William Plomer Biography


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

William Charles Franklyn Plomer was born of English parents in Transvaal (now South Africa) on December 10, 1903. He was educated at Rugby in England and St. John’s College in Johannesburg. In South Africa he worked on farms and later operated a trading store with his father in Zululand. He became sensitized both to the beauty of the country and the injustice of white colonialism. He left South Africa when outrage on the part of his fellow white colonists forced the closure of his antiracist journal Voorslag (whiplash). He had already scandalized the white elite minority with his first novel, Turbott Wolfe (1925), because of its condoning of intermarriage between whites and blacks and criticism of the multiple ways in which blacks were exploited and in some instances brutalized by whites. He traveled extensively—notably in Japan, Greece, and Italy—before finally settling in England in 1932, where he eventually became a prominent British man of letters. During World War II he served in British Naval Intelligence. He was noted for his wide range of literary interests, which included short stories, poems, novels, memoirs, essays, travel sketches, translations, musical librettos, and a children’s book. He knew many of the most important writers of his time. For more than thirty years he was senior editor at the London publishing firm of Jonathan Cape. He died in East Sussex, England, on September 21, 1973.