Let me take you to Utrecht.

No, not the Utrecht between Vryheid and Newcastle in South Africa.

I will take you to the original Utrecht, the medieval town in the centre of The Netherlands. The pretty town with its canals and old houses and the seat of the archbishop of the Roman Catholic Church.

A bit to the east of the old center of town you will find the Mauritsstraat, named after Prince Maurits, son of Willem of Orange, the founding father of the Low Lands. We will walk up to number 76 (just use your Google Maps). Have a close look at this nice house. In the year 1965 this house was bought by a Foundation, with the purpose of housing students from South Africa.

In 1977 a young South African writer stayed at the house, she wrote a novel, and this writer, Marlise Joubert, gave the novel the title ‘Klipkus’. When you read this book you will come across a handdrawn map of a section of Utrecht. On it you wild the Mauritsstraat and surroundings. This area has become part of the book, as the main character of Klipkus, Adria, lives temporarely in a nearby house (with other people).

The novel contains a number of letters.

One set of letters is written by Adri, a young student at an South African university, to Brigitte. They got to know one another at the movies. Brigitte worked at the very same university, where she had studied as well.

The second set of letters is written years later by Adri, from Utrecht, to Brigitta who lives and works at her farm in South Africa.

Another set of letters is written by Brigitte and a publisher, who is willing to publish the letters written by Adri.

The novel starts with a section about the relationship between Brigitte and her publisher.

I said in the previous paragraph that the novels start, but it starts earlier with a quote from Sappho and one from Lewis Carroll. This Sappho plays an important role in the background. Sappho was a female poet from the island Lesbos, with its rocky coast (klipkus). The dates of birth and death of Sappho are unknown (630 BC ? – 580 BC ?). It is said that she started a kind of boardingschool for young girls of the aristocracy. In her poems Sappho writes about an atmosphere of intimacy between her and the girls. This gave her the reputation of being a lover of her own kind. And the word lesbian means ‘from the island Lesbos’.  In many plays in the Greek traditions she is featured in this way. According to some her poems speak more about bisexuality.

In the first group of letters Adri writes in poetical words about her blossoming love for Brigitte and she assumes her love is reciprocal. She finds it very hard to notice Brigitte’s love for Steve and her marriage. She hopes that Brigitte will give her some attention and love.

In the second set of letters it is clear that Adri is in Utrecht, but she is not at ease. She has travelled to The Netherlands with a young man Phaon. (The Greek playwright Menander wrote a comedy Leukadia, in which he suggests that Sappho committed suicide after she notices that her love for the ferryman Phaon comes to naught). She tries to convince Brigitte to come to Utrecht so she and Phaon and Brigitte can be together. The marriage of Brigitte and Steve has shipwrecked. It becomes clear that Brigitte will not travel to Utrecht. At the same time Adri travels to Paris and shares her time with a man she met there.

In the third set of letters Brigitte and the publisher Victor Vink write about the possibillity of publishing these letters and the looming pressure of the sensors of the State. Brigitte and the editor meet at the farm and get along well, to say the least. 

In her last letter from Utrecht Adri writes about her return to South Africa, to be with Brigitte at last and forever. But she will arrive breathless. This final journey with its final farewell is like a orgasm. The expected arrival in South Africa is carefully written down. 

It was said that the poems of Sappho speak more about bi-sexuality than about lesbian relations. That is the impression I got from the letters from Adri as well. The feelings of love from Adri are not exclusive but inclusive. And, maybe, at the bottom of it all, it is a search for identity. This is what Adri writes in one of her Utrecht-letters. The people with whom she shares that house in Utrecht make her think about her own identity. In this way we are back to the quote from Lewis Carroll, the quote that is taken from ‘Alice in Wonderland’

When you reflect on your own identity it can be a struggle between a rock and a hard place.

 Marlise Joubert – Klipkus – 1978

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I enjoy reading about Africa. New books. Old books. By African writers. By non-African writers. Novel. History. Travel. Biographies. Autobiographies. Politics. Colonialism. Poetry.

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