Earl Lovelace: The Poetics and Politics of his Fiction: John Thieme
In Earl Lovelace’s second novel, The Schoolmaster (1968), an Irish Catholic priest makes quarterly journeys across the mountains in northeast Trinidad to visit the community of the remote village of Kumaca. His companion is the donkey-owner Benn and their seemingly incidental conversations en route debate issues that are central, both to this novel and to Lovelace’s fiction more generally. In the first exchange, the priest asks Benn what he does when he is not working and Benn says that he gets drunk. The priest says he will pray that Benn is not led into temptation and Benn replies that he has no right to do this, because he views temptation as an integral part of his manhood, asking, ‘How else is a man a man if he is not tempted?’ (Lovelace 1968 : 29). Their difference of opinion is resolved when Benn agrees that the priest may pray that he be given the strength to meet his temptations, adding the rider that the priest should also pray for this for himself. The effect is both to assert the importance of manhood, a major concern throughout Lovelace’s fiction (though in his later novels ‘manhood’ is frequently modified to ‘personhood’ or ‘selfhood’), and also to erode the distance between an authority figure and a subaltern, an erosion of hierarchical rank and privilege which is typical of the egalitarian aesthetics that inform all Lovelace’s writing.