Cultural conflict and shifting identities in Stephen Black’s The Dorp (1920)
This article deals with journalist, dramatist and novelist Stephen Black’s The Dorp (1920), a novel which I regard as the earliest example of what I have named the small-town novel sub-genre of the South African English novel. Other early examples of the small-town novel are Willemsdorp by H.C. Bosman, The Mask by C. L. Leipoldt and Too Late the Phalarope by Alan Paton. Black satirizes the goings-on in a typical South African town called Unionstad. The name of the town reveals the novel’s threefold thematic impulse: an allegorical evocation of the Union Period (1910–48) in South Africa; an ironic-satirical thrust (the Union period was one of increasing political polarization and ultimately, an idealistic vision of cultural-political reconciliation. Unionstad, like the towns in the novels mentioned above, is portrayed as a microcosm of the national macrocosm. The Dorp reveals the ill effects of historical events such as the Boer War and the 1914 Rebellion, specifically the animosity that it created between English and Afrikaner townspeople. Black’s keen awareness and representation of how the political turmoil in the country impacts on the lives of ordinary people and how town culture reflects key aspects of a bigger problem, are the main strengths of the novel. Black’s vision for reconciliation is symbolized by the union in marriage of Anita van Ryn, the mayor’s daughter and Ned Oakley, the English shopkeeper’s son.
Keywords: Afrikaner nationalism, small-town novel, South African literature, Stephen Black.