Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
When published first in The New Yorker (on October 13, 1975), this story was entitled “City Lovers”; the second part was added for publication in A Soldier’s Embrace (1980). The two parts are quite discrete stories, connected only by the central theme.
Part 1 gives a detailed account of the professional and cultural background of Dr. Franz-Josef von Leinsdorf, who has worked in Peru, New Zealand, and the United States in a senior, though not executive capacity, for companies interested in mineral research; his special interest is underground watercourses; his cultural interests are skiing, music appreciation, and reading the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke. Though he is thought “not unattractive” by the female employees of the mining company, none has been invited to go out with him; he lives alone in a two-room apartment.
When Leinsdorf cannot find his preferred brand of razor blades, a mulatto cashier offers to see that the stock is replenished before his next visit to the supermarket. On returning home one evening after a trip away, he is told by the cashier that the blades have arrived; because he is burdened with bags and cases, she offers to get them and take them to his apartment. Quite uncomfortably, Leinsdorf offers her a tip, which she declines. He then asks her to come in for a cup of coffee.
Soon, she brings his groceries two or three times a week; he gives her chocolates. She sews a button on his trousers, and he touches her, commenting, “You’re a good girl.” Leinsdorf is impressed by her small and finely made body, her smooth skin, “the subdued satiny colour of certain yellow wood,” and her crepey hair. The two become lovers—first during the afternoons, then overnight; she tells the caretaker that she is Leinsdorf’s servant, and her mother believes the same.
Near Christmas, three police...
(The entire section is 773 words.)
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Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Originally published as merely “City Lovers,” in 1975, it was expanded for Gordimer’s 1980 collection A Soldier’s Embrace to be “Town and Country Lovers.” The two short stories “City Lovers” and “Country Lovers” are paired stories that reveal the devastating personal effects of racial segregation and were included in the 1982 edition of Six Feet of the Country. The Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act of 1949 and the Immorality Act of 1950 were laws passed by the white government to prevent miscegenation in any form. In “City Lovers,” Dr. Franz-Josef von Leinsdorf is a foreign geologist who becomes sexually involved with a colored shopgirl. The girl, who is appropriately unnamed to indicate her lack of social status, becomes little more than the object of the doctor’s sexual and domestic needs. The two are arrested, and their transgression is made public. In “Country Lovers,” a white boy and a black girl grow up together and become teenage lovers. Although the girl, Thebedi, marries a black man, she soon gives birth to a child that was no doubt fathered by Paulus, her white lover. At the story’s end, the child is dead and the parents stand trial, but insufficient evidence fails to convict either parent for violating the law.
Both stories are told in a straightforward manner and tone, but the emotional impact of the events is strongly suggested. In the compact form of a short story, Gordimer effectively captures the impact of South African laws upon individual lives.