(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Most of William Plomer’s short stories were written in his twenties. His best stories deal with Africa, where he was born and spent much of his early life. His major claim to fame is that he was one of the first white colonists to sympathize with the exploited natives and to foresee the time—which has since arrived—when they would demand democracy and equality.

Plomer was a poet as well as a polished fiction and nonfiction writer. His poetic sensibility is evident in his remarkably mature powers of description. He has the ability to make the reader see, smell, hear, and feel—so that the reader is drawn into a three-dimensional setting.

Plomer was a world traveler for many years, like other famous British writers such as Joseph Conrad, Rudyard Kipling, W. Somerset Maugham, and Graham Greene. The two short-story writers who influenced him most strongly were Guy de Maupassant and Ivan Bunin. Plomer’s remarkable sensitivity made him an accurate recorder of the differences and similarities of humans everywhere—a gift indispensable to a fiction writer. It also made him aware of the social unrest that would lead to such dramatic social and political changes after World War II.

Plomer’s stories are characterized by polished prose, poetic sensitivity to impressions, modesty, sincerity, and freedom from prejudice. In the preface to Four Countries, a collection of stories set in South Africa, Japan, Greece, and England, Plomer wrote: “In their way I think most of my stories reflect the age by isolating some crisis caused by a change of environment or by the sudden and sometimes startling confrontation of different races and classes.”

“Ula Masonda”

Ula Masonda is the name of a young South African native who, like many of his contemporaries, leaves his village to go to Johannesburg to work in the mines. Torn from family, friends, and native soil, Ula Masonda undergoes a character change. He becomes more and more like the dissolute, proletarianized natives who arrived before him. Evil companions lure him into committing robberies in order to support their corrupt lifestyle. He falls in love with a black prostitute. His dangerous occupation leads to his being injured in a rock fall. He is sent back home wearing European clothing which makes him look ridiculous. He no longer feels a sense of belonging and even rejects his own mother as a “heathen.” He is a man without a country, despised by the whites, a stranger among his own people.

This story displays Plomer’s creative imagination as well as his social and political awareness. “Ula Masonda” is unique because it incorporates a long poem prophesying revolution and liberation, presented as part of the hero’s delirium while lying under the rubble. J. R. Doyle, the best explicator of Plomer’s stories, writes: “Clearly Ula Masondo is a symbol, and William Plomer is here concerned not with one human being but with millions.”

“The Child of Queen Victoria”

“The Child of Queen Victoria” is one of Plomer’s best and best-known short...

(The entire section is 1275 words.)