Nadine Gordimer

with an introduction by Leon de Kock and notes by David Lloyd

The Late Bourgeois World, Gordimer’s fourth novel, is one of her most compact and starkly distilled works of fiction. It documents a time in South African life when the chill grip of state repression induced a paralysing stasis in the country at large. In the novel, the apparent ‘normality’ of privileged white suburban life – ‘the late bourgeois world’ – is shown to be fraudulent and morally insupportable. Gordimer’s main character, Liz Van Den Sandt, is a typical Gordimer creation in that she is extraordinarily aware of the pressures and problems of the kind of life she finds herself living. Unlike most of her white compatriots, she is politically awake; and unlike most other white people in the mid-1960s, she finds it impossible to repress an awareness that something is deeply wrong about the ‘South African way of life’. Her former husband, Max, was in the past engaged in political rebellion of a mostly amateurish kind. Now she, in her turn, is pushed to the brink of a realization that mere gestural protest is no longer sufficient. It is not enough simply for one’s heart to be in the right place. Mere opposition, mere anger, will no longer do. The novel brings Liz to the terrifying awakening that some form of political action is required – terrifying because the apartheid security police in the 1960s were busy developing brutal methods of punishment, and they were beyond the reach of constitutional or parliamentary restraint. The security police could, and regularly did, detain and torture people for lengthy periods of time.

The action in The Late Bourgeois World therefore takes place at a time when it had become clear that peaceful opposition to apartheid would be met with the iron fist of state repression. In the aftermath of the Sharpeville massacre by the South Africa Police on March 21, 1960, in which 69 black protestors were shot dead, many of them in the back, South Africa rapidly became what is know in international human rights terminology as a ‘police state’ – a state run by a minority of the population which protects and maintains its power by the force of guns, the instruments of torture, and the politics of deception.
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