Joyce Cary: Not Honour More
This is the final novel in Joyce Cary’s second trilogy. The first book – Prisoner of Grace – is narrated by Nina Latter née Woodville, wife of Jim Latter and ex-wife of Chester, later Lord Nimmo, fallen Liberal politician and tells of Nimmo’s political rise and fall. The second book – Except the Lord – is narrated by Nimmo and tells of his childhood. This book is narrated by Jim Latter and continues after the events of Prisoner of Grace. Nina and Jim are married with a son, Robert, but the fallen Lord Nimmo is living with them, though not with Latter’s wholehearted approval. Latter is an ex-military man and colonial administrator and writes in a somewhat terse style.
The book starts in 1926 with the events leading up to the General Strike. Latter is sure that there is something going on between Nina and Nimmo and is determined to catch them out. When he returns home early and sees them together, his worst fears are confirmed. He shoots at Nimmo and misses but ends up pushing him out of the window. Nimmo’s security guard then knocks Latter out. When Latter comes round, he is sure that he has killed Nimmo but he has not, only hurt him. Nimmo declines to press charges and Nina assures her husband that nothing is going on between them. Much of the early part of the book concerns Latter’s visceral hatred of Nimmo, how he would like to kill him and, indeed, his plans to do so.
With the strike coming on and demonstrations about the unemployed and poor, Nimmo naturally supports them. Latter, however, is opposed to the strike and sees Nimmo’s support of the demonstrators as pure opportunism, a way for him to get back into politics. Indeed, he is so bitter about Nimmo’s behaviour that he manages to steal a gun and plans to kill him. However, the local bigwigs, knowing he is an army man, decide that he is the man to organise and manage the Specials (the auxiliary police force, made up primarily of volunteers). He initially declines but, once it seems that he will have his way in dealing with the pickets, he accepts.
The strike starts and we follow the details of how the various parties react, in particular Nimmo and his speeches and Latter and his organisation of the Specials. Latter, with his enmity for Nimmo, feels that Nimmo wants a strike as the men will not be working and therefore the bosses will not have to pay them. He assumes that Nimmo is one of the bosses or, at least, in league with them.
Meanwhile, Latter’s marriage is not going well and Nina leaves him. He refuses a divorce but she wants a separation. Just as he does with Nimmo, he strikes out and hits her.
However, his problems are more with the strike. He feels, with some justification, that he and his men are doing the right thing but opposition from both the right and left causes him numerous problems. Indeed, we see that at least some of his testimony is evidence that he is giving to a court after the events of that tumultuous week. Inevitably, at least as far as he is concerned, a good part of the problems he face come from both Nimmo and his wife, even though, on the face of it, both seem relatively supportive of his actions.
One of the key issues is the firm of Potter’s, a long-standing (two hundred years) boat-builder, who has been facing financial difficulty and whose employees generally support their employer. The strike, Potter warns, could finish him and leave Tarbiton with only minimal employment, with no alternative to the employment Potter’s gives. Latter is friendly with Potter and supportive of him but, for the Communists, Potter is just as much a capitalist as the rest.
We know the General Strike only lasted a week and had only a limited effect on the economic and political situation of the country. However, for the main characters of the is book, things did not work out so well.
This book is definitely the weakest of the trilogy. Latter is not a sympathetic character. His temper and, at times, irrational behaviour make us feel that he deserves much of what he gets. We do see the General Strike from the perspective of Tarbiton and area, which is certainly interesting and, on the whole, Latter’s military experience and skills come to the fore and we can appreciate him more. However, his illogical and only partially justified hatred of Nimmo and his behaviour towards his wife continue to come out, leading, ultimately to his downfall.
First published 1955 by Michael Joseph