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Cover of Beyond Gold and Diamonds by Melissa Free
January 2021
SUNY Press

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Beyond Gold and Diamonds

Genre, the Authorial Informant, and the British South African Novel
Melissa Free

The first book to examine and establish characteristics of the British South African novel.

"Beyond Gold and Diamonds" demonstrates the importance of southern Africa to British literature from the 1880s to the 1920s, from the rise of the systematic exploitation of the region’s mineral wealth to the aftermath of World War I. It focuses on fiction by the colonial-born Olive Schreiner, southern Africa’s first literary celebrity, as well as by H. Rider Haggard, Gertrude Page and John Buchan, its most influential authorial informants, British authors who spent significant time in the region and wrote about it as insiders. Tracing the ways in which generic innovation enabled these writers to negotiate cultural and political concerns through a uniquely British South African lens, Melissa Free argues that British South African literature constitutes a distinct field, one that overlaps with but also exists apart from both a national South African literary tradition and a tradition of South African literature in English. The various genres that British South African novelists introduced — the New Woman novel, the female colonial romance, the Rhodesian settler romance, and the modern spy thriller — anticipated metropolitan literary developments while consolidating Britain’s sense of its own dominion in a time of increasing opposition.


Melissa Free is an assistant professor of English in literature at Arizona State University.

Praise for this book

“This deeply researched, lively history of how southern Africa and Britain came to be understood as a multidirectional imperial landscape is the first of its kind. Melissa Free gives us a persuasive account of the novels that conjured British South Africa in the modern imperial imagination — and of the authors whose lived experience of the place made them not simply experts, but uniquely colonial informants as well. 'Beyond Gold and Diamonds' is postcolonial literary history at its best.”

Antoinette Burton
Author of "The Trouble with Empire: Challenges to Modern British Imperialism"