Four Early Novels Preserving our literary heritage
By Petamber Persaud
Guyana Chronicle
November 26, 2006

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In preceding weeks, through this column, we were privileged to peek into the lives of some of the early novelists on the landscape of Guyanese literature. This piece will attempt a closer look at four early Guyanese novels, namely, Edward Jenkins’ LUTCHMEE and DILLOO, 1877, James Rodway’s IN GUIANA WILDS, 1899, W. H. Hudson’s GREEN MANSIONS, 1904, and A. R. F. Webber’s THOSE THAT BE IN BONDAGE, 1917.

Each of those four books was written by men born outside of Guyana; a large part of our early literature was written by non-Guyanese for reasons already elucidated in this column.

However, two of those persons, Rodway and Webber, became adopted sons of the soil, in fact; those two became mighty men of Guyana. Strange but true only one of the four was born in Britain, namely Rodway; Jenkins was born in India, Hudson Argentina and Webber Tobago.

Jenkins and Hudson gravitated to Britain while Rodway and Webber gravitated to British Guiana. Of interest, too, Jenkins and Rodway came to British Guiana in 1870, Jenkins returned to his adopted home while Rodway stayed making this country his adopted home. All of those four men were born in the nineteenth century.

LUTCHMEE AND DILLOO, according to its blurb, ‘begun in India, Dilloo and Hunoomaun’s rivalry over Dilloo’s wife, Lutchmee, is continued on a sugar estate in Guyana, where it leads to the planning of an armed rebellion among the indentured labourers and a tragic denouement’.

That novel came out of the author’s need to make a certain research paper more accessible to grass root readership. That paper was labelled, THE COOLIE, HIS RIGHTS AND WRONGS, a monumental work that despite the inclusion of two woodcuts and a groundbreaking literary style did not convince Jenkins that his message got through to the lay reader.

That paper was the result of Jenkins’ visit to British Guiana ‘to investigate the coolie condition’ acting on behalf of the Anti-Slavery Society and the Aborigines Protection Society. That action stemmed from the establishment of the Royal Commission of Enquiry investigating the William Des Voeux’s report which was a complaint about the awful indenture system, a new system of slavery by another name.

IN GUIANA WILDS, A Study of Two Women, tells a tale of romance and riches, another version of the El Dorado saga, a story of a Glasgow clerk who comes to Georgetown, British Guiana in search of employment. He finds love and fortune. The story goes that he marries a half-Amerindian girl, a move that leads to Roraima and the discovery of gold coins with the image of Queen Elizabeth.

Like LUTCHMEE and DILLOO, the story of Rodway’s novel began elsewhere then more to British Guiana. The pattern is the same in GREEN MANSIONS that is set in different countries, moving from Venezuela through the Amazon jungle to this country, and THOSE THAT BE IN BONDAGE which moved among the landscapes of Tobago, Trinidad and British Guiana.

IN GUIANA WILDS was the first novel to explore the Amerindian subject as a main theme, a subject later quantum-theorised by the prolific Wilson Harris.

GREEN MANSIONS is the story of man’s flight from his homeland and his romance with a spectre girl/creature called Rima in the virgin jungle of South America.

In 1887, William Henry Hudson travelled to British Guiana from London to take up an appointment in a public office. During that stint, he was a daily visitor to a ‘familiar’ house in Main Street, Georgetown, the residence of a ‘Mr. Abel’ whose full name was Abel Guevez de Argensola.

Abel, poet and naturalist, was a fugitive from Venezuela who refused to return home despite news of a windfall fortune awaiting him in Caracas.

He stayed in Guyana, becoming a favourite of Georgetown society, a man held in high esteem and ‘even affection’. The two men were attracted to each other chiefly because of a mutual ‘love of poetry’ even though one was ‘suckled’ on the literature of Spain and the other English Literature. There were other areas of interest shared by the two men and they would ‘tired the sun with talking’. It was during those bouts of talking, Hudson was gifted the story of GREEN MANSIONS.

The novel, THOSE THAT BE IN BONDAGE, A Tale of Indian Indentures and Sunlit Western Waters, was released in 1917, the year that saw the official abolition of immigrant labour from India to British Guiana. It describes the bittersweet experiences of East Indians in the West Indies, exposing many of the attendant ills of that slavery by another name.

All four novels examined the condition of life in British Guiana during the late 19th century and early 20th century by writers of diverse backgrounds with varied agendas. But they went further like fiction is wont in offering other angles on tedious histories.