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Daphne Rooke PDF Print E-mail

Daphne Rooke (1914 - 2009), (pseudonym Robert Pointon used sometimes) was born in Boksburg, Transvaal, of an English father and Afrikaans mother. Her grandfather was Siegfried Mare, founder of Pietersburg, and her uncle was Leon Mare, Afrikaans short story writer. Her mother was a writer and "marvellous storyteller". Her father died during the first world war and Daphne Rooke grew up in Durban where she attended Durban Girls' High School, and later moved to Zululand, where A Grove of Fever Trees, her first novel, was set.

During, the 1930s she worked as a journalist in South Africa. She married an Australian, Irvin Rooke, and moved to Australia with him after writing A Grove of Fever Trees. Under the title The Sea Hath Bounds, it won an Afrikaanse Pers literary competition and was published by that publisher in 1946. In Australia Daphne Rooke wrote Mittee (1951), her international bestseller.

A Grove of Fever Trees appeared internationally in 1951, followed in subsequent years by a series of striking novels on turbulent South African themes. Ratoons, set in the canefields of Natal, was resissued in 1990 by Chameleon Press. Ratoons was made a setwork at the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal during the 1980's, and in 1997 She received a honorary doctorate from the University of KwaZulu Natal. In 2003 she had her autobiographical Three Rivers - A Memoir published.

Rooke died on the 21st of January, 2009. at the age of 94 in Cambridge.  She is survived by one daughter.


Selected Work

From A Grove of Fever Trees (1951)

We went to the Bay for the week-end and sat out half the night singing beside a log-fire. At first they sang jazzy songs, but gradually we dropped into the Zulu songs we had known as children. Edward, Prudence, Vera and I were in a charmed circle, from which our visitors were excluded. We did not know then that we would never sing together again. Our youth seemed limitless. After that our lives ran apart like the diverging currents in the Bay. I am the only one who dares go back, not Prudence, for she must not remember Edward, not Vera for memories make her sad and when she is sad she drinks to forget. But I am free. I may remember how our voices drifted across the still water. I may remember that Prudence's face was lovely in the firelight. There is no harm in my remembering for as I am now I cannot change things back to what they were.
Prudence leaned her head against Edward's knee, Pugs or Bugs sat with his arm about Vera. The two strange girls sat together listening to the Zulu songs, clapping their hands in delight.
We roasted yards of boerewors over the glowing coals, burning our fingers and tongues as we ate it.
'Let's never forget this night,' said one of the twins, sentimentally. He licked his greasy fingers.
'I'll always remember it,' said his twin. 'The songs, the firelight and the girls. It's worth keeping.'
I said nothing, but I suppose I am the only one of them who remembers it all.
'You're jolly lucky to have all this, Edward,' he continued. 'We've got a great barn of a place in Maritzburg - full of all those paintings the old man has been collecting - you've seen it - but I don't think that I've been alive until I came here. Don't you feel sick at the stomach at the thought of going back?'
'Not I,' Edward answered indifferently, 'I'm happy wherever I am and I like getting about. I think one carries one's life around inside oneself - it's your spirit that makes you happy or unhappy.'
'No, it's your environment. That's why all your crowd are different. There's nothing stereotyped about any of you.'
'Oh, that's the Ashburn individuality. We're all great individualists. You should hear some of the tales Mother tells about the family. I hope we grow up more respectable. Mother takes it all in her stride but you won't find many people like that.'
We sat sleepily silent, wishing that we were in bed, but nobody wanted to make the first move. I saw one of Edward's friends kiss Vera, Pugs or Bugs, I didn't know which, neither did Vera I'm sure. I slipped up to the house to tell Mother. She turned over indignantly in bed, grumbling.
'A girl's entitled to a bit of fun. Goodness knows she gets little enough of it once she's married. Be off with you.'
Still, she took Vera aside the next morning and said earnestly: 'I hope you know how to behave yourself with the boys, young lady.'
Vera looked at her angrily. 'Whatever do you mean, Mother?'
'I've got my ways of finding out things, don't you fret. But just you be careful with those boys.' She leaned forward and looked into Vera's smooth face, saying in a mysterious whisper, 'Do you know anything about the Facts of Life, my girl?'
Vera said uncomfortably: 'Don't be silly, Mother, I'm seventeen, not seven.'
'As long as you know. There are pitfalls for a young girl.'
'It's that Danny. He's been spying on Pugs and me. I'll fix him.'
'Danny never said a word. And you leave him alone, else he'll start his tricks and what will your Pugs or Bugs or whatever his name is think then?'
On the journey home the rain fell in sheets and it was almost impossible to get through the drifts. We had not brought chains with us so that the car slipped dangerously over the road. On steep hills and through drifts Mother made us climb out, saying gloomily that if anything did happen to the car, only she would be killed.
'I hope you remember this all your life, Bugs and Pugs,' said Edward bitterly, as we trudged up a hill in a dreary procession. He was in a bad mood because Prudence, who had been holding a muslin bag full of eggs, for some reason never fully explained, had lurched against him when the car sank on its side in a rut, smashing the eggs in his face. Edward had not started to shave then and the slimy egg-yolk hung from the down on his chin like a fantastic beard. The girls giggled at him, despite their misery.
It took us two days to get back to the farm. We slept in deserted farmhouses at night and pushed on through the sea of mud during the day. There were not enough blankets to go round and the food was nearly finished. It was not possible to get a fire going. We looked a scrubby crew when we eventually reached home, covered in mud and blue with cold and hunger. Even the twins appeared depressed. I think they had begun to long for 'the great barn of a place in Maritzburg'.
For the rest of the holidays the sun flaunted in the sky without a decent covering of cloud. The twins, who insisted on going about without hats in order to toughen themselves, were a hideous combination of freckles and peeling noses.
The dancing, singing, laughing and private jokes continued unabated. They were having a lovely time, but I began to wish that they would go. They did not understand when I told them stories about the Zulus, I could see that they thought I was 'queer' and wondered how Edward came to have a brother like me. There was a great deal I wanted to tell them so that I could become friendly with them, but I could not find the words in which to say it.


1946. The Sea Hath Bounds. Johannesburg: A.P.B Bookstore.
A Grove Of Fever Trees. Houghton Mifflin.
Mittee. Victor Gollancz.
Ratoons. Victor Gollanncz.
Wizards' Country. Victor Gollancz.
Beti. Victor Gollancz.
A Lover For Estelle. Victor Gollancz.
Diamond Jo: A Novel. Victor Gollancz.
Boy on the Mountain.  Victor Gollancz.
Margaretha de la Porte. Victor Gollancz.

2003. Three Rivers - A Memoir. Cambridge: Daffodil Press.