Hearne, John Edgar Caulwell 1926–1995

views updated May 21 2018

John Edgar Caulwell Hearne 19261995

Writer, educator

At a Glance

Selected writings


Canadian-born writer John Hearne is one of the most celebrated Caribbean novelists of the late twentieth century. His debut novel, Voices Under the Window (1955), set the tone for a further five novels exploring the themes of lost innocence and wasted potential. In particular, Hearnes work explores the way political changes within a society impact on the lives of individuals and their relationships with others. All six of his literary novels have been widely translated. Hearnes work has also become the subject of a great deal of attention from the academic world, where he is valued as an important chronicler of Jamaican life, culture, and politics. Besides these serious works, Hearne was a popular short story writer and was also joint author with Morris Cargill of three off-beat thrillers published under the name John Morris.

Born on February 4, 1926, in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, to Jamaican parents Maurice Vincent and Doris (May) Hearne, John Edgar Caulwell Hearne moved with his family to Jamaica when he was two years old. He was educated at Jamaica College until the age of seventeen, when he left to join the Royal Canadian Air Force during World War II, serving as an air gunner from 1943 to 1946. On September 3, 1947, Hearne married Joyce Veitch, but they were divorced a few years later. Also in 1947 he enrolled at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, graduating with a masters degree in 1950 before moving to London. He qualified with a teaching diploma from the University of London the same year and became a teacher to support himself while he worked on his first book. He married Leeta Mary Hopkinson on April 12, 1955, and they had two children.

After a decade teaching in London and Paris while he worked on teleplays and novels, Hearne returned to Jamaica in 1962. Hearnes middle-class Jamaican background became the setting for most of his novels. Only The Sure Salvation (1981), which deals with life on a slave ship, strays from Hearnes central themes of the individuals struggle to reconcile his or her identity with the social and political setting. Wilfred Cartey criticizes Hearne for his conservative approach to race and society, noting that he tends to portray those who live in slums as sordid and grasping. Cartey also points out that Hearne is also skeptical of political activism. Many of Hearnes apparently idealistic political characters are also ruthless and corrupt.

Hearnes first novel, Voices Under the Window (1955), is his most celebrated. Set on the island of Cayuna, a fictionalized version of Jamaica, Voices tells the story of Mark Lattimer, a dying man recalling his life as a lawyer, a politician, and a lover. Lattimer, who is of mixed race, also has to deal with his lack of acceptance as either a white or a black person. Apart from The Sure Salvation, all of Hearnes novels are set on Cayuna and all in some way address the issues of individuals operating against a political background. Stranger at the Gate (1956), for example, is about Communist activist Roy McKenzie. But as his career as a novelist progressed, Hearne became more interested in the personal lives of his characters. This has been seen as a failing of Hearnes novels written in the late

At a Glance

Born John Edgar Caulwell Hearne on February 4, 1926, in Montreal, Quebec, Canada; died December 12, 1995; married Joyce Veitch, September 3, 1947 (divorced); married Leeta Mary Hopkinson, April 12, 1955; two children. Education: Jamaica College; Edinburgh University, MA, 1950; University of London, teaching diploma, 1950. Military Service: Air gunner, Royal Air Force, 1943-46. Religion: Christian.

Career: School teacher in London, England, Paris, France, and Jamaica, 1950-59; Government of Jamaica, information officer, 1962; University of the West Indies, Jamaica, resident tutor in extramural studies, 1962-67; University of Leeds, England, visiting Gregory Fellow in Commonwealth Literature, 1967; University of the West Indies, Creative Arts Centre, director, 1968-92; Colgate University, New York, visiting OConnor Professor in Literature, 1969-70, and visiting professor in literature, 1973.

Memberships: International PEN.

Awards: John Llewelyn Rhys Memorial Prize, for Voices Under the Window, 1956; Institute of Jamaica, Silver Musgrave Medal, 1964.

1950s and early 1960s, including Faces of Love (1957), Autumn Equinox (1959), and Land of the Living (1962).

Hearne became a tutor at the University of the West Indies in 1962 and he was head of the Creative Arts Centre from 1968 until he retired in 1992. He also held visiting professorships at universities in Europe and the United States and published several academic books, including (with Rex Nettleford) Our Heritage (1962) and Testing Democracy Through Elections (1985), a survey of Jamaican politics. He also edited collections of Caribbean short stories and the speeches of Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley. In the late 1960s Hearne embarked on a new writing venture with Morris Cargill. Together they produced three popular novels under the pseudonym John Morris, described by critic Michael Hughes as parodies of the slick, modern detective novel.

Although he is now celebrated as a Caribbean novelist, Hearne was determined not to be labeled as such, preferring instead to see himself as a writer in a much wider tradition. He was heavily influenced by European literature and by the European culture he had experienced as a young man. But he told Wolfgang Binder in 1984: it would be idle of me to pretend to be a European writer. I would claim, as I do claim, that I am an American writer. And for me the American experience begins in Alaska and ends in Argentina.

Many academic articles were published about Hearne and his work in the 1960s and 1970s but his work is best known in Jamaica, where it is sometimes used by the tourist industry to advertise the island. Hearne was awarded the John Llewelyn Rhys Memorial Prize for Voices Under the Window in 1956, and the Silver Musgrave Medal from the Institute of Jamaica in 1964. He died in Jamaica on December 12, 1995.

Selected writings


Voices Under the Window, Faber, 1955.

Stranger at the Gate, Faber, 1956.

The Faces of Love, Faber, 1957 (published in the United States as The Eye of the Storm, 1957).

Autumn Equinox, Faber, 1959.

Land of the Living, Faber, 1961.

(With Morris Cargill under pseudonym John Morris), Fever Grass Putnam, 1969.

(With Morris Cargill under pseudonym John Morris), The Candywine Development, Collins, 1970.

(With Morris Cargill under pseudonym John Morris), The Checkerboard Caper, Citadel, 1975.

The Sure Salvation, Faber, 1981.

Television Plays

Freedom Man, BBC, 1957.

(With James Mitchell) Soldier in the Snow, BBC, 1960.

A World Inside, BBC, 1962.


(With Rex Nettleford) Our Heritage, University of the West Indies, 1963.

(Editor), Carifesta Forum: An Anthology of Twenty Caribbean Voices, Carifesta 76, 1976.

(Editor), The Search For Solutions: Selections from the Speeches and Writings of Michael Manley, Maple House, 1976.

(With Lawrence Coote and and Lyndon Facey) Testing Democracy Through Elections: A Tale of Five Elections, Bustamante Institute of Public and International Affairs, 1985.



Dance, Daryl C., New World Adams: Interviews with West Indian Writers, Peepal Tree Press, 1992.

Hughes, Michael, A Companion to West Indian Literature, Collins, 1979.

James, Louis, ed., The Islands In Between: Essays on West Indian Literature, Oxford University Press, 1968.

King, Bruce, ed., West Indian Literature, Archon, 1979.

Ramchand, Kenneth, The West Indian Novel and Its Background, Barnes and Noble, 1970.

Skinner, John, The Stepmother Tongue: An Introduction to New Anglophone Fiction, Palgrave Macmillan, 1998.


Anales del Caribe, Vol. 3, 1983, pp. 240-277.

Caribbean Quarterly, Vol. 16, March 1970, pp. 28-38.

Journal of Commonwealth Literature, July 1969, pp. 45-58; November 1990, pp. 109-119.

Chris Routledge

Hearne, John (Caulwell, Edgar)

views updated May 18 2018

Hearne, John (Caulwell, Edgar)

February 4, 1926
December 12, 1994

John Hearne was born in Montreal, Canada, the son of Maurice Vincent Hearne and Doris Delisser-Hearne. He attended Jamaica College in Kingston, Jamaica, and at the age of seventeen he joined the Royal Air Force as an air gunner, seeing duty between 1943 and 1946. After the war, Hearne studied at Edinburgh University (M.A. in history, 1949), and the University of London (Diploma of Education, 1950). He then joined the growing community of West Indian students in postwar London who would later distinguish themselves in several fields of endeavor. His passion for and skill at writing was soon recognized, and he became one of the young contributors of short stories to Edna Manley's pioneering literary magazine FOCUS, which began publication in Kingston during the 1940s. To support his early writing, Hearne taught in various schools in England and Jamaica (where he taught for several years at Calabar High School). In 1956 Hearne married Leeta Hopkinson.

In 1955 Hearne's first full-length novel, the slightly autobiographical Voices under the Window, was published in London, eliciting favorable reviews from a wide cross-section of the British press. Voices brilliantly illustrates the enduring strengths of Hearne's creative writinga vivid, elaborate verbal artistry; a tight, economically written plot; strongly drawn characters; highly sophisticated, class-cadenced dialogue; and endless observations on the essentially Caribbean themes of love, violence, politics, social class, color, and race. He won the John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize in 1956, awarded for the best novel by a British Commonwealth author under thirty, and the Musgrave Silver Medal, awarded by the Institute of Jamaica, in 1964. His achievements placed him in the forefront of the Caribbean literary boom of the 1950s and 1960s. Voices, set in Jamaica, was quickly succeeded by four additional novels, all closely following the same recipe of Voices : Stranger at the Gate appeared in 1956; The Faces of Love (published in the United States as The Eye of the Storm ) in 1957; The Autumn Equinox in 1959; and Land of the Living in 1961. These second four novels are all set on the fictitious Caribbean island of Cayuga, a thinly disguised, imaginative re-creation of Jamaica.

After 1961, Hearne busied himself teaching, working for the government, writing plays and commentaries for radio and television, and producing a regular newspaper column in one of the leading daily papers of Jamaica. His articles appeared in Public Opinion, News Week, New Statesman, Nation, Pagoda, and Spotlight. Several of his radio plays were aired by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). Between 1962 and 1992 Hearne served as director of the Creative Arts Center at the University of the West Indies, and as chair of the Institute of Jamaica. He also taught for short periods at several universities in Canada and the United States.

In 1969 Hearne collaborated with fellow journalist Morris Cargill to write a novel of international intrigue under the pseudonym John Morris. Set in Jamaica, Fever Grass was the first of three such collaborations. Hearne's final novel, The Sure Salvation, appeared in 1981. This was a historical novel dealing with slavery and the slave trade, and it revealed much of the creative power that exemplified his earlier novels. Hearne retired from the University of the West Indies in 1992, and he died on December 12, 1994.

See also Literature of the English-Speaking Caribbean


Jones, Joseph, and Johanna Jones. Authors and Areas of the West Indies. Austin, Tex.: Steck-Vaughn, 1970.

Ramchand, Kenneth. The West Indian Novel and Its Background. London: Faber and Faber, 1970.

Ramchand, Kenneth. West Indian Narrative: An Introductory Anthology, rev. ed. London: Nelson Caribbean, 1980.

franklin w. knight (2005)