The Beadle by Pauline Smith
When Little M and I first started blogging about books, I found that all my recommendations were from my own childhood, teenagehood and even early university years. I also kept referring to some of these books as must-reads and using them as benchmarks. But, it’s been years since I’d read them and I really didn’t have any idea of whether or not they would still stack up.
Since reviewing, I started noticing things about my own reading habits, and the sorts of themes or aspects of a novel that I would pick out in comparison to Little M and other book bloggers. It really hit home that context and life-stage affect my reading experience (not much a revelation in theory but it is in practice).
Then I came across the Classics Club where you have to read at least fifty classics in five years (the definition of classics is left up to each individual reader). That’s what gave me the final push to rereading. My first re-read and my first read for the Classics Club is The Beadle by Pauline Smith.
But my review of it has a long, contextual story.
|The Beadle by Pauline Smith|
However, The Beadle is out of print and buying a secondhand copy of it in the UK was rather too pricey. Lo and behold, what do I find on holiday in the middle of South Africa’s Klein Karoo (Little Karoo)? Dustcovers, a secondhand, collectibles and antique bookshop in the middle of the now trendy but still rural karoo town of Nieu Bethesda. Yes, there it was. A copy of The Beadle.
So the scene for my re-read has been perfectly set. I’ve just stayed in the middle of the karoo on a farm. I’ve bought the book in the karoo too. And of course, The Beadle is set in a little karoo valley.
The Beadle is set in the very rural karoo when carts were still the main means of travel and when the role and standing of the church was paramount. It is a poignant and softly biting portrayal of coming-of-age in rural South Africa The story is about Andrina who lives with her aunts and the surly old beadle, Aalst Vlokman, on the Harmonie farmland. Her mother, Klaartje, ran away for home and died in childbirth, and there are all sorts of family secrets lurking in the background. Andrina is sweet and seventeen and she’s just about to join the church. And then an Englishman arrives at the farm.
Published in 1926, the language as well as the story are almost of a completely bygone time but it is still an easy but evocative read. Having read a little of Olive Schreiner’s The Story of An African Farm, the vocabulary and language use is similar.
The Beadle's story, on one level, is a very simple one about sin, moralities, taboos, betrayals, love and religion.
I remember feeling terribly sorry for some of the characters when I first read this book. The kind of feeling that must be empathy because how they must have felt gets right into the pit of your stomach and refuses to leave you. The effect of the story this time around wasn’t as intense – I’m older and wiser and the story is nothing new. Not like it would have been when I was a teenager.
Second time around, yes, I enjoyed The Beadle. For anyone interested in South African literature (or young adult literature from another time and place), I’d definitely recommend this. As a novel, it has been heavily negatively criticised since the 1970s by the likes of Nadine Gordimer and JM Coetzee for its portrayal of the rural Afrikaner and promoting the need for nationalist ideology in South Africa (and this critique may have been vital at that time in Sputh Africa's history). Pauline Smith may well do that, and if you’re looking for this, you’ll find it – the Englishman certainly doesn’t come off well. However, that’s not how I saw The Beadle at all (but I wasn’t especially looking for it).
For me, The Beadle, as it was on my first reading, is Andrina and Klaartje’s story. And theirs is a story that we still find today in all sorts of settings.
Publication details:First published 1926.This edition: 1990, David Philip, Cape Town, paperback, my own