Authors: Nadine Gordimer

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

South African novelist and short-story writer

Author Works

Long Fiction:

The Lying Days, 1953

A World of Strangers, 1958

Occasion for Loving, 1963

The Late Bourgeois World, 1966

A Guest of Honour, 1970

The Conservationist, 1974

Burger’s Daughter, 1979

July’s People, 1981

A Sport of Nature, 1987

My Son’s Story, 1990

None to Accompany Me, 1994

The House Gun, 1998

The Pickup, 2001

Short Fiction:

Face to Face: Short Stories, 1949

The Soft Voice of the Serpent, and Other Stories, 1952

Six Feet of the Country, 1956

Friday’s Footprint, and Other Stories, 1960

Not for Publication, and Other Stories, 1965

Livingstone’s Companions: Stories, 1971

Selected Stories, 1975

A Soldier’s Embrace, 1980

Something Out There, 1984

Jump, and Other Stories, 1991

Why Haven’t You Written? Selected Stories, 1950-1972, 1992

Loot, and Other Stories, 2003

Nonfiction:

On the Mines, 1973 (with David Goldblatt)

The Black Interpreters: Notes on African Writing, 1973

Lifetimes Under Apartheid, 1986 (with Goldblatt)

The Essential Gesture: Writing, Politics, and Places, 1988

Writing and Being, 1995

Living in Hope and History: Notes from Our Century, 1999

A Writing Life: Celebrating Nadine Gordimer, 1999 (Andries Walter Oliphant, editor)

Teleplays:

A Chip of Glass Ruby, 1985

Country Lovers, 1985

Oral History, 1985

Praise, 1985

Edited Text:

South African Writing Today, 1967 (with Lionel Abrahams)

Biography

Nadine Gordimer (GAWR-duh-mur) established herself early in her career as a talented author of both short stories and novels that sensitively and subtly portray the complexities of life for blacks and whites in South Africa. Born to Isidore Gordimer, a jeweler, and Nan Myers Gordimer, Nadine had a comfortable childhood. She was educated in private schools, and she attended the University of Witwatersrand for one year. She married Gerald Gavron in 1949 and gave birth to a daughter, Oriane; the couple divorced in 1952. In 1954, Gordimer married Reinhold Cassirer, and together they had a son, Hugo.{$I[AN]9810001212}{$I[A]Gordimer, Nadine}{$I[geo]WOMEN;Gordimer, Nadine}{$I[geo]SOUTH AFRICA;Gordimer, Nadine}{$I[tim]1923;Gordimer, Nadine}

Nadine Gordimer

(©The Nobel Foundation)

Although Gordimer was initially recognized as a first-rate author of short stories, she has since become an important novelist as well. Her numerous awards and honors, which reflect her international reputation, include the W. H. Smith Literary Award in 1961, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1972, the Booker Prize in 1974, the Grand Aigle d’Or in 1975, the Malaparte Prize and the Nelly Sachs Prize in 1985, and the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1991.

Gordimer’s work has been praised for the best portrayal of black realities by a white author. In most of her work, she manages to address racial issues without being didactic. Although several of her books were originally banned by the Board of Censors in South Africa, Gordimer refused to appeal the bans and thus recognize the legitimacy of the board. Her opposition to the policy of apartheid made her an adversary of the government, yet she nevertheless identified herself as a loyal South African. Her continued presence in South Africa, after the end of apartheid, bespeaks her love of a country whose hills and history she paints with such delicacy and detail.

Gordimer’s early short stories were considered uneven by many critics, but the strength of plot and characterization make such stories as the title work of Livingstone’s Companions absorbing sojourn tales. Other collections, such as Six Feet of the Country and Friday’s Footprint, and Other Stories, reveal the influence of French writers, particularly in “Our Bovary,” a story of a female Charles Bovary, and “A Third Presence.” A Soldier’s Embrace, dealing more directly with racial issues, contains stories that are painful in their portrayal of the disastrous daily consequences of South Africa’s old racial policies. In Jump, and Other Stories, Gordimer probed the ways in which apartheid shaped society and character.

Gordimer has created a variety of personas and central characters, ranging from the young woman whose eyes are opened to injustice in Burger’s Daughter to the successful farmer-businessman of The Conservationist. In the latter novel, the central character’s racism and rationalizations are so convincing that some readers have questioned whether Gordimer managed to subvert the novel’s purpose by creating too much sympathy for this man victimized by his own greed. At her best, Gordimer lets her characters and scenes speak for themselves, with her descriptions acting as an unobtrusive camera eye cast upon carefully woven scenes. Throughout her work, Gordimer captures uncannily the cadences of black speech and presents her characters’ viewpoints in an understated yet moving way.

Few African writers, black or white, have gained the international reputation of Gordimer. While she creates a distinctively regional literature, her work is universal in its appeal. Her prose is described as lyric, and she frequently receives the accolade of poet for her continent. She ranges from work with broad scope, such as A Guest of Honour, one of her few optimistic novels, to works with a closer focus, such as certain stories in Livingstone’s Companions.

Most of Gordimer’s work is pessimistic in the sense that it presents a realistic portrait of South African tensions and political realities. The most notable exception to this pattern is A Sport of Nature, in which a middle-class Jewish woman marries a black man and ends as a dignified matron contentedly rearing her multiracial family and working in the black nationalist movement. This heroine embodies a possible future Gordimer that envisioned for her country. A Sport of Nature has been cited as evidence of Gordimer’s continued growth through a prolific career. Despite the variety and frequent humor of her work, though, most of her stories demonstrate how far the optimism of A Sport of Nature remains from the reality of life in South Africa.

None to Accompany Me, published shortly after the dismantling of apartheid, portrays the social, economic, and political difficulties that are the legacy of years of oppression. In The House Gun, Claudia and Harald Lindgard, a privileged but politically neutral couple, choose to help their son, Duncan, after he commits a murder. His easy access to a gun and the surrounding culture of violence play a part in his appeal for a lenient sentence. The Lindgards search for reconciliation, much as all South Africans are doing in their fledgling democracy.

In The Pickup, Gordimer again explores the theme of interracial, intercultural relationships such as those at the center of The Lying Days and A Sport of Nature. Here, however, the context is not apartheid but rather the plight of immigrants, as a young white South African woman falls in love with a young, attractive Arab man working illegally in a menial occupation.

Gordimer has always chosen to be her country’s conscience speaking persistently and forcefully, first to change a system that demeans and threatens the lives of many and then to establish a new, equitable system for all people.

BibliographyBazin, Nancy Topping, and Marilyn Dallman Seymour, eds. Conversations with Nadine Gordimer. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1990. The scope of this volume renders it invaluable. It reveals some of Gordimer’s insights and attitudes toward her works and their origins, in conversations spanning thirty years. Supplemented by an index and a bibliography.Clingman, Stephen. The Novels of Nadine Gordimer: History from the Inside. 2d ed. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1992. Interprets Gordimer’s work within the context of history in general and the history of South Africa and African literature in particular. The second edition includes a new prologue, which notes the dismantling of apartheid and Gordimer’s Nobel Prize; also adds a discussion of A Sport of Nature and My Son’s Story. Indexed.Cooke, John. The Novels of Nadine Gordimer: Private Lives, Public Landscapes. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1985. Cooke discusses Gordimer’s development as a writer of fiction. Cooke focuses on the individual, tracing the shift in Gordimer’s identity from colonial writer, to South African writer, and, even further, to African writer. Cooke provides valuable interpretation of, and critical insight into, Gordimer’s work. Complemented by useful bibliographies and an index.Driver, Dorothy, Ann Dry, Craig MacKenzie, and John Read, comps. Nadine Gordimer: A Bibliography of Primary and Secondary Sources, 1937-1992. London: Hans Zell, 1994. More than three thousand entries listed chronologically. Each critical book or article entry indicates which Gordimer works are covered. Includes a chronology of Gordimer’s career to 1993. Several helpful indexes.Ettin, Andre Vogel. Betrayals of the Body Politic: The Literary Commitments of Nadine Gordimer. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1995. Ettin examines all Gordimer’s genres of writing and discovers the recurring themes: betrayal, politics of family, concept of homeland, ethnicity, and feminism.Haugh, Robert F. Nadine Gordimer. New York: Twayne, 1974. Haugh provides the first book-length study of Nadine Gordimer’s work and places her among the masters of short fiction (he finds her novels less impressive). His analysis stops with A Guest of Honour and Livingstone’s Companions. Includes bibliographical references and an index.Head, Dominic. Nadine Gordimer. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1994. Head interprets Gordimer’s first ten novels. Indexed. Select bibliography of works by and about Gordimer. Chronology of Gordimer’s career and major South African political events to 1991.King, Bruce, ed. The Later Fiction of Nadine Gordimer. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993. The introduction, surveying the variety in Gordimer’s novels from The Late Bourgeois World to My Son’s Story, is followed by five general essays dealing thematically or stylistically with multiple novels, seven essays dealing with one or two novels in depth, and three essays dealing with short stories. Indexed. Notes on contributors.Lazar, Karen. “Feminism as ‘Piffling’? Ambiguities in Nadine Gordimer’s Short Stories.” In The Later Fiction of Nadine Gordimer, edited by Bruce King. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993. Examines a number of Gordimer’s short stories in terms of her changing attitudes toward women’s oppression and feminism, ranging from her early view that many women’s issues are “piffling” to views that reveal Gordimer’s politicization on the question of gender.Lomberg, Alan R. “Once More into the Burrows: Nadine Gordimer’s Later Short Fiction.” In The Later Fiction of Nadine Gordimer, edited by Bruce King. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993. An analysis of how Gordimer continues to examine concerns raised in early stories in her later ones. After discussing how two early stories are developed into a later novella, Lomberg analyzes other stories that Gordimer has written again and again, particularly those that treat love affairs.Smith, Rowland, ed. Critical Essays on Nadine Gordimer. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1990. An excellent selection of essays on Gordimer’s works. Includes bibliographical references and an index.Temple-Thurston, Barbara. Nadine Gordimer Revisited. New York: Twayne, 1999. Part of Twayne’s World Authors series, this is a good updated study of the author and her works. Bibliographical references and an index are provided.Trump, Martin. “The Short Fiction of Nadine Gordimer.” Research in African Literatures 17 (Spring, 1986): 341-369. Argues that in her best stories Gordimer describes the hardships of South Africans, particularly women, who suffer social inequality; summarizes a number of stories that illustrate this focus.Wagner, Kathrin. Rereading Nadine Gordimer. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1994. Writing the book while teaching in South Africa, Wagner brings a view from inside Gordimer’s own country. The seven chapters provide a chronological rereading of Gordimer’s first ten novels. Indexed. Chronological bibliography includes Gordimer’s novels, short-story collections, nonfiction, and interviews.
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