Authors: Alan Paton

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2017


January 11, 1903

Pietermaritzburg, Natal, South Africa

April 12, 1988

Botha's Hill, Natal, South Africa


Perhaps more a great humanitarian than a novelist, Alan Paton (PAT-uhn) nevertheless wrote highly acclaimed novels about racial problems in Africa. Born in Pietermaritzburg, Natal, he wrote out of lifelong familiarity with the land and its people, white and black.

Though always interested in literature, Paton first chose a career in science and became a science teacher in the school at the African village of Ixopo, which was later to figure in Cry, the Beloved Country.

Alan Paton



(Library of Congress)

In 1928 he married Doris Francis Lusted, who died in 1968 and was the subject of his For You Departed. He converted from Methodism to Anglicanism in 1930, and in 1935 he became head of a reformatory for delinquent boys and made it a model institution. After abandoning two novels he began Cry, the Beloved Country in 1946 while on a tour studying prison reform. The book, published in 1948, became an overnight success and was eventually translated into twenty languages. Too Late the Phalarope, probably because of its heavy style, was not as well received.

In 1953 Paton founded the Liberal Party and became its president, but the multiracial party was disbanded in 1968. In fact, because of his outspoken opposition to apartheid his passport was withdrawn in 1960 and not returned until 1970. During the 1970’s and 1980’s he continued his political activity, which coincided with his writing of Apartheid and the Archbishop: The Life and Times of Geoffrey Clayton. Towards the Mountain and Journey Continued make up a two-volume autobiography. Paton died of cancer at his home in Botha’s Hill, South Africa, on April 12, 1988.

Author Works Long Fiction: Cry, the Beloved Country, 1948 Too Late the Phalarope, 1953 Ah, but Your Land Is Beautiful, 1981 Short Fiction: Tales from a Troubled Land, 1961 (pb. in England as Debbie Go Home, 1961) The Hero of Currie Road, 2008 Drama: Sponono, pr. 1964 (with Krishna Shah) Nonfiction: The Land and People of South Africa, 1955 South Africa in Transition, 1956 (with Dan Weiner) Hope for South Africa, 1958 Hofmeyr, 1964 (abridged as South African Tragedy: The Life and Times of Jan Hofmeyr, 1965; biography) Instrument of Thy Peace, 1968 (meditations) For You Departed, 1969 (meditations; pb. in England as Kontakion for You Departed, 1969) Apartheid and the Archbishop: The Life and Times of Geoffrey Clayton, Archbishop of Cape Town, 1973 (biography) Towards the Mountain, 1980 (autobiography) Journey Continued, 1988 (autobiography) Save the Beloved Country, 1989 (essays) Lost City of the Kalahari, 2005 Bibliography Alexander, Peter F. Alan Paton: A Biography. Oxford UP, 1994. A thorough, vast study of Paton’s life that gives background on his major novels. Baker, Sheridan. Paton’s “Cry, the Beloved Country”: The Novel, the Critics, the Setting. Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1968. This collection of criticism of the novel includes Baker’s own classic, “Paton’s Beloved Country and the Morality of Geography.” Callan, Edward. Alan Paton. Rev. ed, Twayne, 1982. Callan sets critical assessment of Paton’s writings within a general background of his life. Callan, Edward. “Cry, the Beloved Country”: A Novel of South Africa—A Study. Twayne, 1991. Part of Twayne’s Masterwork Studies, this volume discusses race relations, apartheid, and South African culture in relation to Paton’s seminal work. Foley, Andrew. “‘Considered as a Social Record’: A Reassessment of Cry, the Beloved Country.” English in Africa, vol. 25, no. 2, 1998, 63–93. Assesses the long-term value of Paton’s most famous novel as well as Paton’s thought as a social critic. Iannone, Carol. “Alan Paton’s Tragic Liberalism.” American Scholar, vol. 66, no. 3, 1997, 442–52. Emphasizes the complexity of Paton’s liberalism, which refuses to take the easy way out in addressing social issues. Paton, Jonathan. “Comfort in Desolation.” International Literature in English: Essays on the Major Writers. Edited by Robert L. Ross, Garland, 1991. Paton’s youngest son describes the Christian call for comfort that underlies his father’s first novel.

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