Veld Girl - Cynthia Stockley: A Recreated Life

by Tim and Betty McLoughlin
This is a biography of a woman who, for all her romances, tribulation, and despair, was determined to shape an identity for herself in a fast changing world. Cynthia Stockley, who became one of the most widely read writers of the early twentieth century, was born in South Africa in 1873. Her romantic novels and short stories sold in their tens of thousands from London to New York, Los Angeles to Sydney and Perth, to Canada, New Zealand, India, and South Africa. Her most acclaimed novel Poppy went through thirty editions and sold over a million copies. The nine silent films based on her books were shown in cities and towns all over the world.

Every phase of her life had its dramas – the Shona Rising in Rhodesia in the 1890s, the stage in London, married life in New York, life as a writer on the Left Bank in Paris in the first World War, time on the veld as a farmer’s wife in Rhodesia.

The biography shows how closely her romantic novels draw on her own experiences of anguish, dejection, and thoughts of suicide: love wins through in spite of despair, betrayal, and violence. More, than that she used writing to explore what it means to be a young, intelligent, gutsy female in a world run by men: how do social conventions, male expectations, the imperial agenda in Africa affect such a woman? How does she find the freedom, the liberty to be her true self in such a world?

The facts of her life as we know them provide the basis to look at the fiction. Here we see the woman Stockley imagined she might have been, or how any woman could be if she struggled to find and assert her own identity. Her stories are repeatedly autobiographical. She comes through as an independent spirit creating her fiction against the experiences she’d known in milieus ranging from her childhood in the Boer Republic of the Orange Free State, to settler life in Rhodesia, to the arty ambience of Paris, to early twentieth-century New York, Jersey, and London.

Reviewers called her humour ‘scathing’ and the writing ‘powerful’. They remarked on her ‘racy descriptions’, giving readers the enjoyment of partaking in what was to many an exotic world, marked by the enthusiasm of empire and early colonial life. Her fiction had ‘plenty of love, of a dashing, ingenious kind and plenty of incident,’ said a review in India. That’s what readers could not get enough of, intimate lives of heroines played out in places and circumstances they could only imagine. Stockley recreated a world which has long disappeared, along with its political attitudes, prejudices, and agendas. Yet her life captures the challenges and strains of a single woman be it in Africa or Europe facing into the twentieth century.

 Veld Girl – Cynthia Stockley: A Recreated Life   by Tim and Betty McLoughlin ISBN 978-91-7637-012-4 502 pages (5 x 8 Perfect Bound on Creme w/Gloss Lam)


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