Prisoner of Grace
Fiction by Joyce Cary
Joyce Cary (1888-1957) is indisputably one of the finest English novelists of this century. His reputation at his death equaled those of such contemporaries as Aldous Huxley and Evelyn Waugh. His exuberant style allowed him to create a vivid array of men and women whose stories embody the conflicts of their day and whose characters are beautifully realized. Written in his last years, his “Second Trilogy” (Prisoner of Grace, Except the Lord, and Not Honour More) shows the mature Cary at his most brilliant, as he unfolds the tragicomedy of private lives compromised by politics and religion. While in his earlier trilogy (Herself Surprised, To Be a Pilgrim, and The Horse’s Mouth) he pits the visionary artist against an indifferent but by no means dull world, in his masterful “Second Trilogy” he maps that gray landscape between good and evil where life is at its most dangerous. Prisoner of Grace (1952) introduces Nina Woodville and the two men in her troubled life: Chester Nimmo and Jim Latter, each in turn husband and lover. Nimmo is the quintessential hypocrite, a one-time evangelist, labor organizer, and pacifist who accepts the post of Minister of Production in the War Cabinet of 1914-18. Jim, Nina’s cousin, is a dogged army man, forced into the Nigerian service. Nina, orphaned and raised with Jim by a wealthy aunt, is married off to Nimmo, twenty years her senior, though she carries her cousin’s child. Nimmo’s rise to power, Jim’s African exile and return, and the dissolution of Nimmo’s marriage are told in Nina’s own voice. Earthy and full-blooded, both innocent and wise, we find in her a woman as sensual as Emma Bovary, as ravaged as Anna Karenina.