State of Peril: Race and Rape in South African Literature

State of Peril: Race and Rape in South African Literature

State of Peril: Race and Rape in South African Literature

State of Peril: Race and Rape in South African Literature


Considering fiction from the colonial era to the present,State of Periloffers the first sustained, scholarly examination of rape narratives in the literature of a country that has extremely high levels of sexual violence.

Lucy Graham demonstrates how, despite the fact that most incidents of rape in South Africa are not interracial, narratives of interracial rape have dominated the national imaginary. Seeking to understand this phenomenon, the study draws on Michel Foucault's ideas on sexuality and biopolitics, as well as Judith Butler's speculations on race and cultural melancholia. Historical analysis of the body politic provides the backdrop for careful, close readings of literature by Olive Schreiner, Sol Plaatje, Sarah Gertrude Millin, Njabulo Ndebele, J.M. Coetzee, Zo Wicomb and others.

Ultimately,State of Perilargues for ethically responsible interpretations that recognize high levels of sexual violence in South Africa while parsing the racialized inferences and assumptions implicit in literary representations of bodily violation.


This project began as my doctoral studies in English literature at Oxford University, and I owe an immense debt of gratitude to my supervisor, Robert Young, for his patience and willingness to read and comment on my work as well as for his general benevolence. I also thank my historical consultant and greatest friend, Hugh Macmillan, for his untiring help and support during this project. The Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) and the Patrick and Margaret Flanagan Trust provided the financial means to enroll at Oxford University. Lincoln College at Oxford was hospitable in providing an academic home for me and for contributing funding towards my studies. The Nottingham Trent University generously awarded me a research studentship in 2000–2001, and the School of Criticism and Theory at Cornell University kindly offered me funding to attend its 2004 summer school, where I was able to develop the theoretical perspectives used in the study. I am grateful to Stellenbosch University, where I am currently based as a Lecturer in English Literature, for support in finishing this work I have been privileged to have had access to excellent libraries and archives during my studies. The librarians at Oxford and the National English Literary Museum (NELM) in particular provided personalized and efficient research support. At NELM I owe a debt of gratitude to Paulette Coetzee, who, through discussions many years ago helped me to shape formative ideas for this project. I would also like to thank the late Daphne Rooke for her generosity in agreeing to be interviewed, Jenny Maimane for her willingness to provide information and documents relating to the life and work of Arthur Maimane, and Frances Wollen for assistance in accessing the Victor Gollancz archives. Mark Behr and Matthew Krouse were delightfully frank in talking about their work, and Annari van der Merwe was helpful in sharing information about the life of K. Sello Duiker.

Very special thanks to the following people for their helpful comments, friendship and support during the evolution of this work: Chris Warnes, Joy Wang, Margaret Hanzimanolis, Justin Snell, David Attwell, Rita Barnard, Tanya Barben, Nosipho Mlomzale, Leon de Kock, Mark Sanders, Andrew van der Vlies and Patrick Flanery I would also like to thank the monks of the Cape Town Meditation Centre for teaching “the middle way”, and Pye, Zorro and Ashes for their company during days and nights of writing. Finally, a big thank you to my family: Joel, Adam, Hilary, Dallis, Robert and Janet, and my maternal and paternal grandparents as well as the amakhosi who went before them.

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