Alan Paton, 1963
Alan Paton was a dedicated letter-writer whose letters are almost like a series of vigorous conversations, displaying his capacity for friendship, his lively personality and his principled commitment to South African society. This collection of 350 previously unpublished letters are a major aspect of his writings. They range from those written as a brilliant student of 18 to his old age, illustrating many of the facets of his literary interests, his work as a teacher and reformatory principle and his political activism.
Alan Paton, Laurens van der Post, Enslin du Plessis, Roy Campbell and Uys Krige in London, May 1952
To: Doris Olive Paton, 5 October 1946
c/o Mrs. Dench,/25 Kenilworth Gdns/
My dearest Dorrie,
I have just sent you a cable to say ‘Letter delayed all well love writing today’. And this letter will explain why. I left Stockholm at 9 pm on 24/9/46 & woke up in central Sweden. The woods were turning yellow & red among the dark green of the pines. We crossed into Norway, & some of the mountains were covered with snow. Norway is a beautiful country, not so mountainous as I discovered Sweden—or those parts of it where I was—to be. I got to Trondheim at 2.0 pm & stayed at a cheap hotel. An engineer named Jensen asked if I would like to see the cathedral. He was an enthusiast & knew every stone in it. There is a great rose window that defies description, & it is interesting in this Protestant church to find chapels to the Blessed Virgin. It was raining heavily & I returned to my room & began my novel about South Africa. At 7.0 pm I met Jensen & we went to a restaurant where I stood him dinner in return for his kindness. On Tuesday I caught the 8.0 am to Oslo, & we climbed up to the Dovre mountains. Here the autumn colours are unbelievable; the moors are yellow, green, red, orange—such colours as you have never seen. A young girl next to me spoke English, & we had a pleasant journey. We descended from the mountains through the Gudbrandsdal, a lovely valley between the mountains, with flowers & big green rivers that foam their way through the narrow pass. We got to Oslo at 10.0 pm & I went to another hotel, this time very expensive. Next day it was raining & I set out to explore, but turned back. But Oslo is a poor city compared with Stockholm, & the Norwegians suffered much during the war. The trains & trams are dirty, the shops are poor, taxis are scarce. I returned to the hotel & wrote more of the book. At 5.40 pm of that day 27/9/46 I caught my train. You can imagine my horror when I was ordered to get off the train at Halden, on the border, because my visa did not allow more than one journey into Sweden. I pleaded but in vain, so there I was dumped in the dark, not knowing a soul, & having no money, except a traveller’s cheque that could not be cashed in Norway. I rang up the wife of the British Consul, Mrs. Thompson. She was very kind & actually walked down to the station to get me & took me up to her house for tea. There we tried to work out some kind of plan. My idea was still to try & catch the boat at 5.0 pm for Gothenburg, but I first had to go back to Oslo to get a visa, & then take a taxi to a bridge, & Mrs. Thompson would arrange for a Swedish taxi to meet me on the bridge. Total distance about 300 miles, total cost about £20. As there were so few taxis in Oslo, I decided to take a taxi from Halden to Oslo for 130 crowns (£6.10.0). You can imagine I was very depressed, partly because of the money involved, partly because it was a very tight fit as far as time was concerned, partly because I had a tour of northern England due to begin on Thursday Oct. 3. I went back to the station where a young man who could speak a little English was most kind to me, & at 6.30 am set out by taxi for Oslo. We got there at 9.0 am, only to find that the Consulates do not open till 10.0 am, but I got my visa at 9.30 am. Back to the British Consul who lent me 150 crowns, & advised me to cancel my passage by telegram, & give up the taxi idea. Mr. Thompson, the British consul from Halden, was there, & shared my taxi back to Halden. I was determined not to stay at the depressing & expensive hotel. Back at Halden Mr. Thompson got me a nice room at a cheap hotel, & took me home to tea. Then after tea to dinner with people called Refsaas. There we ate & drank from 7.0 pm to about midnight, with breaks for music & singing. I went back to the hotel & wrote some more of the book. After breakfast Mr. Thompson called for me, took me for a drive to his quarry, & back to lunch. There I stayed till the evening train, & believe me, neither customs nor passport official came near me, so to be safe, after getting a passage for Wednesday thro’ the intervention of the S.A. Consul, I reported to the police. My three days in Gothenburg I spent writing, after having been forced to take a double room for the sake of getting somewhere to sleep. I cashed my last cheque for £5, & tho’ I did nothing extravagant except send three cables to England to explain the delay & cancel engagements, I spent it all in 2½ days. I was glad to get on the boat & found myself in a 2-berth cabin with another Johannesburg man, Fletcher from Parkview. He knew the Rouses well & taught John special lessons. At the Customs I got a letter from Jonno & David, which cheered me up. During the night the boat began to heave & roll, & only about six of us (out of 100 2nd class) turned up for breakfast. I enjoyed it. We got to Tilbury yesterday morning (Friday 4/10/46) & was I glad to see England again. I went to draw my money this morning & see that for September you got your £17. But they are still not deducting the new insurance. Please go to see the Insurance people, & ask why the stop-order is not in force, & please pay the back amounts out of Hoffie’s money. You need not worry about the passage on the Queen Elizabeth—I was glad to get it, & have cancelled my other application, & will fill in the form you mention. They were a bit peeved to know that Johannesburg could do it, & they couldn’t. I came back to a big post, two letters from you, one from Mr. Laas, two copies of Common Sense, letter from Ronald, etc. etc. Tomorrow I leave to go to Tubby Eaton at Leicester, & have a very heavy programme of work, visiting. I hope to get in a bit of writing too.
Three months are gone & before you know where you are I shall be back. Hope Jonno is better. Had a letter from Hoffie too, in which he commented on David’s mountaineering! Shall write to you next Monday from here probably, after I return from the North. No more news at the moment. Remember me to Stanley & Beryl, & Oubaas too. Have they started on Stanley’s house? Shall try & write now to Mr. Laas, to David & Jonno, to Ronald & Hoffie, & then I shall be free this evening to play crib with Mrs. Dench.
Much love to you, my dear. I shall be careful of passports in future.
Edited and introduced by Peter F Alexander
Peter F. Alexander, born in Grahamstown, South Africa, in 1949, was educated at the universities of the Witwatersrand, Leeds and Cambridge, and has lived in Australia since 1978. A literary biographer and Professor of English at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, he has been a Visiting Fellow at Duke University, North Carolina, and at Clare Hall, Cambridge, Distinguished Visiting Scholar at Christ’s College, Cambridge, and Visiting Professor at Princeton University and the University of North Carolina. He is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities. He wrote Alan Paton: A Biography in 1994 as well as other literary biographies.