n English in Africa - Herman Charles Bosman's "Louis Wassenaar" : a case of writer's block or exemplary metafiction?

Volume 30, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 0376-8902


Lionel Abrahams found fragments of Herman Charles Bosman's two unfinished novels among the latter's literary remains. One of these was "Johannesburg Christmas Eve"; the other was later referred to as "Louis Wassenaar." "Louis Wassenaar" has received very little attention from Bosman's commentators and editors. Bosman presumably began writing the novel in the early 1930s but for unknown reasons never finished it. Stephen Gray published it for the first time in Bosman's (1986). In his introduction to this volume Gray remarks that "the surviving drafts [of these unfinished stories] are by no means first attempts - many versions had already gone into them to reach the stage of elaboration displayed here" (1986, 12). "Louis Wassenaar" was also included in Stephen Gray and Craig MacKenzie's Anniversary Edition of Bosman's (2000). In the introduction MacKenzie (2000, 9) suggests a third, metafictional, category to Bosman's oeuvre alongside his 'Oom SchalkLourens' and 'Voorkamer' sequences. MacKenzie dubs "Louis Wassenaar" the "curiosity" of the collection and explains that it was included "especially for the commentary it delivers on how short stories may be devised and interpreted" (15). The only other comment on the story that I could trace (and one with which, incidentally, I do not agree) is that by Vivienne Dickson, who interprets the piece as one in which Bosman struggles to get his story off the ground. She argues that "Bosman seems to be like the hero of this book, a newspaper man who wants to write a novel but cannot find a plot ... Bosman may have been consciously experimenting with the novel form, which would have been interesting in a writer who was usually thoroughly old-fashioned, but the lack of conviction in the writing suggests more strongly that the 'experiment' was simply an expedient" (1975, 167). Dickson thus overlooks the possibility that the story is interesting precisely because of Bosman's skilful mastery of metafictional strategies which are clearly in evidence in this story.

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