A study of Roy Campbell as a South African modernist poet
Roy Campbell was once a key figure in the South African literary canon. In recent years, his poetry has faded from view and only intermittent studies of his work have appeared. However, as the canon of South African literature is redefined, I argue it is fruitful to consider Campbell and his work in a different light. This thesis aims to re-read both the legend of the literary personality of Roy Campbell, and his prose and poetry written during the period of “high” modernism in England (the 1920s and 1930s), more closely in relation to modernist concerns about language, meaning, selfhood and community. It argues that his notorious, purportedly colonial, “hypermasculine” personae, and his poetic and personal explorations of “selfhood”, offer him a point of reference in a rapidly changing literary and social environment. Campbell lived between South Africa and England, and later Provence and Spain, and this displacement resonated with the modernist theme of “exile” as a necessary condition for the artist. I will suggest that, like the Oxford dandies whom he befriended, Campbell’s masculinist self-styling was a reaction against a particular set of patriarchal traditions, both English and colonial South African, to which he was the putative heir. His poetry reflects his interest in the theme of the “outsider” as belonging to a certain masculinist literary “tradition”. But he also transforms this theme in accordance with a “modernist” sensibility.