ALAN PATON: A Biography by Peter F. Alexander

ALAN PATON: A Biography

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Alexander sets a standard of thoroughness for future works on Paton, but the treasures unearthed by his impressive research are few and far between in this tell-too-much biography. Published in 1948, Paton's Cry, the Beloved Country was a major force in drawing international attention to both literature and apartheid in South Africa. This comprehensive account covers his boyhood; his university years; his teaching career; his long tenure as principal of a reformatory; his emergence as a novelist and persecuted political figure; and his second marriage and later life. Alexander (English/Univ. of New South Wales) knew Paton and had the cooperation of his widow and two sons. His exclusive access to intimate diaries and correspondence allows him to fill out and correct Paton's autobiographies and various memoirs of him by friends and family. He counters Paton's published assertions that he was a lenient teacher by presenting the future novelist as a despised schoolmaster whose students went so far as to cheer wildly when he was nearly blinded by a chemistry demonstration gone awry. Alexander also covers Paton's extramarital affairs, of which he had at least two, and his first, sexually unfulfilling marriage to a widow who wore the wedding band from her first marriage. Since Paton did not write Cry, the Beloved Country until he was in his 40s, much of the story centers on the novelist's frustrated political ambitions. After becoming a celebrated author, much of his political work was organizational and not really the stuff of exciting storytelling. Alexander tries to show Paton as a man who cared most about serving others, but the dominant narrative thread portrays a self-assuming, sometimes calculating man. Paton achieved the rare feat of writing a novel that perceptively changed the way people looked at part of the world. His own story, however, turns out to be mundane.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1994
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.