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Palace of the Peacock
Wilson Harris
publisher: Querido, Amsterdam, 1960

refered to by:
Double Play: The Story of an Amazing World Record
Frank Martinus Arion

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Palace of the Peacock, the first of Harris’s twenty-three novels and of the Guyana Quartet, was published in 1960, soon after Harris’s arrival in Britain in 1959. It is a seminal narrative which prefigures the future development of his fiction – a recreation of the conquest of the Americas and of expeditions into the Guyanese heartland in search of El Dorado, the object of the invaders’ greed and thirst for power, but also of a deceptive idealism. Donne, a ruthlessly ambitious skipper, whose name nevertheless evokes the Renaissance poet and an imaginative potential, leads a multiracial crew through the rainforest on a nameless river in pursuit of Amerindian folk he wants to use as cheap labour on his plantation. The obstacles they meet on the river and their conflicting relationships turn their pursuit of the folk into a quest for salvation. When Donne reaches the waterfall above which the folk have taken refuge, the narrative turns into a visionary sequence in which Donne becomes at last fully conscious of the hell he has built. The resurrected crew and the folk are evanescently united in the Palace of the Peacock and an alternative to disaster is offered through consciousness and imagination.

This coming together of the Amerindian folk with the multiracial crew, issue of successive invasions and immigrations, is already
an instance of a “cross-culturalism” which Harris was the first to develop in both fiction and essays. It implied a real fusion of cultures in contradistinction with multiculturalism, usually a mosaic of separate cultures co-existing but seldom intermixing. The narrative is a dream which Harris used in his later novels as a privileged mode of intuitive knowledge, allied to memory, to explore a historical past buried in the unconscious and, for him, a source of creativity. But the most striking features in this as in his later fiction is a style which not only conveys the constantly changing flow of existence but blends human with landscape features, as when, caught in the “turbulent bosom of water”, the crew see “silent faces and lips raised out of the stream glanc[ing] at [them]."

History in this novel, as in the rest of the Quartet – The Far Journey of Oudin (1961), The Whole Armour (1962) and The Secret Ladder (1963) – is no mere background but the fabric of circumstances in which the characters’ lives are caught. They offer a composite picture of Guyana and of its heterogeneous population without privileging one racial identity or another, as had other writers of the first post-war generation in the Caribbean. Rather they emphasize the need for a genuine multiracial community.



Palace of the Peacock
Part I of The Guyana Quartet.
'The Guyana Quartet'
(1960-1963) 1985
Everyman Masters, sixty-five, begins a spiritual journey through the mysterious Caribbean carnival of masks. Four novels published separately between 1960-1963, later in one volume (1985).
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