Nadine Gordimer


Nadine Gordimer Essay, Research Paper

Gordimer (1923-) South African novelist and short-story writer, who received

Nobel Prize for Literature in 1991. Gordimer’s main themes are exile, loneliness

and strong political opposition towards racial segregation. She was a founding

member of Congress of South African Writers, and even at the height of the

apartheid regime, she never considered leaving her country. Nadine Gordimer was

born into a well-off family in Springs, Transvaal, an East Rand mining town

outside Johannesburg. It was the setting for Gordimer’s first novel, THE LYING

DAYS (1953). Her father was a Jewish jeweller originally from Latvia and her

mother of British descent. From her early childhood Gordimer witnessed the

increase of white power at the expense of the rights of the black majority.

Gordimer was educated in a convent school and she spent a year at Witwaterstrand

University, Johannesburg without taking a degree. Often kept at home by a mother

who imagined she had a weak heart, Gordimer began writing from the age of nine

and her first story, ‘Come Again Tomorrow’, appeared in the Johannesburg

magazine Forum when she was fifteen. By her twenties Gordimer had had stories

published in many of the local magazines and in 1951 the New Yorker accepted a

story, publishing her ever since. From her first collection of short stories,

FACE TO FACE (1949), which is not listed in some of her biographies, Gordimer

has revealed the effects of alienation of racies on society. It was followed by

THE SOFT VOICE OF THE SERPENT (1952), and novel The Lying Days (1953), which

exhibited Gordimer’s unsentimental technique, already hallmark of her narrative.

The story was based largely on the author’s own life and depicted a white girl

who attempts to escape the racism of a small-town life. Other works in the 1950s

and 1960s include A WORLD OF STRANGERS (1958), OCCASION FOR LOVING (1963), and

THE LATE BOURGEOIS WORLD (1966). In these novels Gordimer studies the

master-servant relations characteristic of South African life, spiritual and

sexual paranoias of colonialism, and the political responsibilities of

privileged white South Africans. "A line in a statute book has more

authority than the claims of one man’s love or another’s. All claims of natural

feeling are over-ridden alike by a line in a statute book that takes no account

of humanness, that recognises neither love nor respect nor jealousy nor rivalry

nor compassion nor hate – nor any human attitude where there are black and white

together. What Boaz felt towards Ann; what Gideon felt towards Ann, what Ann

felt about Boaz, what she felt for Gideon – all this that was real and rooted in

life was void before the clumsy words that reduced the delicacy and towering

complexity of living to a race theory…" (from Occasion for Loving)

Occasion for Loving was concerned with the ‘line in a statute book’ – South

Africa’s cruel racial law. In the story an illicit love affair between a black

man and a white woman ends bitterly. Ann Davis is married to a gentle Jew called

Boaz Davis, a dedicated scholar who has travelled all over the country in search

of African music. Gideon Shibalo, a talented painter, is black, he has a

marriage and several affairs behind. The liberal Mrs Jessie Stilwell is a

reluctant hostess to the law-breaking lovers. Boaz, the cuckold, is on the side

of the struggling South African black majority, and Ann plays with two men’s

emotions. Gordimer won early international recognition for her short stories and

novels. THE CONSERVATIONIST (1974) juxtaposed wealthy white South African world

with the rituals and mythology of Zulus. BURGER’S DAUGHTER (1979), written

during the aftermath of Soweto uprising. In the story a daughter analyzes her

relationship to her father. JULY’S PEOPLE (1981) was a futuristic novel about a

white family feeing from war-torn Johannesburg into the country. Gordimer’s

early short story collections include SIX FEET OF THE COUNTRY (1956), NOT FOR

PUBLICATION (1965) and LIVINGSTONE’S COMPANIONS (1971). Since 1948 Gordimer has

lived in Johannesburg and taught in the USA in several universities during the

1960s and ’70s. She has written books of non-fiction on South African subjects

and made television documentaries, notably collaborating with her son Hugo

Cassirer on the television film Choosing Justice: Allan Boesak. In THE HOUSE GUN

(1998) Gordimer explored the problems of the violence ridden post-apartheid

society through a murder trial. Two white privileged liberals, Harald and

Claudia Lindgard, face the fact that their architect-son, Duncan, has killed his

friend Carl Jesperson. Where does it lead, when violence becomes the common

hell? For further reading: The Novels of Nadine Gordimer by Stephen Clingman

(1986); The Novels of Nadine Gordimer by John Cooke; Nadine Gordimer by

Christopher Heywood; Critical Essays on Nadine Gordimer, ed. by Rowland Smith

(1990); Nadine Gordimer by Dominic Head (1994); Rereading Nadine Gordimer by

Kathrin Wagner (1994) – Note 1: Gordimer’s Burger’s Daughter (1979) was banned

after the Soweto uprising, Andr? Brink’s Looking on Darkness (1974) was banned

by the authorities. Also J.M. Coetzee have explored in his works the effects of

apartheid – all three are among the best-known white South African writers. -

Note 2: Nadine Gordimer rejected in 1998 the candidacy for Orange Award, because

the award was restircted to woman writers. – Only nine women have received

(1901-1997) the Nobel Prize for literature: Selma Lagerlof, Sigrid Undset,

Grazia Deledda, Pearl S.Buck, Gabriela Mistral, Nelly Sachs, Toni Morrison,

Nadine Gordimer, Wislawa Szymborska

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