C. Louis Leipoldt and the making of a South African modernism

Oppelt, Riaan N. (2013-03)

Thesis (PhD)--Stellenbosch University, 2013.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: C. Louis Leipoldt had, in his lifetime and after his death, a celebrated reputation as an important Afrikaans poet in South Africa. He remains most remembered for his contribution to the growth of Afrikaans literature and for the significance of his poetry in helping to establish Afrikaans literature in the early part of the twentieth century in South Africa. He is also mostly remembered for his recipe books and food and wine guides, as well as his career as a paediatrician. Between 1980 and 2001, scholarly work was done to offer a reappraisal of Leipoldt’s literary works. During this period, previously unpublished material written by Leipoldt was made publicly available. Three novels by Leipoldt, written in English, were published at irregular intervals between 1980 and 2001. The novels cast Leipoldt in a different light, suggesting that as an English-language writer he was against many of the ideas he was associated with when viewed as an Afrikaans-language writer. These ideas, for the most part, linked Leipoldt to the Afrikaner nationalist project of the twentieth century and co-opted him to Afrikaner nationalist policies of racial segregation based on the campaigning for group identity. The three English-language novels, collectively making up the Valley trilogy, not only reveal Leipoldt’s opposition to the nationalist project but also draw attention to some of his other work in Afrikaans, in which this same ideological opposition may be noted. In this thesis I argue that Leipoldt’s Valley trilogy, as well as some of his other, Afrikaans works, not only refute the nationalist project but offer a reading of South African modernity in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This reading of historical events in South Africa that reveals the trajectory of the country’s modernity is strongly indicative of a unique literary modernism. It is my argument that Leipoldt’s Valley trilogy shows a modernist critique of the historical events it presents. Because the concept of a South African modernism in literature has not yet been fully defined, it is also an aim of this thesis to propose that Leipoldt’s works contribute a broad but sustained literary outlook that covers his own lifespan (1880-1947) as well as the historical period he examines in the Valley trilogy (the late 1830s -the late 1920s/early 1930s). This literary outlook, I argue, is a modernist outlook, but also a transplantation of a Western understanding of what modernism is to the South African context in which there are crucial differences. This thesis hopes to arrive at an outcome that binds Leipoldt’s anti-nationalism to his literary critique of the modernity he explores in the Valley trilogy, thereby proving that Leipoldt could be read as a South African literary modernist.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: C. Louis Leipoldt het in sy leeftyd en na sy dood 'n gevierde reputasie behou as 'n belangrike Afrikaanse digter in Suid-Afrika. Hy word die meeste onthou vir sy bydrae tot die groei van die Afrikaanse letterkunde en die belangrikeheid van sy poësie tot die Afrikaanse letterkunde, se stigting in die vroë deel van die twintigste eeu in Suid-Afrika. Hy word meestal ook onthou vir sy resepteboeke en kos en wyn gidse, sowel as vir sy loopbaan as 'n pediater. Tussen 1980 en 2001, is navorsingswerk gedoen om ‘n herwaardering van Leipoldt se literêre werk aan te bied. Gedurende hierdie tydperk was voorheen ongepubliseerde material geskryf deur Leipoldt publiek sigbaar gestel. Drie romans deur Leipoldt, wat in Engels geskryf is, is gepubliseer op ongereelde tussenposes tussen 1980 en 2001. Die romans stel Leipoldt in ‘n ander lig, wat daarop dui dat as 'n Engelse skrywer was hy gekant teen baie van die idees waarmee hy geassosieer was toe hy as 'n Afrikaanstalige skrywer beskou was. Hierdie idees het grootendeels vir Leipoldt gekoppel aan die Afrikaner-nasionalistiese projek van die twintigste eeu en het hom gekoöpteer tot Afrikaner nasionalistiese beleide van rasse-segregasie gegrond op die veldtog vir groepidentiteit. Die drie Engelstalige romans, gesamentlik die Valley-trilogie, openbaar nie net Leipoldt se teenkanting van die nasionalistiese projek nie, maar vestig ook aandag op sommige van sy ander werk in Afrikaans waarin hierdie selfde ideologiese opposisie aangeteken kan word. In hierdie tesis voer ek aan dat Leipoldt se Valley-trilogie, sowel as sommige van sy ander, Afrikaans werke, nie net die nasionalistiese projek weerlê nie, maar ook ‘n lesing aanbied van Suid-Afrikaanse moderniteit in die negentiende en twintigste eeus. Hierdie lesing van historiese gebeure in Suid-Afrika wat die trajek van die land se moderniteit openbaar is sterk aanduidend van 'n unieke literêre modernisme. Dit is my redenering dat Leipoldt se Valley-trilogie 'n modernistiese kritiek toon van die historiese gebeurtenisse wat dit aanbied. Omdat die konsep van 'n Suid-Afrikaanse modernisme in die letterkunde nog nie ten volle gedefineer is nie, is dit ook 'n doel van hierdie tesis om voor te stel dat Leipoldt se werke 'n breë maar volgehoue literêre kritiek bydra wat sy eie leeftyd dek (1880-1947) asook die historiese tydperk wat hy ondersoek in die Valley-trilogie (die laat 1830s tot die laat 1920s/vroë 1930s). Hierdie literêre vooruitsig, redeneer ek, is 'n modernistiese vooruitsig, maar ook 'n oorplanting van 'n Westerse begrip van wat die modernisme is tot die Suid-Afrikaanse konteks waarin daar belangrike verskille is. Hierdie tesis hoop tot 'n uitkoms wat Leipoldt se anti-nasionalisme bind tot aan sy literêre kritiek van die moderniteit wat hy ondersoek in die Valley-trilogie, en daardeur bewys dat Leipoldt gelees kan word word as 'n Suid-Afrikaanse literêre modernis

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