Remarkable People

ID #5207

Herman Charles Bosman, Author, South Africa.

Herman Charles Bosman (1905-1951) is South Africa's greatest short story writer. He studied the works of Edgar Alan Poe and Mark Twain, and developed a style emphasizing the use of irony. His English-language works utilize primarily Afrikaner characters and point to the many contradictions in Afrikaner society during the first half of the twentieth century.

Bosman was born at Kuilsrivier and raised with English as well as Afrikaans. While  young, his family moved to Johannesburg where he went to Jeppe High School in Kensington where he contributed to the school magazine. When Bosman was sixteen, he started writing short stories for the Sunday Times. He attended the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) and submitted various pieces to student literary competitions.

On graduating he accepted a teaching position in an Afrikaans school in the Groot Marico. The area and its people inspired him and provided the background for his best known short stories – the Oom Schalk Lourens series and the Voorkamer sketches. 

During school holidays in 1926 he returned to visit his family in Johannesburg. During an argument, he fired a rifle and killed his stepbrother. He was sentenced to death and moved to Death Row at the Pretoria Central Prison. He was later reprieved and sentenced to ten years with hard labour. In 1930, he was released on parole after serving half his sentence. His experiences in jail formed the basis for his semi-autobiographical book Cold Stone Jug.

He then started a printing company and was part of a literary set in Johannesburg, associating with poets, journalists and writers, including Aegidius Blignaut. Needing a break, he toured overseas for nine years, spending most of his time in London. The short stories that he wrote during this period formed the basis for Mafeking Road.

At the start of the Second World War, he returned to South Africa and worked as a journalist. He found time to translate the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam into Afrikaans. He lamented the fact that Johannesburg never respected its heritage. Writing in The Standard Theatre he wrote: "They will pull down the Standard Theatre like they have pulled down all the old buildings, theatres, gin-palaces, dosshouses, temples, shops, arcades, cafes and joints that were associated with the mining-camp days of Johannesburg. Because I know Johannesburg and am satisfied that there is no other city in the world that is so anxious to shake off memories of its early origins."

He married Ella Manson, and the couple became known for their bohemian lifestyle. Parties ended well after midnight with much witty conversation. After a housewarming party he suffered severe chest pains and was taken to Edenvale Hospital. On admission he was asked, "Place of birth?" to which he replied, "Born Kuilsrivier - Died Edenvale Hospital." He was discharged and collapsed at home a few hours later. He died as he was being rushed to hospital. He is buried in Westpark Cemetery in Westdene, with a triangular headstone that reads "Die Skrywer, The Writer, Herman Charles Bosman, b 3.2.1905, d 14.10.1951"

After his death, the rights to his works were auctioned, and purchased by his last wife. Upon her death, those rights were passed to her son, who retains those rights. Only three of his books were published during his lifetime -- Mafeking Road, Jacaranda in the Night and Cold Stone Jug.

His biography was written several times by Valerie Rosenberg. The first was called Sunflower to the Sun, followed by Herman Charles Bosman, a Pictorial Biography and most recently by Herman Charles Bosman: Between the Lines. The last of these contains new research and deals in detail with aspects of Bosman's life and parentage that were at first considered taboo. Because many of his stories were originally published in long-forgotten magazines and journals, there are a number of anthologies by different collators each of which contains a different selection. His original books have also been published by several publishers. RSAHCB

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Last update: 2014-03-30 20:19
Author: Alan McIver
Revision: 1.5

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