A team of 43 authors, mostly experts on South African literature, worked together with the two editors, David Attwell and Derek Attridge, both from York University’s English department, in producing the 39 essays comprising this book. With most of the contributors (26 in all), as well as the two editors, being experts in English South African literature, the focus of this work is overwhelmingly determined by a chronology and perspective which is conditioned by their discipline and their field. Thus after Part I (dealing with orality and origins), Part II covers the period 1488–1820, clearly ending with the arrival of the British settlers, and Part III then continues with “Empire” and so forth between 1820 and 1910.
Literary histories produced in South Africa since the early 20th century, starting with the work of Besselaar (1914) and Nathan (1925), as well as everything in between, right up to Kannemeyer’s Geskiedenis van die Afrikaanse Literatuur (1978–1983) and Chapman’s South African Literatures (1996), are mangled by linguistic blinkers and conceptual shortcomings. As a result they have attracted withering critical attacks, fierce contestations and open rejection.
The volume consists of six parts; each topic is divided into subtitles, which makes the topic easy to follow. Each subtitle of each topic brings forth new ideas on the topic. Most contributions come from Part V. The question is what reflection this will bring to people who want to know more about South African literary history. Does this mean “Apartheid and its aftermath, 1948 to the present” is the most important issue in the history of South African literature, or that this is the heart of South African literary history?
- The Cambridge History of South African Literature edited by David Attwell and Derek Attridge
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