Lady Anne by Antjie Krog

Louise Vijoen, Department of Afrikaans and Dutch, University of Stellenbosch

Part 5 of the author's "Postcolonialism and Recent Women's Writing in Afrikaans," which first appeared in World Literature Today and which appears here with the kind permission of the author and Dr. William Riggan, editor of that publication. Copyright, of course, remains with the author and World Literature Today. Many thanks to Eric Dickens for suggesting the inclusion of this important essay.

The established Afrikaans poet Antjie Krog's seventh volume of poems called Lady Anne was published in 1989, at the end of a decade marked by such furious political resistance against the apartheid government that it resulted in the unbanning of the ANC in February 1990. In this volume of poems, conceived as a postmodern epic, Krog interrogates her own situation as a white Afrikaans-speaking woman in the politically turbulent South Africa of the late eighties by using the historical figure Lady Anne Barnard as a "guide" (p.16) for her own life. Lady Anne Barnard (1750-1825) was a Scottish noblewoman who married her husband Andrew, a former soldier twelve years her junior, in 1793. Because she was a friend of Sir Henry Dundas, then Secretary of State for War, she procured for her husband the post of Colonial Secretary at the Cape during the first British occupation from 1795 to 1803. Unusually for a woman of her time and class she accompanied her husband to the Cape in 1797 where they lived until 1802. The letters, journals, diaries and drawings she produced during her stay at the Cape and travels into the interior have become an important source of information about the people, events and social life of the time, because she recorded particulars male writers considered beneath their notice. She is also retained in popular memory as a socialite, known for entertaining at the Castle at the Cape of Good Hope as the official hostess of governor Macartney (Lenta in Robinson 1994: x-xix).

Krog's Lady Anne is a collage of poems supplemented by quotations, drawings, an ovulation chart, a property advertisment, an electoral poster and extracts from a diary. Some poems are written from the perspective of Lady Anne while other poems are written from the perspective of an I that can be autobiographically linked to the poet. Still another set of poems place the two women together in situations that imaginatively overstep the boundaries of time and space. Similarities as well as dissimilarities in the way the subjectivity of both these women is determined by race, class and gender in different historical contexts emerge from the poems. Lady Anne's position at the Cape of the late eighteenth century is determined by the fact that she is a member of a privileged race (a European in Africa), a privileged class (of noble descent) and a power that colonized the indiginous peoples as well as the Afrikaners in South Africa (a British subject).

She looks at South Africa from the perspective of a temporary inhabitant and voyeuristic traveller, as demonstrated by the poem describing her consciousness of being an outsider who looks at the country as if through a windowpane (pp.56-57). The volume also refers to the fact that Lady Anne lived in a time of political upheaval. Some of the poems show her in Paris during the time of the French Revolution feeling guilty about the fact that personal sorrow stands in the way of political concern (pp.65-66) while others depict her agitation about the inhumanity of slavery (pp.81-82). The poet Antjie Krog's position in South Africa in the nineteen-eighties is determined by her being a member of a privileged race (white in apartheid South Africa), a privileged class (the bourgeois middle class) and a group who colonized black people in South Africa but were also colonized by the British (an Afrikaner). She looks at South Africa from the perspective of a permanent inhabitant who feels morally compelled to take part in the establishment of a just society in that country. Her writing is decisively influenced by the context of political emergency in which she finds herself. She questions the validity of poetry about private emotions written from a privileged perspective in an unjust society in the poem "parool" [parole] (pp.35-38) and remains conscious of the fact that even her most innocent words cannot be detached from the context of political violence in which they were produced (p.32). She also acknowledges that her poetical project entails a measure of violence towards her subject Lady Anne, when she admits in the final line of the volume: "onder my duim l die fyn sintaksis van jou strot" [under my thumb lies the delicate syntax of your throat] (p.108).

Because the epic usually traces the history of great men and nations, the mere fact that Krog chose a woman as subject of her postmodern epic makes a statement about the importance of gender issues amid the struggle for racial equality in South Africa. Krog's artistic portrait of Lady Anne ventures further than the conclusion of literary historians that she was both caught up in traditional gender stereotypes and anxious to escape them (Driver in Robinson e.a. 1994: 7). Krog represents her as a strong-willed person, fully conscious of the power play between men and women as in the poem "ballade van die magspel" [ballad of the powergame] (p.76). One of the poems even depicts her as expressing a militant erotic desire to grow a penis and to possess her husband sexually in the manner of a man (p.24). The poems referring to the poet Krog herself show the way in which she struggles to reconcile different facets of her gendered position (sexual partner, wife, mother, daughter, domestic manager) and how they interact with her writing as well as political and religious consciousness. Despite the fact that the "bard" and her "epic hero" (p.108) are both women and share many similarities, Krog experiences ambivalent feelings about Lady Anne. These feelings emerge in several poems self-reflexively charting the course of her project of writing about Lady Anne. Her elation at finding a woman she can use as "guide" (p.16) soon makes way for frustration when she discovers that this British Lady cannot easily be accomodated into her own scheme and has to conclude: "as metafoor is jy fkol werd" [as metaphor you are worth fuckall] (p.40).

Because Krog is aware that her perspective on the South African situation is a limited one, she inserts quotations into her text that confirm, supplement or contradict her own poems. One of these quotations describing a black working class woman (p.97) is juxtaposed with a poem in which the poet expresses her affection for Lady Anne but also refers to her "totale stralende nutteloosheid" [total radiant uselessness] (p.96). By inserting this reference to the black working class woman the poet questions her own position as a privileged white woman writing about another priviliged white woman. The quotation also deliberately exposes the class and racial divides present in the gender consciousness evident in the volume's focus on women. Krog's brutally honest interrogation of her own subject-position as a white Afrikaans woman writer in the late eighties is another example of the fused postcoloniality of Afrikaans literature in which elements of oppositionality (the political struggle) and complicity (the postmodernist subversion of dominance and centrism) are combined.


Postcolonial Web Africa OV Rupublic of South Africa OV next Bibliography