“Joyce Cary?” said a friend recently when someone mentioned the author of Mister Johnson and The Horse’s Mouth. “Now there’s a name I haven’t heard in decades.”

Alas, the name of Arthur Joyce Lunel Cary (1888-1957) is one that many readers born after World War II may never have heard at all. How, an admirer of Cary must wonder, can one explain this unfortunate obscurity? A large part of the reason for it may be that Cary’s sixteen novels aren’t easy to place on most current maps of modern English fiction. In many ways, indeed, Cary doesn’t seem especially modern. He wasn’t a technical revolutionary in the manner of James Joyce and Virginia Woolf; nor did he write bluntly sardonic critiques of twentieth-century society, as did Evelyn Waugh and Aldous Huxley; nor did he shock readers, à la D. H. Lawrence, with dark and dangerous...

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