She and Harold Weren’t Getting On

Bessie Head’s A Question of Power is a famously autobiographical novel about the mental breakdown of Elizabeth, whose chidhood and current circumstances closely resemble Head’s own.  In letters to her friend Randolphe Vigne, she says that he’ll see plenty of her son in the book (as the “small boy”) and asks if he’s recognised their mutual friend Pat Rensburg as “the Eugene man.”

Given these broad parallels, there’s a difference between Elizabeth’s fictional life and Head’s biography which seems very cheeky indeed.  Elizabeth and Head both leave South Africa following the breakdown of their marriages…

Elizabeth’s husband is a Buddhist gangster just out of jail who is bedding every woman in the neighborhood and has a white boyfriend as well.

Head’s husband, Howard, was a journalist and activist and, according to Vigne at least, a relatively quiet soul compared to the hot-tempered Bessie.

Ouch, Bessie Head.  Ouch.


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