Alfred Mendes

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Alfred Mendes
Born
Alfred Hubert Mendes

(1897-11-18)18 November 1897
Died1991 (aged 93 or 94)
OccupationNovelist, short-story writer
Known forMember of "Beacon group" of writers
Notable work
Pitch Lake (1934); Black Fauns (1935)
RelativesSam Mendes (grandson)

Alfred Hubert Mendes MM (18 November 1897 – 1991) was a Trinidad and Tobago novelist and short-story writer. He was a leading member of the 1930s "Beacon group" of writers (named after the literary magazine The Beacon) in Trinidad and Tobago that included Albert Gomes, C. L. R. James and Ralph de Boissière. Mendes is best known as the author of two novels — Pitch Lake (1934) and Black Fauns (1935) — and for his short stories written during the 1920s and 1930s. He was "one of the first West Indian writers to set the pattern of emigration in the face of the lack of publishing houses and the small reading public in the West Indies.[1]

Biography[edit]

Early years[edit]

Mendes was born in Trinidad, the eldest of six children in a Portuguese Creole family, and the son of Isabella (Jardine) and Alfred Mendes.[2] Mendes was educated in Port of Spain until 1912, then at the age of 15 went to continue his studies in the United Kingdom, attending Hitchin Grammar School.[3] His hopes of going on to university were interrupted by the outbreak of the First World War. After briefly returning to Trinidad in 1915, against his father’s wishes he joined the Merchants' Contingents of Trinidad — whose purpose was to enroll and transport to England young men who wished to serve in the war "for King and Country"[4] — and sailed back to Britain. He served in the 1st Rifle Brigade,[5] and fought for two years in Flanders, along the Belgian Front, and was awarded a Military Medal for distinguishing himself on the battlefield.[6] Towards the end of the war, he accidentally inhaled the poisonous gas used as a weapon by the German army, and was sent back to Britain to recover.[7] His experience of the war served as an inspiration to his grandson, Sam Mendes', film 1917.

Literary life[edit]

Mendes returned to Trinidad in 1919, and worked in his wealthy father's provisions business, while spending his spare time writing poetry and fiction, and in establishing contact with other writers, artists and scholars. In 1933 he went to New York City, remaining there until 1940. While in the United States he joined literary salons and associated with writers including Richard Wright, Countee Cullen, Claude McKay, William Saroyan, Benjamin Appel, Thomas Wolfe, Malcolm Lowry and Ford Madox Ford.[5] He went back to Trinidad again in 1940.[5]

Together with C. L. R. James, Mendes produced two issues of a pioneering literary magazine called Trinidad (Christmas 1929 and Easter 1930).[8] Several of his stories appeared in The Beacon, the journal edited by Albert Gomes from March 1931 until November 1939. Mendes was quoted as saying in 1972: "James and I departed from the convention in the selection of our material, in the choice of a strange way of life, in the use of a new dialect. And these departures are still with our Caribbean successors."[9] In all Mendes published about 60 short stories in magazines and journals in Trinidad, New York, London and Paris. In 1933 he went to New York, where he made contact with such American writers as William Faulkner, Tom Wolfe, William Saroyan, Sherwood Anderson, and James T. Farrell.[10]

Mendes' first novel, Pitch Lake, appeared in 1934, with an introduction by Aldous Huxley, and was followed by Black Fauns in 1935. Both novels are significant in the history of literature from the Caribbean region and are landmarks in the establishment of social realism in the West Indian novel.[1]

Later years[edit]

In 1940, Mendes abandoned writing and worked in Trinidad's civil service, becoming General Manager of the Port Services Department. He was one of the founding members of the United Front, a party with socialist leanings that participated in the 1946 general elections.[5]

After his retirement in 1972, he lived in Mallorca and Gran Canaria and ultimately settled in Barbados.[5][11]

In 1972 he was awarded an honorary D. Litt. by the University of the West Indies[5] for his contribution to the development of West Indian literature.[12]

He began writing his autobiography in 1975 and his unfinished drafts were edited by Michèle Levy and published in 2002 by the University of the West Indies Press as The Autobiography of Alfred H. Mendes 1897–1991.[13]

Mendes and his wife Ellen both died in 1991 in Barbados and are buried together there in Christ Church Cemetery.[14]

Family life[edit]

Mendes married in October 1919, and had a son, Alfred John, the following year. His first wife, Jessie Rodriguez, died of pneumonia after only two years of marriage.[7] A second marriage, a year later, ended in divorce in 1938. His third wife was Ellen Perachini, mother of his last two sons, James Peter and Stephen Michael.[15] He is the grandfather of film director Sam Mendes, whose 2019 film 1917 is inspired by Alfred's First World War stories.[16]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Mendes, Alfred Hubert", Michael Hughes, A Companion to West Indian Literature, Collins, 1979, pp. 88–89.
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ Alfred H. Mendes; Michèle Levy (ed.), "Chronology", The Autobiography of Alfred H. Mendes 1897–1991, Jamaica/Barbados: University of the West Indies Press, 2002, p. 168.
  4. ^ The Autobiography of Alfred H. Mendes 1897–1991, p. 41.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Reinhard W. Sander (ed.), From Trinidad: An Anthology of Early West Indian Writing, Hodder & Stoughton, 1978, p. 307.
  6. ^ "No. 30498". The London Gazette (Supplement). 28 January 1918. p. 1392.
  7. ^ a b The Autobiography of Alfred H. Mendes, p. xv.
  8. ^ Sander (1978), p. 3.
  9. ^ Reinhard W. Sander, "The Thirties and Forties", in Bruce King (ed.), West Indian Literature, Macmillan, 1979, p. 51.
  10. ^ Reinhard W. Sander, "Alfred H. Mendes", in Daryl Cumber Dance (ed.), Fifty Caribbean Writers: A Bio-bibliographical Critical Sourcebook, Greenwood Press, 1986, p. 319.
  11. ^ Michèle Levy, Introduction to The Autobiography of Alfred H. Mendes, p. xix.
  12. ^ Synopsis, The Autobiography of Alfred H. Mendes.
  13. ^ The Autobiography of Alfred H. Mendes, p. xi.
  14. ^ Michèle Levy, Introduction to The Autobiography of Alfred H. Mendes, pp. xix–xx.
  15. ^ Michèle Levy (ed.), Introduction to Alfred H. Mendes, "The Man Who Ran Away" and Other Stories of Trinidad in the 1920s and 1930s[permanent dead link], Jamaica/Barbados: University of the West Indies Press, 2006, p. xiv.
  16. ^ The Autobiography of Alfred H. Mendes, pp. 112–114.

Further reading[edit]

  • Reinhard W. Sander, "Alfred H. Mendes", in Daryl Cumber Dance (ed.), Fifty Caribbean Writers: A Bio-bibliographical Critical Sourcebook, Greenwood Press, 1986, pp. 318–326.
  • Reinhard W. Sander (ed.), From Trinidad: An Anthology of early West Indian Writing, Hodder & Stoughton, 1978, 310 pp.

External links[edit]