Original Research

Reading water in The Little Karoo

Myrtle J. Hooper, Isabel B. Rawlins
Literator | Vol 45, No 1 | a2022 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/lit.v45i1.2022 | © 2024 Myrtle J. Hooper, Isabel B. Rawlins | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 28 August 2023 | Published: 11 March 2024

About the author(s)

Myrtle J. Hooper, Retired Professor from the Department of English, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Zululand, KwaDlangezwa, South Africa
Isabel B. Rawlins, Department of English, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Zululand, KwaDlangezwa, South Africa

Abstract

Bordered by the Swartberg mountain range to the north and the Cape Fold Mountains to the south, the semi-desert region and its people inspired Pauline Smith’s eponymous collection of stories, The Little Karoo (1925). Earlier critics have argued that, in Smith’s stories, the region’s geographical boundaries (as well as her use of Afrikaans-inflected language) ‘confine’ and ‘restrict’ the world of its characters. Informed by the precepts of ecocriticism, this paper provides a fresh take on Smith’s stories of the Karoo, close to a century after their first publication. Our intention is to ‘read for water’ after Isabel Hoffman, Sarah Nuttall and Charne Lavery, as the motility of the streams and rivers that flow in and through this arid landscape challenges the fixity and enclosure the earlier critics read into her work. Drawing on Hubert Zapf’s conception of literature as ‘cultural ecology’, we are interested in the ‘energetic processes’ of water in the stories, and the ‘ecological space’ in which it makes its impact. Rather than reading water as being at the behest of humans, we seek to recognise the valency it is given in the stories, and in this light to explore the impacts of its presence, its actions, and its absence.

Contribution: This article adds to the emerging field of ecocriticism in South Africa by exploring the literary valency given to water in Pauline Smith’s stories of the Karoo.


Keywords

Pauline Smith; Little Karoo; water; ecocriticism; literary valency

Sustainable Development Goal

Goal 6: Clean water and sanitation

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