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C(harles) J(onathan) Driver Biography

C.J. Driver comments:

Nationality: British. Born: Cape Town, South Africa, 1939. Education: St. Andrews College, Grahamstown; University of Cape Town, B.A. (honors) in English, B.Ed., and S.T.D. 1962; Trinity College, Oxford, M. Phil. 1967. Career: President, National Union of South African Students, 1963-64; detained in 1964 under the "90 Day Law;" South African passport revoked, 1966. Assistant teacher, 1964-65 and 1967-68, and housemaster, International Sixth Form Center, 1968-73, Sevenoaks School, Kent; director of 6th Form Studies, Matthew Humberstone Comprehensive School, Humberside, 1973-78; principal, Island School, Hong Kong, 1978-83; headmaster, Berkhamsted School, Hertfordshire, 1983-89. Since 1989 master, Wellington College, Crowthorne, Berkshire. Research fellow, University of York, 1976. Fellow, Royal Society of Arts, 1984. Agent: John Johnson Ltd., 45-47 Clerkenwell Green, London EC1R 0HT.



Elegy for a Revolutionary. London, Faber, 1969; New York, Morrow, 1970.

Send War in Our Time, O Lord. London, Faber, 1970.

Death of Fathers. London, Faber, 1972.

A Messiah of the Last Days. London, Faber, 1974.

Short Stories

Penquin Modern Stories 8, with others. London, Penquin, 1971.

Uncollected Short Story

"Impossible Cry," in London Magazine, February 1966.


I Live Here Now. Lincoln, Lincolnshire and Humberside Arts, 1979.

Jack Copel/C.J. Driver. Cape Town, Philip, 1979.

Hong Kong Portraits. Oxford, Perpetua Press, 1986.

In the Water-Margins. Capetown, Snailpress, and London, CraneRiver Press, 1994.

Holiday Haiku, July-August 1996. Plumstead, England, Firfield PoetryPress, 1997.


Patrick Duncan, South African and Pan-African. London, Heinemann, 1980.

Editor, with H.B. Joicey, Landscape and Light:L Photographs and Poems of Lincolnshire and Humberside. Lincoln, Lincolnshire and Humberside Arts, 1978.


I am a writer and a teacher; the order depends on whether I am writing or teaching, but I am Master of a great national—and increasingly international—boarding school, so am kept busy in term. I write poems, though I do little about publishing them these days; I do much less reviewing than I used to, though I still read books; I spent two years writing the biography of Patrick Duncan, one of the tragic heroes of recent South African history; and I write novels. I believe profoundly that the novel is the "great book of life," and I hope that all my concerns as a human being enter my work as a novelist—love, marriage, children, homes, money, food, work, leisure—though my predominant concerns are with politics—in the widest sense—the relation of self and society, and the relation of conscious and unconscious minds. I would, at the moment, regard myself more as a poet than a novelist; but I hope the picture may change before the final curtain.

* * *

C.J. Driver is a South African writer whose four novels have earned him a considerable reputation. Not exclusively South African in stetting or in theme, the novels concentrate on a sometimes challenging and always recognizable view of contemporary society.

Elegy for a Revolutionary, the first and least satisfactory of the novels, uses Driver's own experience of underground political action in South Africa during the early 1960s. Like Nadine Gordimer's The Late Bourgeois World, it is an attempt to examine the motives and the fate of a group of young white "liberals" who turned to violence as a means of opposing the repressive Nationalist Government. Driver's analysis centers on the personality of the student leader, Jeremy, whom he sees as both traitor and, paradoxically, hero. The Weakness of the novel lies in its excessively uncritical view of Jeremy. Unlike Nadine Gordimer, who presents her revolutionary as an integral part of a wider social setting, Driver fails to create a context in which Jeremy's actions can be understood. And, although he is much concerned with psychological motivation, the discussion of Jeremy's peculiar family relationships and obscure guilts remain too abstract to be really credible.

In Send War in Our Time, O Lord Driver's main theme is the examination of the liberal conscience under stress. His portrayal of Mrs. Allen, a middle-aged white widow, discovering the inadequacy of her life-long moral code based on decency and tolerance, demonstrates his ability to create a convincing character. The setting (an isolated missionary settlement on South Africa's northern border) is also well-presented. The major weakness of this novel lies in its melodramatic and somewhat far-fetched plot, which involves terrorist activity, much police brutality, madness and two or three suicides, all graphically described. In the welter of violent action, the central issues (the failure of liberal values, the need for dynamic leadership, the nature of political commitment) are almost submerged.

Death of Fathers and A Messiah of the Last Days are both set in England, and show a much surer grasp of technique and theme than the earlier books. Driver's interest in details of violence and suffering are still in evidence, but now become part of a general vision of modern life. Death of Fathers has a close affinity with Elegy for a Revolutionary, although it is set in the confines of an English public school. Its central character is a schoolmaster, and, as in the earlier novel, he is both "heroic" (larger in every way than his colleagues) and "treacherous" (he betrays the confidence of his most brilliant and difficult pupil, in an attempt to "save" him). Again, Driver explores the nature of guilt, and the concept of betrayal, which appears, in his view, to be an inherent part of human experience. Friendship between two different but complementary male characters forms another strand in the novel, and is more competently handled here than in the earlier book.

In A Messiah of the Last Days Driver returns to a contemplation of political action. This time he makes his anti-establishment figures a group of idealistic young anarchists, the Free People, who set up a commune in a disused warehouse in London. Their leader, charismatic John Buckleson, projects such a powerful and attractive vision of a new society that he wins the allegiance of a number of eminently respectable people, as well as exciting the younger members of society. The most ambitious of the four novels, A Messiah of the Last Days contrasts a number of different life styles, and presents a complex image of contemporary Britain. Through the fast-moving story runs what is clearly, by now, Driver's most persistent theme: the need society has for a "leader" with a compelling vision, and its equal need to destroy him. Buckleson, who ends his life as a "vegetable" in a psychiatric ward, having been shot at close range by a former follower of his, is the latest version of Jeremy, sentenced to death for sabotage; of the terrorist leader, gunned down by the police; and of Nigel, the schoolboy who hanged himself. Skilled as Driver undoubtedly is in contriving variations of his theme, one hopes that his interest in leadership and betrayal will not become obsessive.

—Ukrsula Edmands

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