This thesis describes Joyce Cary's theories of creative imagination and how the characters in his two trilogies reflect those theories. To Cary, creative imagination is essential for society's improvement. He believes that everyone--not just artists and writers--can have creative imagination, and in his novels he shows the results of living with and without it.
Joyce Cary was born in 1888, in Ireland. His mother died when he was nine, but his close-knit family gave him the security he needed to develop his creativity. As a boy he voraciously read adventure stories and led a gang. Throughout his life he dealt creatively with his problems. In public school, weak from previously poor health, he won his classmates' favor by telling them stories and forcing himself to master swimming, football, and boxing. At seventeen he went to Paris to study art. Unable to concentrate there he moved to Edinburgh, where he studied for two years before realizing that he lacked genius as a painter. Deciding to become a writer, he published a collection of poems, then went to Oxford, where he graduated in Law with the lowest possible passing score, because he was more interested in discussing philosophy and writing poetry than in reading law. Seeking book material, he joined the Montenegrin Red Cross in 1912, and served in the Balkan War. Back in England the next year, he joined the Nigerian Service, arriving in Nigeria shortly before the beginning of World War I. In Africa Cary's creative imagination flowered as he worked to help the natives build roads and bridges, and encouraged traders to enter his district. He also began many novels, which he could not complete for philosophical reasons. During a furlough in 1915 Cary married Gertie Ogilvie, and by 1919, when he left the service, they had two boys, and soon doubled that number. On selling three stories to the Saturday Evening Post Cary leased a house in Oxford, but the Post's editors came to think his work too literary, and he found himself unemployed. The next twelve years were spent reading philosophy, religion, and history in the Bodleian Library, and honing his writing techniques. In his last twenty five years Cary completed sixteen novels dealing with Africa, childhood, art, politics, religion, and women. He also published many essays and several non-fictional books. He died in 1957, at the age of sixty-eight.
Creative imagination for Joyce Cary includes not only the sudden perception of objective reality which he calls intuition but the final realization, when the intuition is successfully communicated. He believes that the creator must work from a base of moral and philosophical certainty if he is to be successful. Meaning for Cary is communicated through symbols having the same associations for both writer and reader.
Cary's two trilogies contain some of his best work. By adopting the trilogy form, with a different speaker in each book, Cary shows the subjectiveness of the individual viewpoint, and the difficulty of knowing objective reality.
In the first trilogy, centered upon an artist, the three major characters each show attributes necessary for the successful use of the creative imagination, but none of them are fully creative. Sara Monday, in Herself Surprised (1941), shows a strong sense of duty and the drive to complete projects but is apathetic and ambivalent, unable to make choices. Thomas Wilcher, in To Be a Pilgrim (1942), reveals a sense of tradition which the creative person must have if his intuitions are to be philosophically sound but is so bound to his traditions that he is unable to grow, although he longs to live a life of creative imagination, "to be a pilgrim." Gulley Jimson, hero of The Horse's Mouth (1944), receives strong intuitions but seldom completes the creative process by finishing his paintings. Thus, none of the major characters of the first trilogy are completely creative in ways that Cary would consider acceptable. The most creative person in the first trilogy is Wilcher's nephew Robert, who, although he destroys good things because of his lack of a sense of tradition, has strong intuitions which he successfully realizes.
In the second trilogy Cary writes about creativity in politics. Although he deplores dishonesty, he believes that the truly creative politician will do anything necessary to stay in power, because he has an intuition of how society should develop, and only if he is in power can he realize his vision. Prisoner of Grace (1952) is narrated by Nina, wife of the other two major characters. Nina fears reality and cannot make decisions, and thus cannot be creative. In Not Honour More(1955), Jim Latter, bound to honor as a form of security, is kept from creativity by his inflexibility and lack of imagination. Chester Ninnno, the politician in Except the Lord (1953), although highly creative, manipulating both people and government to realize his intuitions, is flawed by his lack of honor and reliance on expedience. Cary successfully shows, in these trilogies, many qualities of creativity, and the value of creative imagination in one's life.
Llewellyn E. Foll
Robert P. Dunn
Grosvenor R. Fattic
Master of Arts (MA)
Year Degree Awarded
Date (Title Page)
Library of Congress/MESH Subject Headings
Cary, Joyce, 1888-1957; English literature--20th century
Subject - Local
Loma Linda University. English Program -- Dissertations
Loma Linda University Libraries
This title appears here courtesy of the author, who has granted Loma Linda University a limited, non-exclusive right to make this publication available to the public. The author retains all other copyrights.
Christian, E., "Creative Imagination in Joyce Cary's Trilogies" (1979). Loma Linda University Electronic Theses, Dissertations & Projects. 550.
Loma Linda University Electronic Theses and Dissertations
Loma Linda University. Del E. Webb Memorial Library. University Archives