Biography (Dictionary of World Biography: Twentieth Century)
Article abstract: Through his writings and political work, Paton both foresaw and helped to effect fundamental changes in the shape of South African society.
Alan Stewart Paton was born in Pietermaritzburg, Natal, South Africa, on January 11, 1903. His father James was a stern authoritarian from Scotland, and his mother Eunice was a mild schoolteacher of British ancestry. The family was of the Christadelphian faith, which Alan would leave as a young man. A good student, Alan attended the Berg St. Girls School, a coeducational facility, and accelerated quickly. Though timid and shy, he enjoyed performing and role-playing. In 1914, Paton earned a scholarship to attend Maritzburg College, one of South Africa’s oldest schools. He graduated at the age of fifteen with many prizes and honors.
In 1919 Paton entered Natal University College on an Education Department bursary to become a science teacher. While there, he published poems in the Natal Witness and the campus magazine, acted in plays, began a novel, and was active in the debating society. Paton developed a circle of friends known for their puns and clever repartee. He joined the rugby, tennis, and cricket clubs and was selected as a dapper dresser by a campus journal. Though short of stature—he never grew taller than 5 feet 7 inches—his pale blue eyes and straight brown hair made him a fairly attractive man.
While at the...
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IntroductionThe timing of Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country, his most famous work in support of racial tolerance and sensitivity, could not have been more ironic. Written in the waning days of the Second World War, the novel was published in 1948, just as supporters of apartheid took over South Africa and turned their belief in segregation and discrimination into law. In depicting the struggles of one Zulu family, Cry, the Beloved Country encapsulated the turmoil of South Africa as a whole, and the popularity of the novel made it a touchstone of the antiapartheid movement. Though the face of the country would be forever changed by five decades of racial segregation, Paton’s novel ended with the main character in prayer—a prayer that Paton had for his conflicted homeland.
- Early in his life, Paton oversaw a reformatory school and instituted many progressive reforms during his tenure.
- Paton founded the South African Liberal Party five years after the Nationalists took control of South Africa. The party’s primary goal was to end apartheid.
- Paton was a proponent of nonviolent opposition to apartheid practices, placing him at odds with some South African activists who felt that violence was a necessary tool for freedom.
- Besides two film versions, Cry, the Beloved Country has been adapted into a stage musical by noted playwright Maxwell Anderson and composer (and Brecht collaborator) Kurt Weill.
- The year following Paton’s death, the Johannesburg-based publication Sunday Times instituted an award in his name honoring nonfiction writing. One of its early recipients was Nelson Mandela.
Alan (Stewart) Paton Criticism
Alan Paton (Vol. 10)
Alan Paton (Vol. 106)
Alan Paton (Vol. 4)
Cry, the Beloved Country (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters)
Cry, the Beloved Country (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
Cry, the Beloved Country (Masterplots, Revised Second Edition)
Biography (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Much that matters in his writing stems from the fact that Alan Stewart Paton was born in 1903 in Pietermaritzburg in Natal, South Africa. He loved that local land as much as he loved books. He learned both passions, which figure prominently in his writings, from his father, James Paton, an immigrant from Scotland, and his mother, Eunice Warder James Paton, the daughter of English immigrants. His father was a deeply religious Christian and a strict authoritarian, so strict that his disciplinary practices provoked Paton to resist authoritarianism in any form.
Paton married Doris “Dorrie” Olive Francis in 1928, and they had two sons, David and Jonathan. Following Dorrie’s death in 1967, he married Anne Hopkins. After teaching chemistry and mathematics in high school and college, Paton worked as principal of the Diepkloof reformatory from 1935 until the publication of Cry, the Beloved Country, his first novel, written from the homesick perspective gained during a three-month tour of prisons in England and the United States.
Among the earliest voices for racial equality in South Africa, Paton helped create and vigorously promoted the Liberal Party during the 1950’s, actively opposing his country’s policy of apartheid. That opposition resulted in confiscation of his passport, eventual dissolution of the party, and the South African government’s banning of his beloved Defence and Aid Fund, which had provided legal fees for...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Alan Stewart Paton (PAT-uhn) was born in Pietermaritzburg, Natal, South Africa, on January 11, 1903. He attended high school at Maritzburg College, received a bachelor of science from the University of Natal in 1923 with distinction in physics, and was student representative to the first Imperial Conference of Students in London. He taught privileged youngsters mathematics and chemistry at Ixopo High School, Natal, from 1925 to 1928, then joined the staff of Maritzburg College in 1928. He married Doris Francis the same year; they had two children.
Stricken with enteric fever, he redirected his life and in 1935 became the principal of Johannesburg’s Diepkloof Reformatory for some four hundred delinquent African youths. He immediately instituted major changes to upgrade their quality of life, restore their dignity, encourage improved behavior, and provide job training and paid work opportunities. A decade later, in Cry, the Beloved Country (1948), a pleasant, young reformatory counselor proudly describes these enlightened policies. Debbie Go Home (1961; published in the United States as Tales from a Troubled Land, 1961) also recounts reformatory life. Success at Diepkloof earned Paton an international reputation for penal reform. Ineligible for military duty, he became the wartime chair of the combined Young Men’s Christian...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Alan Paton’s literary creations are inseparable from South Africa and its politics. As Edward Callan so aptly states, the vision of his novels encompasses South Africa’s nationwide conflict “between black aspirations to human dignity and white fears for the loss of power and privilege.” His writings—most particularly Cry, the Beloved Country—speak to the heart in a simple, clear, dramatic way that cannot be ignored. They are intellectually honest, infused with a love of Africa, and exhibit a belief in the essential dignity of all humankind and a sadness at the suffering of a people and nation. They capture the human condition, looking uncompromisingly at desolation, despair, cruelty, violence, and fear yet finding hope in small acts of kindness, in a bird’s song, in fleeting moments of interracial understanding. As long as differences of race, color, or creed produce oppression, Cry, the Beloved Country will continue to be read as avidly as it has been read since its publication.
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Born on January 11, 1903, in Pietermaritzburg, Natal, South Africa, Alan Paton evolved as an eloquent spokesman against apartheid and a great humanitarian. In 1935, after completing a series of educational programs at the University of Natal and teaching in the country school of Ixopo, Paton was appointed principal of the Diepkloof Reformatory school in the Transvaal Province, near the city of Johannesburg. Paton's novel approach (involving freedom of movement, reward, and punishment) proved so successful in the rehabilitation of black juvenile delinquents that in his twelve years as head, the Diepkloof Reformatory was transformed into a model school and Paton became known as an authority on rehabilitation efforts.
After World War II, in 1945, Paton had the opportunity to travel abroad to study the systems and methods of similar correctional facilities in Sweden, Norway, England, the United States, and Canada.
While in Sweden, Paton read John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath, which rekindled his interest in creative writing. Paton had been confined to his hotel room because of an illness and had the opportunity to reflect upon his professional and private life back home in South Africa. Upon regaining his health Paton visited the Cathedral of Trondheim where, he says, "the creative energy that had dammed up in me broke." Paton began writing Cry, the Beloved Country in Sweden and continued writing throughout his trip. The book was...
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Alan Paton is remembered as an exceptional writer, a passionate activist, and a compelling educator. He was born on January 11, 1903, in Pietermaritzburg in Natal, a province of South Africa. Paton’s father, like Jakob van Vlaanderen in Too Late the Phalarope, was a domineering, harsh, and religious man. Although he was a tyrant at home, James Paton also passed along his love of literature and writing to his children. Alan Paton married in 1928, had two children with his wife, and was widowed in 1967. He remarried two years later.
After completing his education at Pietermaritzburg College and Natal University, Paton taught for three years in rural Ixopo, which would later serve as the setting for Cry, the Beloved Country. In 1935, he became the principal of Diepkloof, a school for delinquent boys. Paton changed the dynamics in the school from force and conflict to trust and respect. This experience prompted him to travel around the world to study prison systems. He wrote his first novel during these travels. Upon his return to South Africa, Paton went to live on the south coast of Natal, where he wrote articles about issues pertinent to South Africa. In the early 1950s, he became a founder of the liberal Association of South Africa, which would later evolve into a political party. In the 1960s, the South African government attempted to control Paton’s actions by revoking his passport, so that if he left the country he would not be...
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Perhaps more a great humanitarian than a novelist, Alan Paton (PAT-uhn) nevertheless wrote highly acclaimed novels about racial problems in Africa. Born in Pietermaritzburg, Natal, he wrote out of lifelong familiarity with the land and its people, white and black.
Though always interested in literature, Paton first chose a career in science and became a science teacher in the school at the African village of Ixopo, which was later to figure in Cry, the Beloved Country.
In 1928 he married Doris Francis Lusted, who died in 1968 and was the subject of his For You Departed. He converted from Methodism to Anglicanism in 1930, and in 1935 he became head of a reformatory for delinquent boys and made it a model institution. After abandoning two novels he began Cry, the Beloved Country in 1946 while on a tour studying prison reform. The book, published in 1948, became an overnight success and was eventually translated into twenty languages. Too Late the Phalarope, probably because of its heavy style, was not as well received.
In 1953 Paton founded the Liberal Party and became its president, but the multiracial party was disbanded in 1968. In fact, because of his outspoken opposition to apartheid his passport was withdrawn in 1960 and not returned until 1970. During the 1970’s and 1980’s he continued his...
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Alan Stewart Paton was bom in Pietermaritzburg, Natal (now part of South Africa), on January 11, 1903. At the age of twelve, he entered Maritzburg College (a secondary school). After graduating, he enrolled in courses at the University of Natal. While in college he published his first poems in the university's literary magazine. In 1922 he graduated with a degree in physics.
Two years later he held his first political role by representing the students of his alma mater at the first Imperial Conference of Students in London. After this, he taught mathematics and chemistry at Ixopo High School for white children until 1928. That year he joined the staff at Maritzburg College and married Doris Olive Francis. Together they had a son, David Paton, two years later.
In 1935, Paton moved to Johannesburg to serve as principal of Diepkloof Reformatory for African boys. This position was the result of his friend Jan H. Hofmeyr's dual role in the coalition government. Hofmeyr was both head of Education and the Interior. By the power of this position, Hofmeyr transferred juvenile reform from the Department of Prisons to that of Education. Paton, in other words, as an early proponent of racial harmony, was in an ideal position to influence the direction of South Africa. Unfortunately, the hope of a harmonious South Africa lasted only as long as Hofmeyr's reign in government.
One year after becoming principal, Paton joined the South African Institute of Race Relations. He then had another son named Jonathan. When World War II was declared, Paton volunteered but was found ineligible. In 1942, he was appointed to an Anglican Diocesan Commission whose function was to report on church and race in South Africa. In the following year, he authored a series of articles on crime, punishment, and penal reform. In 1944 he addressed the National Social Welfare Conference, and this paper was later published in 1945 as "The Non-European Offender." Then in 1946 he began his tour of penal and correctional institutions in Europe, the United States, and Canada. While on this tour, he began Cry, the Beloved Country, published in 1948. At the same time as this novel's publication, Jan Hofmeyr died, and the National Party won the election. Apartheid policies were almost immediately enacted.
The international success of Cry, the Beloved Country enabled Paton to be financially independent as well as allowing him to write in opposition to the government and travel abroad. Being known internationally as an author and spokesperson of the conditions in South Africa kept Paton out of trouble with the government. However, the government did confiscate his passport in 1960, not returning it until the early 1970s. In the 1950s he was amongst those who tried to form an opposition Liberal Party to the Nationalist apartheid government. Legislation against non-whites in government forced Paton, who was president of the multi-ethnic party, to disband rather than conform to the new laws in 1968. From his most famous novel of 1948, until his death by throat cancer in 1988 Alan Paton wrote novels, poems, nonfiction articles and biographies, spoke around the world, and remained a proponent of racial equality.