Colleague Remembers Father Tarlton


Fr. Gilbert Tarlton was the Head of English Department at St. Augustine’s College when the interviewee began teaching at the high school in the spring of 1968.

She recalled:

“I was immediately impressed with Fr. Gilbert’s intellect and charm; he was obviously a literary scholar with a suave, urbane demeanor. At the time, there was no TV on the island and we cherished books, reading and discussion and as a result we greatly appreciated Gilbert’s sharing his large collection of literary theory books with teachers in the department.

…The English teachers formed a literary club called “The Yoknapatawpha County Society” based on a fictional county in the American South found in the work of American author William Faulkner. Several meetings and dinners took place at my apartment where we discussed Faulkner’s novels. The club allowed us to keep our creative minds alive in the island culture that was largely anti-intellectual. Gilbert gave authoritative talks on Faulkner such as a presentation on The Sound and the Fury given at the Sisters of Charity Convent on Hill Street where he made certain claims about the author’s work that stimulated much discussion between the nuns and lay people in attendance.”

She went on to describe the night she had invited Fr. Gilbert for dinner to discuss English Department matters:

“…Drinking liquor was common in the islands and during the course of the evening Gilbert consumed nearly a bottle of Scotch. Over dessert we had an argument about Faulkner’s depiction of the brutality and alleged bi-racial identity of Joe Christmas, the main character in Light in August. [Gilbert himself had experienced the uncomfortable position of sometimes passing for white yet identifying black in American race-conscious society.]

Gilbert was very inebriated. As we continued to argue he thumped the table with his fist and the Scotch bottle broke. He jumped up, picked up the jagged fragment of glass and lunged for me. I ran outside as he fell over in a drunken heap on the tiled floor. I called another teacher who came over in her car. We loaded him into the front seat and dumped him off on Bay Street near the cruise ships. It was after 12 a.m. We then called the Monastery and told them to pick up their drunken priest. Later the Prior called me and said ‘Lock your door. Stay inside tomorrow morning. He’s leaving. This is a sick, dangerous man.’”

The teacher continued:

“…Fr. Gilbert was sent north possibly to an abbey in Alabama or Kentucky (not sure)-maybe St John’s. He left the country for good. There was mayhem in the English department and the fifth form boys were extremely upset. Fr. Gilbert had been the advisor for their Honours Reading Club and he often stayed after class to play records and to listen to music with the male boarding students. No one spoke of him again. He disappeared completely from the school narrative.

[Fifteen years or so later, someone remarked that Gilbert was an alcoholic with mental problems who was living in a monastery in Kentucky.] ”

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Topics: Allen Tarlton, Bahamas

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