LITERATURE: THE ARTIST IN THE BALM-YARD: ‘SEASON OF ADVENTURE’

This comes close indeed co saying “all your lot have rhythm.” But Lamming makes brilliant use of the European cliche. The novelisc’s problem, at this point, is to create in the reader an expectation that something is about to happen to Fola, and that the something has to do with a special relationship that exists between Fola and the cultists, but not between the cultists and Charlot. At the same time, the specialness of Fola’s relationship with the cultists must not preclude the possibility of a more remote but equally valid kinship between the cultists and Charlot, who is human after all. By associating the voodoo drums with the more familiar and persuasive steel band music, Lamming gives an air of truth to Charlot’s initial observation. If Charlot’s insistence upon his lack of affinity with the cultists strikes the reader as being too glib, however, Fola’s strenuous denials only serve to confirm that she is aware of more than she cares to admit as yet.

Lamming builds upon this rhetorical ploy by filtering realistic descriptions of feverish dance, monotonous changing and spirit possession through Fola’s disturbed consciousness, so that we are left to feel that a combination of Charlot’s superior nagging and the mass-belief of the devotees have made her vulnerable:

The voices were all raised in prayer, answering to the grave supplications of the priest. Fola looked to see if there was movement in the tent; but her glance was intercepted by an old woman who still watched her. Was the old woman’s glance an accident? The voices had wrought a gradual contamination of Fola’s senses. Was she becoming a part of their belief? Would they really hear the sound of dead voices in the tent! Her questions were other than an interest to examine. She became aware of their contagion in her mind. The prayers were a conspiracy against her doubt. The voices grew loud and louder in their prayers, each prayer like a furious bargain for her faith. (Season of Adventure pp.33-34)

At this point it is possible to locate some major differences in intention and tactics between H.G. deLisser and Lamming, for in the White Witch of Rose Hall (1929) too, a main character Rutherford, witnesses a ceremony. He is accompanied by a friend Rider. The first thing to notice is that Rutherford is at a distance, not in the crowd. Nevertheless he is given the beginning of an experience:

A shudder passed through Robert; to his surprise he found that he too was slightly moving his body to the rhythm of the sound. Rider had himself better in hand, but the hypnotic influence of the scene did not leave him entirely unaffected. It had an appeal to the more primitive emotions. It stirred up something in the depths of one’s being. He could understand how devotees in pagan lands were moved at times almost to madness by the call and compulsion of thier strange and horrible religions. (The White Witch of Rosehall p.202)

After the appearance of Kurtz in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1902), episodes dealing with the European character affected by the primitive become a must in the second-rate literature of tropica. Once deLisser makes the gesture towards this convention, a gap rapidly opens up again between the civilised Englishman and the pagan cultists. Rutherford resumes a function as the enlarging eye upon an exotic rite which it is deLisser’s object to “write-up”.