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Barbara Fisher has devoted a large part of her adult life to the close study of Joyce Cary and his fictional and theoretical writings. Her 1965 Ph.D. dissertation offers an exhaustive "classification and analysis" of Cary's files and notebooks; her first book, Joyce Cary: The Writer and His Theme (1980), combines biography and criticism with a strong defense of the importance of Cary's achievement, and with notes and bibliography runs—sometimes sluggishly—to more than 400 pages.
Fisher notes that although her second book on Cary "supplements" her first, The House as a Symbol: Joyce Cary and "The Turkish House" is "written to be read independently" and presents "material that was too involved to include in the earlier study." It "developed," she writes, "from original research, following clues amongst Cary's manuscripts that scholars had previously ignored." Chief among these was the discovery that Cary's 1952 novel, The Prisoner of Grace, was in earlier form called "The Turkish House"—a title Fisher says had "haunted" Cary "at least from 1933, when he used the name for a particular house, or household, in Saundersfoot, in Pembrokeshire, South Wales."
Fisher proceeds to analyze the ways in which the word "house" occurs "in other contexts in Cary's life and writing"; she does the same with "Turk"—a term that in the Anglo-Irish slang of Cary's time still carried connotations of surliness, barbarism, and misogyny. By doing so, and by paying particular attention to the way in which Cary treated "a house or household as a major symbol," Fisher throws light on a wide range of Cary's artistic preoccupations; she [End Page 285] shows him to be deeply concerned with, among other things, the plight of women, the importance of family and place, and the persistence of violence in a world Cary believed would benefit much from a more profound reconciliation of East and West.
As Fisher once again demonstrates, Cary was widely read and had a habit of "treating a subject exhaustively"; he was engaged in nothing less than an "encyclopedic search for truth" and finally—ambitiously—came to term "the whole landscape of existence" as the focus of his art. Fisher also treats her subject exhaustively—and sometimes perhaps rather too heavy-handedly. She herself admits, in a concluding chapter, that "some readers may have decided that Turkish associations in this study have been over-emphasized." Some, indeed, are likely to find the whole of The House as a Symbol simply too wordy and diffuse. Others are not likely to find the same consistent, coherent pattern in Cary's thought that Fisher discerns.
Still, Fisher is intelligent as well as diligent, and she approaches her subject with so much vigor and sympathy that perhaps most readers will find themselves wanting to return again to The Prisoner of Grace and The Horse's Mouth—to the many subtle and often funny Joyce Cary novels that are beginning to receive the thorough critical attention that has long been their due.