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Arthur Joyce Lunel Cary (1888 - 1957):

One of the finest English novelists of the first half of the 20th century, Arthur Joyce Lunel Cary was born on 7 December 1888 in the house of his maternal grandfather, who was manager of the Belfast Bank in Londonderry. He belonged to an Anglo-Irish family from Co Donegal. The former family estate, Castle Cary, is on Inishowen, between Moville and Carrowkeel although the house no longer exists. His mother died when he was nine years old and his childhood was shared between school in England and summers spent with his grandparents in Ireland. On his mother's side he was descended from the Joyces of Galway, hence his unusual Christian name.

After uncertain beginnings - he was an art student in Paris, took a law degree and served with the Red Cross in Montenegro - his decisive act was joining the Colonial Service in 1913; his years as an Assistant District Officer in Nigeria, and on military service in Cameroon, gave him his first, fruitful themes. After the First World War he settled in Oxford to write. His first four novels, culminating in the brilliant Mister Johnson (1939), are set in Africa, but he also expanded his subject matter to include English society as a whole, as well as Donegal, both of which, along with Africa, figure in the semi-autobiographical Castle Corner (1938). A House Of Children (1941) is a charming, wistful evocation of the summer holidays he spent on Inishowen as a child.

His most celebrated work is the trilogy of novels devoted to the raffish, Blakean artist Gulley Jimson and his circle: Herself Surprised (1941), To Be A Pilgrim (1942) and The Horse's Mouth (1944); but a later trilogy centred on a politician and dealing with the demoralising effect of power (Prisoner Of Grace, Except The Lord, Not Honour More) is also very fine.

From 1920 Cary lived in Oxford where on 29 March 1957 he died of motor neurone disease.

Born: 7 December 1888
Died: 29 March 1957
Wesley McCann