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The official site of the Stuart Cloete Literary Estate: To Africa and back
Biography

TO AFRICA AND BACK

Stuart Cloete in South Africa

After the war, Cloete returned with his new wife to Condette where his family stayed in France. He had been unable to find a job in England and here they could stretch his soldiers' half pay. He described their peaceful country existence as perhaps the only therapy he could endure.

I avoided strangers. I cried easily. I read no newspapers I escaped into the primitive reality of my Eve and my garden. I was a lover of everything that lived.

But Cloete said he had ‘always wanted Africa.' His father had brought him up on stories of hunting lion and elephant and African wars. So, after being pensioned because of his lame leg, he applied for a farming job in South Africa which was then a British colony.

He stayed with cousins in the Cape before heading North to work for the Transvaal Estates and Development company. Cloete's family was one of the oldest in the Cape and had produced the famous Constantia wine. But their lands had slowly been whittled down, which he explained by their continuing to maintain the extravagant lifestyle that slavery helped them afford, even once it was abolished.

Of the ride to the north, Cloete said the land seemed empty and depressing after the lush fields of Europe. However, when he moved from his first farm to work on a ranch, he discovered the Africa which later he was to spend his life writing about. In the second part of his autobiography he described the horrors of drought - but also beauty that hurt when it was viewed by one person alone:   

With the evening approaching the whole African world became much more than beautiful in the pale roseate lilac light, with the shadows of the sparse trees cast on the foothills like black pencil stripes a hundred yards long. The perspective of everything changed. Distant hills came forward so that you felt that by stretching out your hand you could touch them. Bushes grew into trees. The light deepened from pink to mauve to purple.

Having worked on other people's property's, Cloete and Eileen discovered a farm they could afford closer to Pretoria. He called it Constantia and turned it into a successful cattle farm. But once he was established, he began to desire change once more:

In every case it would almost seem that as soon as a thing was done, as soon as tomorrow began to resemble yesterday, and I could see no change but a slow consolidation of the existing situation, I have smashed the mould.

As Cloete's desire for farming disappeared, so too did his desire for his wife. While trying to accept responsibility for his divorce later, he also recalled how frustrating their temperamental differences were. She was ‘social and conventional,' while he was neither. He was ‘affectionate and demonstrative,' while she was ‘calm and composed.' When she was away for a month he met Monica who initiated an affair, and his problems with his wife were highlighted by this woman who ‘met his desire more than halfway.' He had a couple more affairs before leaving Eileen:

I had reached an end. I do not think any woman had been more loved. But love seems to me rather like a cup - at the end, unless it is replenished by being returned, it disappears, evaporates, and nothing is left but the dregs.

The break up plunged Cloete into a deep depression and he even considered suicide. He reflected that - if Monica had told him earlier she was to marry someone else - he may have stayed with Eileen. But by the time he heard the news he was already in London, alone. He was nearing 40 and had decided to try his hand at writing before it became too late.   

To make the decision to come to London I must have been suffering from a touch of madness. I had been dying to jump out of my skin almost literally, was being forced by the circumstances of my marriage, my love affair, and he fact that having got the farm on its feet I was not ready to continue the routine of work. 

In Depth