Richard Biernacki, Reinventing Evidence in Social Inquiry: Decoding Facts and Variables (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012). Bibliography and Appendices

Part One: Consist of the full, emended references for the book’s endnotes. This bibliography of June 30, 2012 corrects the citation for footnote 28, page 159.

Part Two: Cumulates additional passages from primary sources that are relevant for assessing Wendy Griswold’s “The Fabrication of Meaning: Literary Interpretation in the United States, Great Britain, and the West Indies,” American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 92, 1987, pp. 1077-1117. My hope is to suggest how vexing it may be to treat interpretive coding as data.

    Appendix A: Supplemental reviews of George Lamming’s In the Castle of My Skin, The Emigrants, Of Age and Innocence, Season of
    Adventure, and Natives of My Person, tentatively arranged into four categories.

    Appendix B, bottom of site: Material from two reviews highlighted by Griswold for judging whether British critics highlighted the Trumper
    episode in ways that show the British were “unwilling to ascribe any fixed social meaning to the scene” [p. 1100].

 

Part One: Book Bibliography

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Part Two: Supplemental Reviews of Lamming’s Novels


Appendix A:

First Category: Positive reviews that seem to mention ambiguity. These support Griswolds premier hypothesis that a cultural work that is experienced as ambiguous yields a more positive, approving reception.

In the Castle of My Skin:  The appreciative critic from the New York Herald Tribune noticed ambiguity due to the brightness of Lamming’s fragments:  “His prose has a rich, dense texture that reminds one of a Van Gogh, the paint laid on so thick one can taste it, the over-all color patterns brilliant, although the relevance of the individual parts may seem momentarily bewildering should one stand too close to the canvas.”   It is in keeping with Griswold’s hypothesis that the Herald Tribune critic experiences the book as “extraordinarily effective.”[1]

Of Age and Innocence: "His methods appear at first sight to be straightforward ones -- chiaroscuro, duality, ambivalence -- as, indeed, the title of the book might suggest."  This passage "is quoted as length because it helps in giving a clue to the difficulties the average reader may have in coming to grips with this book.  For George Lamming is no ordinary writer....He too is tormented by the speechlessness which results from too deep a penetration into the labyrinth of human relations.  Words lacerate..."  "The fluidity in structure of Age and Innocence is indeed a little baffling.  Take it as a sort of triptych with its two small panels dwarfed by an expansive central panel."  "For the meaning of his thought is not always clear and his expressions are now and again like mistranslations from some foreign language"  "And because of the fluid structure of the book, the reader may not always be aware of this theme."  The reader may not be able to follow the book but "will surely come away from the book with a unique and memorable experience."[2]

Natives of My Person: “This novel is wry, perceptive, and very puzzling.  Its themes are complex; the overlapping and simultaneous tensions and wholeness between past and present/future, men and women, colonizer and colonial rebel, old world and the new.”[3]

Age and Innocence: "There is a great deal going on at different levels, and at first it is not altogether clear to what purpose.  But as the story changes its mode of expression from the one extreme, Mark's intellectual diaries, to the other, Ma Shephard's West Indian patois, you do being to see a common factor in the various themes, and to appreciate that the book is not nearly as loosely constructed as you suspected.  In fact, these shifts of interest serve to concentrate attention on the main argument: how far a person is bound by other people's evaluation of him, and how far he can, or should, act on his evaluation of himself."  Lamming "succeeds with such virtuosity and yet prevents the plot from getting out of hand."[4]

The Emigrants: “George Lamming has seized the opportunity of dealing with this current topic in a most unusual and artistic manner.”  “...a dramatic touch in a well-planned overture heralding a composition whose main strands are woven of uncertainty, frustration, even futility....George Lamming provides no solution to the problem, not even the solution of an individual case, but strives to project the tension occasioned by the problem....The first character to emerge from the background of anonymity is The Governor...until the very end, when he too succumbs to the complexity of the situation.”  “Here again, we are made conscious of the competence of the author: he does not want to carry any of his characters to full development because he wants to use them when the time is ripe in situations where their lack of development will help him to paint effectively his picture of uncertainty and frustration.”  “Those others [readers] who are likely to get bogged down unless there is some well-defined narrative to hold their attention may be tempted to discard it; but a little perseverance will be found to be most rewarding.”[5]  It is unclear whether “uncertainty” references suspense alone, but together with the indications of lack of resolution and of vague characterization, it probably suggests ambiguity.

Of Age and Innocence: “This book is long (for the modern novel) and powerful; its atmosphere throughout is tense and charged with emotional psychology.  Of incident and action there is not a great deal, since Mr Lamming prefers remorseless reflection; in his riot of words the clarity of his meaning is sometimes lost....this is certainly the best of the three novels he has produced to date."[6] 


Second Category: Texts that do not easily fit into Griswold’s coding labels

In the Castle of My Skin:  V.S. Pritchett’s review of In the Castle of My Skin describes the experience of absorbing the novel’s sophisticated play with forms of speech:  “The people of Barbados have had a long period of English rule and culture; English ideas have been absorbed in a haphazard way and the people speak an English vernacular in which the book is written.  The result is something strange, emotional and compassionate, something between garrulous realism and popular poetry, and it is quite delightful....One is back again in the pages of Huckleberry Finn -- the fundamental book of civilization -- and Mr. Lamming's book reminds one delightfully, indeed poignantly of it in many episodes. “[7]  British publishers liked to affix it to the novel’s frontspiece as advertising (thereby contaminating what comprised the novel as well as its reading).  Pritchett’s piece describes the pleasure of interpreting vernacular English phrases recycled into poetry, but it would be difficult to know if this “strange, emotional” manner of expression should be registered as “ambiguity.”  If “yes,” then we virtually collapse a cause of ambiguity, strangeness, into ambiguity itself.

Of Age and Innocence: “Conrad himself would have admired the tremendous, in-wrought ironies of the plot and more particularly the climax.He [Lamming] can touch off a vivid visual detail with amazing ease.  But there is at times a jarring contrast between the clarity of his moral vision and the clotted, incantatory and repetitious prose in which he feels compelled to express it.  Even his sense of injustice gets involved in an intensity of feeling that defeats itself.  But his scope and grip increase considerably.  He is easily among the best of younger writers in English.”  The reviewer lavishes  praise but expresses frustration due to murky expression.  Classifying this as either a positive review or as only a mixed review, and whether its mentions of inclarity, depth, and irony imply ambiguity, seem disconnected from the author’s process of critical appraisal.[8]

Emigrants: “The structure of Lamming’s novels is essentially impressionistic.  And they suffer somewhat for this.  Lamming is not always at home between unassimilated experience of the autobiographer and the unassimilated philosophy of the third person.  The passage on no-THING in The Emigrants is particularly bad.   And this shifting perspective makes the strict evaluation of each experience impossible, for there is no central intelligence to frame the action, there is no normative perspective....as we lose sight of them, our attention is shifted to the more improbable characters, Frederick, Azi, Phillip, and towards inexplicable Freudian complications.  This fact is responsible for the lapses in development, particularly the severe dislocation, which occurs between the first and second half....In themselves, in the process of writing and reading, the West Indian imagination is pictured as it is: on the edge of uncertainty, of self-possession, of self-consciousness.”[9]  The critic, Stuart Hall, seems to underscore ambiguity as a theme (“inexplicable,” “uncertainty”).  But the review is both so technically interrogatory and so possessively accepting of Lamming  as an ensconced member of the local scene (among “our native artists”), it flies right past a comparative weighing of Lamming’s novel for the uninitiated reader. 

Season of Adventure: “This tug of war has affected the shape of his [Lamming’s] work, preventing it from achieving a clear, coherent, over-all whole.  Yet such is his power of realization, that any given section of his work reveals a hard, unwinking gleam that marks its authenticity....Season of Adventure opens with the experience of a voodoo ceremony and its effect, particularly on a West Indian girl who, until she is faced with the Gods of the tonelle, thinks that her sophistication renders her immune from the language of the drums.  Within this alternative tradition, Laming seems to be saying, lie the hidden and half-forgotten forces through which Caribbean society can be forged.”[10]  An ambiguous review due to lack of “clear” structure and the partial revelation of “hidden” forces whose effects cannot be discerned with clarity in the voodoo ceremony?  probably, but the lack of a coherent over-all whole makes the review less than positive.

Season of Adventure: “What Lamming is trying to do in both this and his latest novel, Season of Adventure, apart from other subsidiary intentions, relative to each individual work, is, I feel, to portray the problematic growth and evolution of a cosmopolitan society.There are flickers here and there of the early poetry, the early magic of language, but often than not a massive, dull and hollow movement of words.  The intention is just a vague golden line now brightening and surfacing in the work, not fading away from it altogether.Yet Lamming falls short...lacking a centre of depth, wasting and diffusing his energies in all directions.  One can only hope that he will find this - this tragic centrality - before it is too late, for there is something precarious, something unpredictably fragile about the treasury of experience a man carries when he cuts the cord that ties him to his mother country so early in his manhood.”[11]  The reviewer identifies a central intention but complains the work fails because it does not embody that intention clearly.

The Emigrants: “The power of The Emigrants comes from the tact and calmness with which Mr. Lamming writes about these things and the disturbance of the book is the penetrating inquiry into the springs of human nature -- the implied criticism of a civilization, in fact....Mr. Lamming does not hesitate to think abstractly and it is a valid criticism that he is not always convincing in his analyses of the ‘object’ and of ‘nothing.’  His touch is surer when he shows us the boredom and limitation of the emigrants, cooped in the room of a London boarding-house....though the characters are convincing they are ‘flat’ rather than ‘round’....The author appears in the novel both in his own person, and as an objectified character.  This complication has the advantage of giving us a double-vision of the material , one of distance and one of nearness.”[12]  In the absence of more exact evaluations, it is uncertain whether the “double-vision” is ambiguous or merely rich, and whether talking “abstractly” is fuzzy or merely “unconvincing”.   The review seems positive: “a distinct achievement.”  

The Emigrants: “There is much that is individual here -- the evoking of mood, the power in presenting characters separately in a group; there is also much evidence of Joycean and Existentialist fraternity which may eventually merge into the author’s thought and style less obtrusively.  Perhaps the ambiguity which filters through the book is necessary to the sense of groping, almost wooziness, which encircles the reader.  A book of serious intent.”[13]  The ambiguity seems both unartful (“obtrusively”) and noteworthy, and the critic’s overall judgment indecipherable.  According to Griswold’s footnote 18, she probably coded this as a mixed or negative review.

Natives of My Person: “A profound and elegantly written novel in which the darkly mixed motives that lay behind the European colonization of the New World find dramatic form in the officers and crew on a mysterious voyage to the Caribbean.”[14]  Is “mystery” just that, a conveyance of atmosphere, or is it tension in the intended meaning?

Natives of My Person: “A stark West Indian expose of colonialism in a 17th-century slave-ship voyage, Africa to America, with sub-theme: men’s struggle against bondage to women, nation’s struggle for independence.  Realism plus philosophy.”[15]   The review is so purely descriptive it lacks easily codable clues to the reading experience.

The Emigrants: “Mr. Lamming depends on free-swinging metaphor to carry the greatest part of his narrative, piling up image after image, color after color to the point where he appears to lose the direction of his novel.  For long passages he uses frank and vivid sense impressions, only to turn suddenly into half-digested philosophy and awkward attempts at sophistication.  The cumulative effect, however, is impressive -- a novel which, despite lack of discipline, holds the reader’s attention by its enormous energy and bursts of memorable insight.”[16]   Is “free-swinging metaphor” an indicator of ambiguity or only polysemy?   Note that by Griswold’s footnote 18, this review probably was coded as negative or mixed, not positive, dropping the critic’s acknowledgement that the “cumulative effect” of the novel “is impressive.”

The Emigrants: “The story of why they leave, what they hope to do, and their shattered dreams is the theme of this book.  This theme is presented from a confusing number of points of view but for the most part by Collis, one of the West Indian emigrants, whose experiences parallel those of Mr. Lamming....The book suffers from its confusing form, but is so well-written that it should be in all but the smallest libraries.”[17]   The critic is put off by the confusing presentation, but considers the theme is clear and recommends the book for its descriptive qualities:  “The author writes beautifully and movingly of the voyage, the development of a nationalism by the Barbadians, Jamaicans, Trinidadians, Grenadans, etc who make up the West Indies; the hostels in which they must live in England; and the loss of hope.”    Assuming this review made it into her all-inclusive sample, Griswold coded it negative or mixed, not positive [1090, n 18].  She indicates that a multiplicity of points of view typifies ambiguity, however, so this case, too, probably should run contrary to her hypothesis.

The Emigrants: “fails to get the most out of its characters and a world they never made.  But it is rich in atmosphere and a sense of tragedy, again proves that author Lamming has a virtuoso’s ear for catching the rhythms of island speech.  Half-white, half-Negro himself, he knows better than most writers what it means to live and dream in a half-and-half world.”[18]  These sentences are the only overtly evaluative ones in the review, and Griswold .  Assuming that a review from Time would have made it into her all-inclusive sample, Griswold coded it as negative or mixed, not positive, since she lists all U.S. reviews of this novel as negative or mixed (1090 n. 18).  This is a fragile imposition on two scanty sentences.  Is “fails to get the most” an indicator of unused potential or of rejection?   Since nearly every review contains attributable reservations such as this one, this coding shows how tricky it would be to code other reviews positive.

Natives of My Person: “Now all this sounds just dreadful, I know, and Natives of My Person is exasperating in more than its story.  Lamming’s prose is portentous, hooked on simile, and anxious to suggest more than it says, inviting questions the story never answers...Why are so many of the crew named (in French or Russian) after New Testament characters?  Why are are some NOT so named? Can Lamming be serious when he calls (more than once) the officers’ last meal together their ‘last supper’?  Yet if reading natives of my person is a voyage into frustration and annoyance, Lamming’s story survives and grows in the mind afterward.”  “Natives of my person is a hard novel to like, with excesses and longeuers that are very provoking; but I must grudgingly say that it finally succeeds in the pursuit of a seriousness that can be taken seriously.”[19]   Due to the annoyance and negative adjectives, is this a mixed review that departs from Griswold’s hypothesis?   Or a positive review that shows her correlation of ambiguity and approval is impertinent anyway, since the approval is offered in spite of ambiguity?

Season of Adventure: “a huge sprawling work of almost overpowering intensity and colour; as tightly and richly woven at its centre as the most sumptuous gold brocade, the threads of warp and woof hang disregarded all round the edges, in defiance of the laws which bind lesser novelists...This is no book for skimmers.  As in poetry, every word counts -- or more accurately, every next word MAY count -- towards one’s understanding of the complex pattern of personalities and events.”  This laudatory review suggests that Lamming successfully challenges conventions understanding (“in defiance of the law”), but it has not “specifically mentioned the ambiguity of the novel.”  The review matches her description of the ambiguity as a compositional effect (but not as a subtopic).

Natives of My Person: “Lamming uses a simple allegorical pattern which is thoroughly convincing.  The ship is almost a complete society....By contrast to the pretentious complexity of the symbolical pattern of Water with Berries, the superficially simple allegory of Natives of My Person provides richly complex insights into human personality and the history of colonialism.”[20]

Age and Innocence: "The story is not told in a straightforward manner and the emotional life of Mark and Marcia which looms largely at the beginning is gradually over-shadowed by other issues and particularly by the conflict between the rulers and the rules...all the characters are vividly portrayed and become very real to the reader."  "Very much worthwhile reading." [21]  Does the lack of a “straightforward” telling of events mean that the novel’s intended meaning is unclear at the end, or does it say only that the message is conveyed in an unusual order?

In the Castle of My Skin: “It is a striking piece of work, a rich and memorable feat of imaginative interpretation for all its fragmentariness.... A work of fiction from him that made something like a created whole might be well forth waiting for.”[22] 

In the Castle of My Skin: When Mr. Lamming has learned to control his abundant material he should write a very fine book indeed.”[23]

The Emigrants: “In Mr George Lamming’s second novel his exuberant talents get badly out of hand and one begins to wonder whether they do not need the stern discipline of the short story rather than the elastic form of the novel to give them shape and dignity.”  “Words pour richly from Mr Lamming and he boggles at no physical detail, but his impressionistic treatment of people’s minds and feelings is not as helpful as it should be in creating separate characters.”[24]

Natives of My Person: “Undoubtedly George Lamming’s finest novel.”  It is a “profoundly revolutionary and original work.”  “The author gives us deliberately distorted glimpses of the slave coast where master and slave become phantoms moving in and out of primordial silences and where everything that lives is threatened with a sudden death....telling no more and no less than the novel requires to complete its gilded baroque structure.   Within that structure, however, are deeply felt, austere and classical forms of a voodoo Ceremony of Souls.”[25]   Seems positive, but should we take the “phantoms” and “primordial silences” as mentioning ambiguity?


Third Category: Reviews that appear to be mixed to negative despite mention of ambiguity.  These seem to contradict Griswold’s premier hypothesis.

Natives of my Person: “This very strange work of fiction seems to be attempting much more than it actually delivers.”  “Lamming emphasizes the ambiguities of his major characters in relation to the influence of power, wealth, religion, and role of women in their lives.  The ingredients for an absorbing adventure story are all present, including mystery, madness, love, and murder, but the combination never quite coalesces.  The story fails to hold attention and the principal characters arouse little sympathy or concern.  By the conclusion of the novel, the murky psychological and allegorical elements and continual veiled implications have become annoying.”[26]

Natives of My Person: “so distanced and mannered that one can never be clear what is happening where and when....Behind all the repetitious gravity there is a bewildering sense of symbolism (about the nature of slavery, for example) shadowing every character and motivation, but each sentence is so gift-wrapped in poetic mandarin that it’s hard to follow anything except the glacial narrative.”[27]

The Emigrants: “The first part -- disproportionately long and weighted down with trivia often unrelated to the main design -- reveals a group of West Indians...all seeking a ‘Better Break’ in a new, strange land, to which they feel a vague attachment as well as hate.”  “But, as an artist, he [Lamming] fails to create beauty out of ugliness.”[28]

In the Castle of My Skin: ”Awkward fit: where should one shelve Mr. Lamming?  Autobiography?  So, ostensibly, he sets out, to picture childhood in the West Indies, a village changing hands from feudal white man to native speculator....But it reads more like, and often is, fiction.  Novel, then?  What faults, though, at once appear: the author loses himself for whole chapters, records where he hasn't been, and enters the thoughts of the dying as gracefully as he takes on of his many sea-shore walks.  Are these minor blemishes? The point of view is lost, and reveries mist the perspective, which Mr. Lamming can make sharp as glass when he likes.  ...Whether this sacrifice of clear narrative to intuitive vibration is justified, readers must judge for themselves.[29]  The critic is explicit about the novel’s departure from formula, but finds it unpalatable.

In the Castle of My Skin: “[T]he effect is of a series of sharp and brilliant sketches rather than of a unit.  But, as one vignette succeeds another and leaves its impression behind it, the substance of a unified experience emerges -- the personal tragedy of the intellectual provincial who outgrows his native society....[I]t would make a very fine book by itself.  But it is linked to a theme of semipolitical character, and to a kind of racism that can be accepted only with many misgivings....There is something profoundly disgusting about racial chauvinism, no matter what sense of wrong or grievance produces it, and it cannot be too much regretted that it is an element in this unusual first novel.”[30]  This review seems to comment upon the engaging effort required to create a unified experience, as with multivocality, but the review seems mixed rather than positive.

In the Castle of My Skin:  “It describes ten years in the life of a Barbados village and is based largely on overt autobiography and partly on imaginative narration, and it leaves the reader embarrassed by paradoxical judgments.  The fluency of the poetic style calls for his admiration: certain passages are so striking by their perception and expression that it seems churlish to suggest that the poetry is overdone.  Yet it remains true that prose is enlightened by the poetic mind but only too easily frustrated by an excess of the poetic manner.[31]   The poetry seems ambiguous, but the appraisal seems only mixed, not positive.

Natives of My Person: Creates “a feeling of enormous arrest that may be at once the seedbed and antithesis of the melodramatic action.”   “An atmosphere of secrecy, both physical in terms of hiding or inaccessibility and spiritual in terms of reticence and dissimulation, is crucial to Natives of My Person....it makes for a fascinating paradox, the furtiveness of the sensation.  But it goes deeper, and begins to suggest that Lamming himself is struggling with an impulse to keep things in pectore.  And that is a dismal paradox in a novelist.”   The critic finds the book of interest, but it does not “manage to escape the malaise of tendentiousness.”[32] 

Natives of My Person: “Why the names of some places and not others have to be invented is never clear, though the book certainly seems to have an allegorical intent...his use of language actually impedes understanding of what he has to say about colonialism and freedom”  Is “less successful” than the other book under review.[33]

Season of Adventure: “...so often one is put off and exasperated by pettiness in the author’s outlook and what are perhaps personality failures.  There is a most improbable story of ambiguous parenthood (how Thomas Mann would have contrived this!) and the reader is not convinced of the acuteness of the psychological examination of feminine motives which the novelist displays.  In the first half ... the reader will feel that the author is playing with communication and doesn’t desire perhaps fully to be understood, but the integrity and clarity of style in the second half is eminently successful.”  Kyk-over-Al, vol. 9, 1961, p. 193.

Natives of My Person: “If the book’s real intention is, as seems likely, to be radical in its approach to both politics and personal emotion, it is difficult to see how Mr. Lamming could have better obstructed his task....Beneath this story -- and not all that far beneath -- lies an historical lesson, a political theory and a network of emotional paradigms; and the notion of those barely hidden depths is given substance in George Lamming’s style...;it [narration] sounds rather like a crossword clue, circumlocutory and strangely systematized like much of the dialogue.”[34]

Natives of My Person: “Mr. Lamming spins out the story with flashbacks and more flashbacks and unexpected revelations and complicated little episodes, but constantly returns to the point of depravity: everything is rotten and empty, and the Commandant’s hopes are barely expressed before they are extinguished.  Beneath this pessimism, all the characters ... become flattened and indistinct.”[35]

The Emmigrants: “The theme is presented from a confusing number of points of view, in a style that sometimes leans too heavily on the influence of James Joyce.  Just the same, the author writes beautifully and movingly of the voyage and the motivations behind the growth of nationalism in the West Indies.”[36]  Since the challenge of multiple views and interpretations of events is a hallmark of ambiguity for Griswold, this piece seems ambiguous.  Assuming this review was in her all-inclusive sample, Griswold may have coded it as negative or mixed (her footnote 18), putting it into the large group of disconfirming reviews.

Natives of My Person: “Lamming is a marvelously skillful writer, but cagey in his exposition, slowly spinning out his story, making the allegory plain at one moment, obscure the next.  He allows his characters to tell yarns at great length and almost gets away with this windiness ... but the whole long string of them makes for a turgid novel; it is baffling when there is no obvious need for it to be so.  More historical detail might have made it more comprehensible; too much of it is shadowy action and vaguely poetical momentousness.  These are Melville’s flaws as well, but this book has none of Melville’s virtues and remains, like the lesser work of that great writer, heavy, symbolical, and moralistic.”[37]

Season of Adventure: “It is about freedom -- political freedom -- in the West Indies; about the fact that if you were to release a diseased cat from a sack, it would still be diseased, although free....It is about the ways in which a neglected, disconnected drift of humans does not ‘work,’ though its individuals live, think, feel, posture, whore, lie, cheat, murder and delude themselves, like everyone else.  It is even about a universal revolution.  It is, per contra, as a novel, extra-politically, extra-sociologically, a hot fuddle of sententious and sensational verbosity....”[38]  If a novel is a confused state of intoxication “about” everything under the sun, it is multivocal and it is ambiguous, no?

Season of Adventure: Myth’s “complexity and its meaning are hidden, so that although it carries a superficial relation to experience, time and patience are continually revealing new facets of meaning, new sources of fundamental truth.  And it is Mr. Lamming’s very ability to see beyond the superficial that blocks the view of the vision that he would have us share.  He sees too much, he wants us to see as much and as deeply as he sees and often we resent his constant nudging of our minds.  Undoubtedly we need his help, but his help is never unobtrusive enough...One of his preoccupations is with the nature of identity.  Are things, are people, what they are, merely what they are, or are they more? In Of Age and Innocence we were shown the tragedy which can and often does result from the arbitrary imposition of meaning upon a phenomenon in which no meaning is instinctive.It [Season of Adventure] is, in a piece of work, sometimes in many ways, too undisciplined, one feels the author has, as it were, taken his eyes off the road.”  The review mentions the ambiguity of both narrative and of the social universe, but it seems decidedly mixed, not positive.[39]

Natives of My Person: “At first the reader may feel quite confused and unrelated to the whole story which alternates between a straight recounting of events with hidden undertones in the speech of the characters and extracts from accounts of various of these individuals as recorded by them at the time...As to the significance of these occurrences it is possible that the reader may think of Robert Browning who is said when asked about the meaning of a passage in one of his obscure poems to have replied ‘When I wrote that only God and Robert Browning knew what I mean;  Now only God knows.’’  “If you are a collector of West Indiana you must read this.  If you believe that a story should say something and say it something plainly this is not for you.”[40]

The Emigrants: “We yawn.  And as we yawn, we begin to wonder about Collis and Frederick ... and a dozen other characters who wander in and out even more facelessly -- and we begin to resent them for wasting so much of our time.  Never, except possibly in Ulysses, where the style was electrifying, at least some of the time, has an author gone to such lengths to disguise his direction, the motivation of his characters, their appearance, and even the meaning of what they are saying.  In the end. Mr. Lamming supplies parts of the puzzle, but by that time we don’t care.” [41]

Age and Innocence: “ "In his third book 'Of Age and Innocence,' George Lamming plays the virtuoso, display and advance in technique and lays a greater emphasis upon manner than upon matter....But the author makes the incidents happen off stage as in a tragedy by Seneca and because the movement of the book is shrouded in a deliberate mist of emotion, we are never quite sure what has taken place...[T]his book suffers from an excess of style and moral disquisition and it is unlikely to appeal to the general readers who want a story in the first place....The book is difficult and, even in a certain sense, unpleasant to read.  There is introduced very early the literary device of the diary, that treasure house of the abstruse and the esoteric, and even in the first section of the book, the part which traditionally is devoted by an author to catching the interest and holding the attention of the reader, we are conscious that there is a deliberate blurring of the issues...What conclusion then should we draw?  That his metier is not the novel but he is developing on the side of the philosophical essay and the penetration of poetry?...And we should add this last point only George Lamming has written his third book, but he has not yet given us his readers the fulfillment of the considerable literary powers he possesses."[42]  

Of Age and Innocence: "It is easy to understand the incomprehension which has greeted Mr. George Lamming's third book...and unless one understands the West Indian’s search for identity, Of Age and Innocence is almost meaningless." "But Mr. Lamming creates difficulties for the reader.  He has devised a story which is fundamentally as well-knit and exciting as one by Graham Greene.  But you have to look hard for it.  Mr. Lamming suppresses and mystifies; he shies away from the concrete, and grows garrulous over the insignificant.  He is not a realistic writer.  He deals in symbols and allegory.  Experience has not been the basis of this novel...the reader's sympathies are never touched....Purely as a work of fantasy Of Age and Innocence is really quite remarkable.  It fails through its sheer unreadability." [43]

The Emigrants: “A poetically written novel about the emigration of a group of West Indian Negros to London in search of a better life....Lost and confused, they drifted into vice and crime...”  ”A sensitive study of culture conflict, impaired by bewildering shifts in points of view and a medley of literary techniques.  Limited appeal.”[44]  

The Emigrants: “How pleasant it would be for writers if -- like the thirteenth floor of a New York skyscraper -- that notorious fence, the second novel, could be simply eliminated!”  Lamming “has indulged in innovation at the expense of form.”  “The novel, in consequence, is thrown off balance.  Among the innovations that I find least successful are.... jerky pseudo-Joycean soliloquies;”  “Mr. Lamming has so many of West Indians, West Indians, Africans, and English doing different things in different places all at the same time and in so few pages that the reader grows confused, and the action is obscured, by the compression.”   The critic complains the “reason for their flight from home becomes monotous,” but praises some of the descriptions as “triumphs,” leading probably to a mixed review expressing frustration with ambiguity (“obscured,” “pseudo-Joycean”).

Of Age and Innocence: "The fact remains that in the last half of the 20th century as always in human history readers demand a story and are entitled to expect it in a novel.  The stuff of which Age and Innocence is compounded is long introspective navel gazing at human follies by vaguely drawn characters.  The reader's disappointment is all the greater because at the end of the novel Lamming introduces us to simple folk who burst into life pushing still father into the background the vague shadowy lead figures whose meanderings through the many pages of this novel stretch  to the point of boredom....Opinions and tastes differ but those of us who want a story, want to know that something did happen, will look to Monsarrat rather than to Lamming.”[45]

Season of Adventure.   “it could be wished that he had rid himself of his old habit of occasional incomprehensibility.  When moralizing he is apt to let himself go in a riot of words the sum of which is practically unintelligible.  His writing would be improved, I feel, if he could inject into it something of the simplicity of Lauchmonen or the directness of Edgar Mittelhozer.” [46]

Fourth Category: Reviews that seem positive despite the absence of ambiguity.  These appear to contradict  Griswold’s premier hypothesis.

Season of Adventure: “The book is very readable and the story hangs together with a coherent thread and a major premise....Nevertheless, this is perhaps the easiest of Lamming’s books to read and his basic premise  of the necessity for ‘acceptance and understanding of the past’ is most topical as well as being a fundamental truth.  The tale unfolds swiftly and, even if it is improbable, it does hold the reader.”[47]

In the Castle of My Skin: “He wants before anything else to get into words a certain portion of the truth as he sees it, to render clearly and accurately the terrain, light, movement, color and above all the people of a country he seems to know better than most of us do the back of our hand.” [48]

In the Castle of My Skin: “One little Barbadian, grown up, has written in the most beautiful singing English a complex and brilliant novel of his boyhood and his people which miraculously has lost nothing of that dazzled wonder.  The heart of that world lies in the heart of the boy.  The book grows out wonderfully as he gropes into a less vague knowledge of life’s huge complexities.”[49]

Natives of My Person:  “[A] novel which adds a new dimension to contemporary fiction.  It is completely fictional, yet it is a philosophic expression of the curious history of the Caribbean Islands, how they became what they are and the possibilities and dangers of their uncertain future.”[50]

Of Age and Innocence: "a vivid story of an imaginary island in the Antilles against a background of political agitation and native religious fervour.  Mr Lamming produces a masterfully written and unusual narrative using all his talent for dialogue to make the book as readable as his earlier successes."[51]

The Emigrants: “But if Lamming has not overcome the traditional faltering that a writer‘s second book seems to impose, he remains the extraordinarily effective poet of his first one, In the Castle of My Skin, and his new novel constantly flashes into actuality and immediacy in episodes in which the characters evade the shadows of the typical and leap into existence as whole beings, alive and complete in themselves.  It is impossible to deny that The Emigrants sprawls, but the value of its successful parts is so much greater than the value of the whole, and they are such convincing evidence of creative talent, that the pleasures of reading it enormously outweigh its defects.”[52]   Overall positive, no discerned ambiguity.

Natives of My Person: “At last the true theme emerges....Natives of My Person is a novel about men and women.  In addition it may prove the most effective feminist fiction to date....His restraint and control readily overshadows any sluggishness of plot.  After the smoke clears men and women must agree again that the double standard of behavior deserves assailing.”[53]  The critic is certain that this is “the true theme“ of the novel.[54]

Water with Berries: “The novel moves outward from a fairly realistic scene...to a fantastical one in which The Old Dowager is clearly the decline of British or white colonialism and Teeton is a fierce black voice crying in the wilderness.” I assume that obvious progression of style does not represent ambiguity.  This reviewer approved the book as “an intellectually exciting novel that uses fiction to make a telling commentary on fact.”[55]

 



Appendix B:

Extract from David Paul, “Surface and Depths,” The Observer, March 15, 1953.   Mention of the Trumper episode?

“Like many a powerful beginner, the writer stretches his grasp to often, and here and there makes too much a business of his style.  When he relaxes his grip his mastery is complete, and curiously enough this occurs most often where the story, which covers the second ten years of his life in Barbados, is least autobiographical.  It is the other people who are most vividly projected and understood, and all with mature detachment and wit: -- ‘We had take in like our daily bread a kind of infectious amusement the colour, black.  No black boy wanted to be white, but was also true that no black boy liked the idea of being black.  Brown skin was a satisfactory compromise. There was a famous family on the island which could boast of the prettiest daughters.  Their father was a Scotch planter who had lived from time to time with some of the labourers on the sugar estate.  The daughters were ravishing, and one was known throughout the island as the crystal sugar cake.  Neither of us could be called crystal.’
  Indeed, one of the boys, whenever the other ask him ‘Why you so black?” replies: ‘Just as I wus goin’ to born the light went out.  After the average streamlined novel, this book has a great variety of scope and mood.  Let the doubtful reader turn to page 122, the story of poor Jon and his problem of being a bridegroom at two simultaneous weddings, a village folk-tale of pure-bred vitality and charm, or to the tragic-comedy and terror of the story of Bambi and his two wives, Bots and Bambina, and he will savour the full quality of a world of which Firbank, in ‘Prancing N-,’ skimmed the shimmering surface.”

Extract from V.S. Pritchett, “A Barbadous Village,” New Statesman, April 18, 1953.  Mention of the Trumper episode?

“It is really a portrait of a village rather than of himself....Yet we shall learn more from Mr. Lamming about politics and social change in the life of a small feudal estate in the last twenty years than we are likely to get from a business-like interrogation....Politics, indeed, cloud rather than dramatize human experience....For an artist like Mr. Lamming, there was Mr. Slime, the mysterious politician, so alert and so revolutionary, whose plans for giving the land to the people turned, by the malice of time and the strangeness of human nature, into an affair of sanitary inspectors, lawyers, holding companies and evictions....Three careers will be open to the intelligent: the police, school teaching, and America.  And in each of these questions of race, colour and social justice will take, perhaps, an ugly form; but as yet the boys are only groping.  This ability to get the groping mind is Mr. Lamming’s gift and it is very valuable and very civilized.  His book makes our kind of documentary writing look conventional and silly, simply because he preserves the compassion, the emotion and the pity which our more aggressive Left-wing writers are too conceited and assured to express.”

 

[1] New York Herald Tribune Book Review, November 1, 1953, p. 3.

[2] A.N. Forde, Bim, June-December 1959, pp. 63-65.

[3] Susan Craig, Race Today, January 1975, pp. 21-22.

[4] The Spectator, November 14, 1958, p. 658.

[5] Bruce St. John, Bim, Vol. 6, number 22, June, 1955, pp. 130, 132.

[6] Chronicle of the West India Committee, February 1959, p. 40.

[7] V.S. Pritchett, “A Barbados Village, New Statesman, Vol. 45, 1953, p. 460.

[8] David Paul, “Two West Indians,” Public Opinion (Kingston, Jamaica), January 3, 1959.

[9] tuart M. Hall, “Lamming, Selovn, and Some Trends in the W.I. Novel,” Bim, Vol. 6, December 1955, pp. 175-176, 178.

[10] The Gleaner, March 29, 1970, p. 27.

[11] Ivan Van Sertima, Carbbean Writers.  Critical Essays (Port of Spain: Beacon Books, 1968), p. 12.

[12] Neville Dawes, The Gleaner, March 30, 1955, p. 8.

[13] Kirkus, April 20, 1955, Vol. 23, p. 183.

[14] Commonweal, December 8, 1972, Vol. 92, p. 234.

[15] Books and Bookmen, January, 1973, Vol. 18, Number 208.

[16] Nation, Vol. 18, August 6, 1955, p. 120.

[17] Library Journal, Vol 80, April 15, 1955, p. 1146.

[18] Time, April 25, 1955, p. 112.

[19] Thomas Edwards, New York Times Book Review, March 9, 1972.

[20] Anthony Boxill, “San Cristobal Unreached: George Lamming’s Two Latest Novels,” World Literature Written in English, 1973, p. 113.

[21] The Gleaner, Oct. 18, 1981.

[22] The Spectator, Vol. 190, March 20, 1953, p. 354.

[23] The Times, London, March 21, 1953.

[24] Times of London, September 15, 1954.

[25] Jan Carew, New York Times Book Review, February 27, 1972.

[26] Library Journal, Volume 97, January 1, 1972.

[27] London Observer, October 8, 1972.

[28] G. Lewis Chandler, “In Search of a ‘Better Break,’” Phylon, Vol. 16, Number 4, 1955.

[29] Punch, Vol. 224, June 24, 1953, pp. 753-754.

[30] “Shadow and Substance,” The New Yorker, December 5, 1953, p. 206.

[31] The Times British Colonies Review, Summer 1953, p. 45.

[32] The Yale Review, vol. 62, Summer 1973, pp. 619, 623.

[33] New Statesman, December 1972.

[34] Times Literary Supplement, December 15, 1972, p. 1521.

[35] The New Yorker, April 29 1972.

[36] John Clarke,  The Negro History Bulletin, 1957, p. 173

[37] Book World, January 23, 1972, p. 2.

[38] The Spectator, October 25, 1960, p. 664.

[39] John Wickam, “Lamming’s Poetic Touch Felt in his ‘Season of Adventure,’” The Sunday Guardian, December 11, 1960.

[40] The Gleaner, February 20, 1972, p. 35.

[41] New York Times, July 24, 1955.

[42] Arthur Seymour, Kyk-over-Al, Georgetown Guiana, 1959, pp. 52-55.

[43] V.S. Naipaul, New Statesman, December 6, 1958, p. 827.

[44] The Booklist, Volume 510, July 1955, p. 452.

[45] The Bajan and South Caribbean, volume 7, 1959, pp. 16-17.

[46] Chronicle of the West India Committee, December, 1960, p. 317.

[47] The Gleaner, November 5, 1961, p. 14.

[48] Harry Sylvester, “Changing Landscape in Barbados,” Nov. 1, 1953.

[49] Marjory Douglas, “Sunny Little England,” Chicago Daily Tribune, Nov. 22, 1953, p. B20.

[50] C.L.R. James, Cross Currents, Vol. 22, Summer/Fall, 1972, p. 321.

[51] The Gleaner, November 25, 1958.

[52] Anthony West, The New Yorker, May 28, 1955.

[53] College Language Association Journal, March 1972, p. 382.

[54] Susan Craig, review of Natives of My Person, in Race Today, January 1975, pp. 21-22.

[55] Publishers Weekly, Volume 202, August 21, 1972.