Choosing Difference: South African Jewish Writers

By Lenta, Margaret | Judaism: A Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life and Thought, Winter 2001 | Go to article overview

Choosing Difference: South African Jewish Writers


Lenta, Margaret, Judaism: A Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life and Thought


JEWISH IMMIGRATION INTO SOUTH AFRICA ON ANY CONSIDERABLE scale began relatively late: there were a few Jewish families amongst the wave of English-speaking colonists who arrived in 1820, but they do not seem to have had the time, the impulse, or perhaps the confidence to record their lives in journals or to write poetry or fiction. English literature began in South Africa during the First British Occupation of the Cape (1795-1803), when the travel memoirs, letters and diaries which generally constitute the beginning of a colonial literature were written. But interesting though the works of visitors to the Cape like Lady Anne Barnard, John Barrow, and their fellows are, it is arguable that they form part of the literature of the metropolis rather than the colony, at least in their ideologies and their envisaged readership. None of these colonist-visitors to Africa were Jewish, though Jewish settlement had already begun, even at this early stage: Lady Anne writes of a Jew who wanted to buy a house at Newlands i n the Cape (Barnard 1999). The history of South African writing in English is therefore a short one; though South African Jewish writers loom large in it at the present day, they are comparatively late arrivals on the scene.

Imaginative writing in English is generally considered to have begun in 1883

with Olive Schreiner's The Story of an African Farm. It is clear that this work was an important influence on South African Jewish writers: Dan Jacobson, in 1970, wrote an introduction to the work which is still one of the best pieces of commentary on it, and which forms an inspiring introduction to postcolonialism in general. Large scale Jewish immigration from eastern Europe, however, and especially from Lithuania, homeland of the majority of South African Jews, was only getting underway in the 1880s.

Marcia Leveson's critical work People of the Book: Images of the Jew in South African English Fiction 1880-1992 offers, at much greater length and in far more considered form, a different and complementary view. She gives an account of Jewish immigration into South Africa (or rather into the territories which were consolidated in 1910 into South Africa). By 1858, she says, there were sixty Jewish families in the Cape Colony, mostly from Britain and Germany. After the discovery of diamonds and gold in the 1860s, immigration of all kinds of people from Europe speeded up. The pogroms following the assassination of the Czar Alexander II in 1881, together with other less extreme but punitive measures against Jews in Russian-ruled territories, caused a large influx of Jews, from Lithuania especially. Leveson writes "In 1880 there were about 4,000 Jews in the country: in 1891 Jews numbered 10,000; and by 1899 there were about 24,000 Jews in a total white population estimated at 850 000" (1996: 16).

The great days of immigration, of course, were by no means over at the turn of the century, but let no one imagine that all immigrants were offered an equal welcome, then or later, by the authorities. The anxiety of the colonial British to maintain their position of power caused them to resent the growing presence of white but non-English people. And the Gape Dutch (later known as Afrikaners) began in the 1890s the long process of urbanization which culminated in the legislation of the era of Apartheid (1948-1990) when many urban occupations in the modern sector were defined as "whites only" (Davenport 1984: 298). Early in this long trek to the cities, which, significantly, speeded up in the 1930s, when European antisemitism was infecting South African white attitudes, they encountered as rivals the Jews. Leveson gives an account of the attitudes generated by this encounter: "many farmers, suffering from the distress of the Anglo-Boer war, from drought and cattle disease, went bankrupt and were forced to sel l their land. Some land was indeed bought up by jews, who were considered exploiters of the less fortunate.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Choosing Difference: South African Jewish Writers
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.