Gustav Schoeman Preller

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Gustav Schoeman Preller (1875-1943) was an enormously influential writer, historian, journalist, arts patron, cultural leader, leader of the language struggle, theatre critic.


Born in the district of Pretoria on 4 October 1875, he moved to Pretoria in 1892, working for various businesses and the civil service. He added to his meagre formal learning by wide ranging self-study and exposure to the cultural riches of the capitol. At the time theatre was on offer from many travelling professional companies (e.g. Luscombe Searelle), English amateurs and two Dutch groups, Oefen Baart Kunst and Onze Taal - the latter his favourite. Active during the Anglo-Boer war as artilleryman, he was captured and sent to India where he says the camps provided "theatrical activities". On his return, he became editor of Land en Volk and then assistant editor, and finally editor of Di Volkstem in Pretoria. Preller was an enthusiastic Afrikaner activist and, inspired by the Irish National Theatre Company and the influence of prof. John Purves of the Transvaal University-College, he saw culture as a way of promoting the spread and development of Afrikaans. On 13 December 1905 he becomes the co-founder of the Afrikaanse Taalgenootskap (ATG - "Afrikaans Language Association"), aimed at persuading Afrikaners that Afrikaans was their language, to be used for writing and reading. In 1906 he published Piet Retief , the first of his many influential books on South African history which set the pattern of Afrikaner-nationalist thinking.

His contribution to South African Theatre, Film, Media and Performance

In 1907 he and Harm Oost founded the Afrikaans-Hollandse Toneelvereniging ("Afrikaans-Dutch Theatrical Society") in Pretoria. He was chairman of the AHTV from its founding till 1910, then Honorary chairman. Through the AHTV, Preller also played a significant role in the establishment of several satellite branches in the smaller towns of the then Transvaal. Sometime after the AHTV disbanded in 1918, Preller became the chairman of the Afrikaanse Kultuurvereniging en Toneelskool established by Danie Smal. Throughout his life he strove to establish a national Afrikaans/South African theatre. He utilized his journalist role to promote and support Afrikaans theatre through his excellent critical writing on plays and theatrical issues. His widely quoted introduction to Ou Daniel by Harm Oost is a classic example, while his editorial and critical support of Paul de Groot's first major production, Huis Toe in 1925 set up the start of professionalism in Afrikaans theatre.

However he also contributed to theatre more directly as writer and translator. Piet s'n Tante (1909), his translation of Charley's Aunt (Brandon Thomas), was as popular in Afrikaans as it ever was in English and later became a successful film. Other adaptations and translations of European works include Les Héritiers Rabourdin ("The Rabourtin Heirs") by Émile Zola, translated as Erasmus s'n Erfgename ("Erasmus's Heir") in 1924.

He also wrote the script for the film Di Voortrekkers (1916) and the text for the Pageant of South Africa (1936).

In view of Preller's perception of his own role in the cultural development of the Afrikaner, L.W.B. Binge (1969) refers to his dramatic work as "educational theatre".

[TH, JH]


L.W.B. Binge, 1969

P.J. du Toit, 1988

Erika Terblanche[1]. 2016. "Gustav Schoeman Preller (1875–1943)", ATKV|LitNet-Skrywersalbum 2016-10-18[2]

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