Nationalism and the Farm Novel in South Africa, 1883-2004

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    From Schreiner's The Story of an African Farm (1883) to Van Niekerk's Agaat (2004), the farm novel has reflected South Africa's experience of colonial conflict, white supremacy, gender struggle and nationalism. Revisited at key historical moments, the farm novel describes a deterministic relationship between genre and ideology, drawing attention to the role a particular fictional mode has played in justifying the disenfranchisement of blacks and the disempowerment of women. The social context in which the Afrikaans farm novel developed was one of emerging Afrikaner nationalism; it lent credibility to a story about Afrikaners' rural origins that provided an illusion of continuity in South African history and a description of an unchanging Afrikaner identity. Since the 1960s, leftist Afrikaans writers, concerned with the role the early farm novel played in promoting white supremacy, have rewritten it in order to deconstruct its themes and tropes. J.M. Coetzee's English-medium challenge to the farm novel genre, in his fiction and elsewhere, can be viewed in this context. Increasingly, since the end of apartheid, feminist versions of the genre have articulated connections between nationalist ideology, the canon and the representation of gender. I view recent rewritings by Marlene van Niekerk, particularly, as a challenge to both literary convention and racist-masculinist ideology. Her work draws attention to the genre's importance in describing the relationship between white supremacy and land ownership; moreover, it proposes new directions for the study of pastoral traditions in South African writing.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)627-642
    Number of pages16
    JournalJournal of Southern African Studies
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 2009


    • Farm novels
    • South African writing
    • Nationalism


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