Gossip, From Man to Man and interconnections

Gossip, From Man to Man and interconnections

Progress on my book on Olive Schreiner in relation to social analysis and sociology has been considerable over the past few weeks and a full draft now exists. Writing had reached that stage where it was difficult to think of anything else or to do anything else. Its conclusion – and yes, it really was written last of all – ties the threads together around ideas from decoloniality and intersectionality and uses the example of something Schreiner does in her posthumously published novel, From Man to Man. A magnificent new edition of this by Dorothy Driver was published three or four years ago in both South Africa and the UK and is a joy to read for its meticulous approach.

The novel itself is however in many ways a difficult read in terms of its content, for Schreiner is concerned with uncomfortable parallels between a younger sister, Bertie, who is seduced by a tutor and pursued by gossip and eventually becomes a prostitute, and an older sister, Rebekah, who is apparently respectably married but in fact has traded sexual favours for economic security from her philandering husband. The gossip occurs because Bertie trusted someone she told about her secret (seduction by the tutor, who rapidly leaves the area), but he then tells the woman he marries, who then with more malicious intent tells other people, who tell many other people. And so the secret, which is both known and unknown, is expressed in gossip which pursues Bertie wherever she goes, no matter how obscure a corner of South Africa she moves to.

What Schreiner does with this tentacle-like feature of gossip, which sets up connections that are on the surface non-connections but in practice are materially full of impact, is fascinating. The word secret is of course an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms, for only by knowing its existence can we call something secret. And gossip of the kind that impacts so powerfully on the lives of, not only Bertie, but also many other people in the novel as well, is a claim to know something of a person but without the claim being acknowledged openly. And it sets up connections which the person who is gossiped about has little or no knowledge of. An entire web of connections and interconnections come to exist, with the unknowing Bertie at the centre, who did not know any details but certainly experienced the effects.

Last updated:  17 March 2022