. In no other book is it so unclouded.

Even in the earliest book, Corentyne Thunder, sexual relations are fraught with anxiety and psychic disturbance. Geoffry Weldon, the White hero of that book, suffers a great deal of inner conflict and is unable to reconcile within himself the attraction he feels for Kattree, who is of another race and color, with the responsibility he feels he should have to his family. As Michael Gilkes has pointed out, Geoffry is an embryonic figure in Mittelholzer's fiction for he suffers from a split sensibility that leads to deep inner conflict and a divided psyche which provokes suicidal urges. This is the dominant trait in many of Mittelholzer's leading characters.

It is in the Kaywana trilogy, Children of Kaywana, Hubertus, and Kaywana Blood ( 1958), that Mittelholzer gives us his most sensational and explicit treat ment of the darker side of sexuality. This account of the proud and violent van Groenwegels, starting in 1612 with the half-Indian Kaywana and her Dutch paramour and spanning three centuries down to 1953, gave Mittelholzer unlimited scope to develop variations of sexual attraction and intrigue that were to shock his early readers because of the fusion of sex and violence.

In their settlement of Guyana, the Dutch were undoubtedly vicious and cruel, and their rape of the land was reflected in their interpersonal relationships. Thus, in the novels we get scenes of incest, rape, flagellation, mutilation, castration, adultery, and the further reaches of sado-masochistic behavior. Mittelholzer's reply to the critics, while far from satisfactory, demonstrates what a pioneer he was. He was creating Guyana's early past out of nothing but his own imagination: Children of Kaywana portrayed life as it actually was lived, making no attempt to cater for Sunday School children" (quoted in J. Mittelholzer, "The Idyll and the Warrior," p. 84). He clearly believed, as he makes Dirk say to his daughter in Kaywana Blood, that "the sexual urge . . . is the driving force, my child, behind all our actions and all our destinies". In one sense, then it could be argued that for Mittelholzer, sex is a kind of religion.

It is hardly surprising, then, that sexual love appears in no fewer than fifteen of his novels, though it seems always a source of conflict. From Geoffry Weldon down, there is always this sense of the opposing demands of the flesh and the spirit, as voiced by Hubertus, who tries valiantly to tame his "wild blood": "How can one be loyal to God and the flesh at one and the same time?" ( Hubertus,). This constant clash between the demands of the spirit and those of the flesh have a direct bearing on two of Mittelholzer's other main concerns. One is his belief that all of life is a constant struggle between strength and weakness and that the strong will inevitably triumph over the weak. It is a philosophy that colored his life and his writing. Characters like Sheila Chatham in The Aloneness of Mrs Chatham are shown to be taken advantage of because they are weak and do not assert themselves. In the same way, Sylvia Russell in The Life and Death of Sylvia is driven to destitution and death because she is unable to assert her rights and does not have the strength to resist the forces that drag her down.

In Sylvia's case, we find an example of the second of Mittelholzer's pet

theories, this time about racial mixing. Sylvia is the product of mixed blood, the daughter of an English architect and a Guyanese woman of Carib extraction. Mittelholzer, both here and elsewhere, suggests that this inevitably leads to genetic imbalance, for the result of such couplings must suffer from bad blood and an attendant weakness that makes the bearer a doomed victim. In fact, what Mittelholzer is suggesting is that heredity determines all. It is a theory that has far-reaching consequences on his conception of character, and he holds it as being true not only for mixtures of Black and White but also--as in the case of Paul Mankay of Uncle Paul ( 1963)--for other mixtures, Jewish in this case. Paul's surname, Mankay, is an obvious play on the French word for "failed," manqué. Paul is presented as being "tainted" by his Jewish blood, which gives him a heritage of weakness against which he has to struggle. He is, thus, a schizoid character whose sense of genetic damage--in Michael Gilkes's words-"retards his emotional growth and poisons his relationship with others" ( Me morial Lectures, p. 32). Dirk, too, in Kaywana Blood, obsessed with this sense of tainted blood on his dream of a master family, resists Rose, the mulatto daughter of Hubertus, with tragic results.

Increasingly, as he grew older, Mittelholzer lost that witty, satiric quality, that amusingly ironic view of society which had informed Shadowsand A Morning at the Office. Instead, his writing grew increasingly shrill and ranting. Indeed, he noted in a letter to A. J. Seymour that The Piling of Clouds was written to express his "disgust for contemporary society," and that he was "obsessed with the urge to speak . . . of all that I feel about people and the world as I see it . . . I must say what I feel is wrong with society today" ( Memorial Lectures, pp. 1617). The tendency to preach had always been in Mittelholzer, for he had seen A Morning at the Office as "really a grand tract dressed up" ( Memorial Lectures, p. 14).

In many ways, it could be seen that Mittelholzer's own rigidly Puritanical upbringing and his sense of his Germanic heritage affected his work deeply. The belief that strength must always win out against weakness, no matter what the cost, caused him to espouse a philosophy that glorified strength of the will and discipline and was nearly fascist in its worse aspects. It would lead him to argue that "the criminal and the mentally unfit ought to be liquidated quietly and without pain--for their own good and for the good of the community" ( The Sibilant and the Lost, Savacou [ January-June 1973], p. 61). In The Mad MacMullochs ( 1959) he proposed that there should be a eugenics department "to keep our population free of human vermin" and to dispose of the correct percentage of babies at birth. Mittelholzer clearly did not examine too closely the implications of what he was espousing.

That Germanic yearning for order and discipline also manifested itself in Mittelholzer's two versions of experimental communities where enlightened so cial reform has been effected. In both communities, one in Shadows Move Among Them and the other in The Mad MacMullochs, Mittelholzer contemplates the concept of a society that offers unlimited individual liberty and yet maintains

social order, without recognizing that perhaps the problem is insoluble. In The Mad MacMullochs, for instance, divorce is easy but the characters have to seek permission to have children. In Shadows Move Among Them, the vision of a hedonistic, rational, enlightened community (where the Indians have been taught to speak French and to appreciate Shakespeare and Beethoven) excludes the Caliban figure of Logan, who is savagely beaten by Rev. Harmston for "disobedience."

Mittelholzer's admiration for his Germanic heritage extended to a hero-worship for Wagner and his music. As a result, he was led to experiment with a leitmotiv approach to novel writing in Thunder Returning ( 1961) and in Latticed Echoes ( 1960). With this technique, Mittelholzer hoped to use phrases, much as musical phrases are used, to introduce the appearance of a character. Conventional nar ration was to be omitted. In a sense, what he devised was a symbol code, with the novel made up entirely of dialogue and these symbolic phrases, for which he provided a key at the start of Thunder Returning.

As an experiment in altering the traditional form of the novel, the technique was far from successful because it slowed down the narrative drive and rendered a great deal of the novel unclear. The device was cumbersome because Mittel holzer's choice of word association was entirely arbitrary and inaccessible unless he provided the key. He probably realized it himself since he did not complete what had been projected as a trilogy.

While it must be admitted that Mittelholzer's work is seriously flawed in its excessive detailing of violence, its lapsing into a shrilly denunciatory tone, and its excessive wordiness at times, we cannot deny the extent of his achievement in creating works of fiction that are filled with narrative excitement and mem orable characters and which were highly original in their probing of West Indian history and culture.


When he died in 1965, Mittelholzer left behind him an impressive volume of writing that covered a wide range of styles: twenty-two novels, a collection of humorous pieces ( Creole Chips, 1937), a travel book ( With a Carib Eye, 1958), an autobiography, short stories, poems, short plays and sketches, and essays. Since then, most of his work has been allowed to go out of print, with only Corentyne Thunder and A Morning at the Office still currently on Heinemann's Caribbean Writers Series and My Bones and My Flute ( 1982) available from Longman.

So far there has been no detailed examination of the entire body of his work, and critical attention has tended to focus on the novels, especially the earlier ones, because they won for Mittelholzer his early reputation and have been subsequently confirmed as his finest achievement.

The most important reassessment of Mittelholzer's work has come from A. J. Seymour, Michael Gilkes, Frank Birbalsingh, and Patrick Guckian, while Louis

James and John Figueroa have provided illuminating introductions to the Hei nemann editions of the two earliest novels. Seymour was the first to stir a resurgence of interest in Mittelholzer's work with his articles in Bim ( "The Novel in the British Caribbean," 1967) and in Kaie ( "The Novel in Guyana," 1967), and especially with the first of a series of Edgar Mittelholzer Memorial Lectures published in 1968, Edgar Mittelholzer: The Man and His Work. In this, Seymour not only gave his personal recollections of the man, he also looked at the range of his novels, discussing each one briefly but looking most closely at the earlier work. He also discussed the technique of leitmotivused by Mittel holzer in two novels and found it unsuccessful, however innovative. He also established firmly that the Kaywana trilogy was Mittelholzer's most considerable achievement, dealing as it did "with the unceasing struggle between heredity and environment". Corentyne Thunder is rated highly as "an act of imaginative possession of an important part of Guyana's agricultural area" . The later novels are given scant attention because Seymour feels they are merely "a group of morality sermons" , filled with "furious preaching".

Michael Gilkes regards Mittelholzer as an important West Indian writer be cause he was a pioneer, not only in his commitment to his art but also in his treatment of setting and landscape and in his choice of themes. He sees Mittel holzer as a kind of West Indian Hawthorne attempting to exorcize the ghosts of the past. For Gilkes, what "rescues Mittelholzer's work from the category of the merely trivial is the Faustian theme that underscores so much of his writing: the split in consciousness which has to be repaired through associative effort" ( The West Indian Novel, 1981, p. 84). In this demonstration of the need for psychic integration, and in his treatment of the theme of racial mixture, Mittel holzer's work "embodies and illustrates the dilemma implicit in the whole body of Caribbean literature" ( Racial Identity and Individual Consciousness in the Caribbean Novel, 1974, p. 110).

Like Seymour, Gilkes regards the Kaywana trilogy as Mittelholzer's most outstanding work, "an epic, imaginative record of the peculiar social and his torical reality of Guyana." He finds it filled with a "wealth of detail . . . a sense of mystery and excitement," yet factually and chronologically correct ( The West Indian Novel, p. 57). More importantly, it is "a prodigious pioneering attempt to examine the cultural and emotional ambivalence which is a heritage of the West Indian past" ( The West Indian Novel, p. 84). He also credits Corentyne Thunder as the "first novel to deal with Guyanese peasant life" (" Edgar Mit telholzer ," 1979, p. 97) and A Morning at the Office as "unsparingly honest ... a microcosm of the West Indies" . Gilkes does not seem very much interested in the later novels, set in England, and dismisses them as "little more than thinly disguised sermons" (" Edgar Mittelholzer," p. 108), noting their compulsive, dogmatic tone.

He has not overlooked Mittelholzer's serious flaws, noting that the style is occasionally pompous and lacking in depth and that "deeper levels of meaning are often overlaid by self-conscious or prolix writing, and trivial incident and

superficial characterization often coincide with real insights" ( The West Indian Novel, p. He also notes that Mittelholzer's "obsession with heredity as a once-and-for-all personality determinant denies his heroes any real, emotional development" ( Racial Identity, p. 32). Another aspect of Mittelholzer's work that has upset many readers also worries Gilkes, and this is Mittelholzer's "de light in vigorous, often violently sensational action" ( The West Indian Novel) and what he has termed the "erotic or sadomasochistic titillation"in the books. Even in the early Shadows Move Among Them, Gilkes discerns that "beneath all the liberalism and naturalness, the idyllic atmosphere of freedom and creative expression lies a disturbingly perverse element of cruelty and sa dism" ( Racial Identity, p. 27).

Frank Birbalsingh, in his perceptive "Edgar Mittelholzer: Moralist or Por nographer?" ( 1969), examines this aspect of Mittelholzer's work and shows that "the torrid mixture of fornication, adultery and sado-masochism" is the result of "inadequately controlled fantasies". He sees Mittelholzer's art as "a means of release to inner tensions and hidden personal conflicts" and suggests that it derives, as such, from a "psycho-neurotic temperament which does not quicken sensibility and intelligence but rather gives rein to fantasy and sweet dreams of wish-fulfilment"). Still, he claims, it would be wrong to regard Mittelholzer simply as a pornographer because there is a discrepancy between aim and achievement, and "because the idealism in his work remains unrealized."

Like the others, he agrees that the Kaywana trilogy is Mittelholzer's best work, "a brilliant imaginative reconstruction, . . . a tour de force. . . a vivid narrative of extraordinary power"but he acknowledges that Mittelhol zer's work is seriously flawed and attributes his artistic failures to "the meagre resources of the historical, cultural and literary background against which he wrote". He concludes that since the majority of Mittelholzer's novels deal with "psychological themes" that are of both local and universal signifi cance, Mittelholzer will gradually "come to be regarded as the true innovator of a literature that is finally free from parochialism".

Patrick Guckian, in an article in Jamaica Journal ( "The Balance of Colour: A Re-Assessment of the Work of Edgar Mittelholzer," 1970), approaches Mit telholzer's work sympathetically, showing that those who have accused Mittel holzer of racial prejudice are misled and have confused narrator with author in the novels. He has also shown what a careful stylist he was and how important Mittelholzer's knowledge of musical form is to his novels. He also suggests that the later novels "never engage our deeper sympathies", whereas those dealing with the West Indies are all "many-dimensional, multi-voiced and multi layered."

One charge occasioned by Mittelholzer's later novels that all the critics have carefully skirted--though Gilkes hints at it in his description of Mittelholzer's later views as "right--wing"--is that his attitudes and his later novels are "fascist." Geoffrey Wagner states clearly that "every element of the Fascist state in embryo

is represented at Berkelhoost" ( Edgar Mittelholzer: Symptoms and Shadows, 1961, p. 32), but he draws no conclusion about the author's own outlook. It seems very likely--judging from his letter to A. J. Seymour in 1963 in which he admitted that he had become "a bit preachy" and that he "must say . . . what was wrong with society" ( Edgar Mittelholzer, p. 17)--that Mittelholzer's novels did reflect a great deal of what he personally felt and that that affected the quality of what he wrote.


Mittelholzer was awarded the Guggenheim Fellowship for Creative Writing in 1952, the first West Indian writer to be so honored. As his project, he submitted the plan for his completion of the Kaywana trilogy.

Works by Edgar Mittelholzer

Creole Chips. Georgetown: Lutheran Press, 1937.

Corentyne Thunder. London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1941; London: Heinemann, 1970; London: Hutchinson, 1970; New York: Humanities Press, 1970.

A Morning at the Office. London: Hogarth Press, 1950; New York: Doubleday, 1950 (as A Morning in Trinidad); Toronto: Clark, Irwin, 1950; Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1964; London: Heinemann, 1974; Paris: Gallimard, 1954 (as Un Matin au bureau); Milan, 1956 (as Tempesta a Trinidad).

Shadows Move Among Them. London: Nevill, 1951; Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1951; New York: Ace Books, 1961; London: Four Square, 1963; Amsterdam: Em. Querido, 1953 (as En Welke is Onde Zonde); Paris: La Table Ronde, 1953 (as L'Ombre des hommes); Hamburg: Claasen, 1957 (as Gluhende Schatten); Milan: Baldini e Castoldi, 1957 (as La saga delle ombre).

Children of Kaywana. London: Nevill, 1952; New York: Day, 1952; London: Secker and Warburg, 1952, 1956, 1960, 1969; London: Ace Books, 1959; London: Four Square, 1962; London: New English Library, 1972; New York: Dell Books, 1965 (as Savage Destiny); København: Jesperson og Pio, 1953 (as Kaywanas Børn); Berlin: Blanvelt, 1954 (as Kaywana); Paris: La Table Ronde, 1954 (as Les Enfants de Kaywana); Milan: Baldini e Castoldi, 1956 (as I Figli de Kaywana); Barcelona: Luis de Caralt, 1956 (as La Estirpe de Kaywana); 's-Gravenhage: Zuid Hollandse Uitgevers-Mij, 1957 (as De Vrouw Kaywana).

The Weather in Middenshot. London: Secker and Warburg, 1952; New York: Day, 1953; Paris: Plon, 1954 (as Le Temps qu'il fait a Middenshot); Turin: Frassinelli, 1955 (as Strani eventia Middenshot).

The Life and Death of Sylvia. London: Secker and Warburg, 1953; New York: Day, 1954; London: Ace Books, 1960; London: Four Square, 1963 (as Sylvia); New English Library, 1968 (as Sylvia); Paris: Plon, 1956 (as Vie et mort de Sylvia); Milan: Rizzoli, 1957 (as Il sole nel sangue).

The Climate of Eden, by Moss Hart (a dramatization of Shadows Move Among Them). New York: Random House, 1953.

The Adding Machine. Kingston: Pioneer House, 1954.

The Harrowing of Hubertus. London: Secker and Warburg, 1954; New York: Day, 1955 (as Hubertus); London: Secker and Warburg, 1959 (as Kaywana Stock); London: Four Square, 1962 (as Kaywana Stock).

My Bones and My Flute. London: Secker and Warburg, 1955; London: Corgi, 1958, 1966; London: New English Library, 1974; London: Longman, 1982.

Of Trees and the Sea. London: Secker and Warburg, 1956.

A Tale of Three Places. London: Secker and Warburg, 1957.

With a Carib Eye. London: Secker and Warburg, 1958.

Kaywana Blood. London: Secker and Warburg, 1958; New York: Doubleday, 1958 (as The Old Blood); London: Four Square, 1962; New York: Crest, Fawcett, 1971.

The Weather Family. London: Secker and Warburg, 1958; Bremen: Schünemann, 1959 (as Hurrikan Janet).

A Tinkling in the Twilight. London: Secker and Warburg, 1959.

The Mad MacMullochs. London: Owen, 1959 (under pseudonym H. Austin Woodsley); London: Owen, 1961; London: World, 1961.

Eltonsbrody. London: Secker and Warburg, 1960.

Latticed Echoes. London: Secker and Warburg, 1960.

The Piling of Clouds. London: Putnam, 1961; London: Four Square, 1963.

Thunder Returning. London: Secker and Warburg, 1961.

The Wounded and the Worried. London: Putnam, 1962; London: Pan, 1965.

A Swarthy Boy. London: Putnam, 1963.

Uncle Paul. London: Macdonald, 1963; New York: Dell Books, 1965.

The Aloneness of Mrs Chatham. London: Library 33, 1965.

The Jilkington Drama. London: Albelard-Schuman, 1965; London: Corgi, 1966.

Studies of Edgar Mittelholzer

Birbalsingh Frank M. "Edgar Mittelholzer: Moralist or Pornographer?" Journal of Commonwealth Literature 7 ( July 1969), 88-103.

Brathwaite Edward Kamau. "The New West Indian Novelists, Part I." Bim 8 (JulyDecember 1960), 199-210.

Carew Jan. "An Artist in Exile--From the West Indies." New World Forum 1 ( No vember 12, 1965), 23-30.

Carr W. I. "Reflections on the Novel in the British Caribbean." Queens Quarterly 70 (Winter 1963), 585-97.

Cartey Wilfred. "The Rhythm of Society and Landscape." New World Quarterly (Guy ana Independence Issue) 2 ( 1966), 97-104.

Collymore Frank A. "A Biographical Sketch." Bim 10 (June-December 1965), 23-26.

Derrick A. "An Introduction to Caribbean Literature." Caribbean Quarterly 15 (JuneSeptember 1969), 65-78.

Drayton Arthur D. "The European Factor in West Indian Literature." The Literary HalfYearly 11 ( January 1970), 71-94.

Figueroa John. Introduction to A Morning at the Office. London: Heinemann, 1974, pp. vii-xx.

Gilkes Michael. "Edgar Mittelholzer." In West Indian Literature, ed. Bruce King, 1979, pp. 95-110.

-----. "Pioneers." In The West Indian Novel, 1981, pp. 41-85.

-----. Racial Identity and Individual Consciousness in the Caribbean Novel. The Edgar Mittelholzer Memorial Lectures, 5th Series. Georgetown: Ministry of Information and Culture, 1975.

-----. "The Spirit in the Bottle: A Reading of Mittelholzer's A Morning at the Office." World Literature Written in English 14 ( April 1975), 237-52.

Guckian Patrick. "The Balance of Colour: A Re-Assessment of the Work of Edgar Mittelholzer." Jamaica Journal 4 ( March 1970), 38-45.

Howard William J. "Edgar Mittelholzer's Tragic Vision." Caribbean Quarterly 16 ( December 1970), 19-28.

James Louis. Introduction to Corentyne Thunder. London: Heinemann, 1970.

Lacovia R. M. "English Caribbean Literature: A Brave New World." Black Images 1 ( January 1972), 15-22.

Mittelholzer Jacqueline. "The Idyll and the Warrior: Recollections of Edgar Mittel holzer." Bim 19 ( June 1983), 33-89.

-----. "My Husband Edgar Mittelholzer." Bim 15 ( June 1976), 303-09.

Rickards Colin. "A Tribute to Edgar Mittelholzer." Bim 11 (January-June 1966), 98105.

Seymour Arthur J. Edgar Mittelholzer: The Man and His Work. 1967 Edgar Mittelholzer Memorial Lectures, 1st series. Georgetown, Guyana, 1968.

-----. "An Introduction to the Novels of Edgar Mittelholzer." Kyk-over-al 8 ( December 1958), 60-74.

"The Novel in the British Caribbean." Bim 11 (January-June 1967), 238-42.

"The Novel in Guyana." Kaie 4 ( July 1967), 59-63.

Sparer Joyce L. "Attitudes Towards Race in Guyanese Literature." Caribbean Studies 8 ( July 1968), 23-63.

Wagner Geoffrey. "Edgar Mittelholzer: Symptoms and Shadows." Bim 9 (July-De cember 1961), 29-34.

Williams Denis. Image and Idea in the Arts of Guyana. The Edgar Mittelholzer Memorial Lectures, 2nd series. Georgetown: National History and Arts Council, 1969.

Wyndham Francis. "The New West Indian Writers." Bim 7 (January-June 1959), 18890.

See also General Bibliography: Allis, Gilkes, Herdeck, Hughes, James, McDowell, and Ramchand ( 1970).

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