William Plomer

Author: William Plomer

Profile: William Charles Franklyn Plomer better known as William Plomer was a South African and British author, literary editor, poet and novelist. A series of librettos have been written by him for Benjamin Britten. Some of his poetry has been written by him under the Robert Pagan, pseudonym.

He was born to British parents in Pietersburg in Transvaal Colony in South Africa after which in 1929 he moved to England after spending some years in Japan. However it is not clear if he himself has lived as an openly gay.

During his youth, he and family moved many times between South Africa and England.  Plomer completed most of his education in the UK after which his father finished his civil service and began managing the trading station in the Zululand region.

In 1926 Plomer was major contributor, editor and co-founder of Voorslag, a short-lived literary magazine alongwith two other South African rebels, Laurens van der Post and Roy Campbell.

Plomer became the special correspondent for the Natal Witness in 1926 after which he travelled through Poland, Soviet Union, China, Belgium, Korea and Germany and entered literary circles in London, through his friendship with his publisher Virginia Woolf and Leonard Woolf, her husband. From 1937 to 1940 he became literary adviser and chief reader to Jonathan Cape and as well as literary editor for Faber and Faber. He participated in BBC radio broadcasts from 1937 and contributed to the Aldeburgh Festival from the very start in 1948.

Writing style: William Plomer is well known as a modernist and is work was highly admired by many writers including Nadine Gordimer and Virginia Woolf. He was a homosexual and one of his novels at least presents a gay relationship. When Plomer was just 21 years of age, he began writing, Turbott Wolfe, his first novel which gained him popularity in the Union of South Africa. The theme of the book was inter-racial love and marriage.

Published Texts:


1925 – Turbott Wolfe (novel)

1927 – Notes for Poems (poetry)

1927 – I Speak for Africa (short stories)

1929 – The Family Tree (poetry)

1929 – Paper Houses (short stories)

1931 – Sado (novel)

1932 – The Case is Altered (novel)

1932 – The Fivefold Screen (poetry)

1933 – The Child of Queen Victoria (short stories)

1933 – Cecil Rhodes (biography)

1934 – The Invaders (novel)

1936 – Ali the Lion (biography)

1937 – William Plomer (editor)

1938 – Selections from the Diary of the Rev

1940 – Selected Poems

1942 – In a Bombed House (poetry)

1943 – Double Lives: An Autobiography

1945 – Curious Relations (memoirs of Butt’s family)

1945 – The Dorking Thigh and Other Satires (poetry)

1949 – Four Countries (short stories)

1952 – Museum Pieces (novel)

1955 – A Shot in the Park (poetry)

1958 – At Home: Memoirs

1960 – Collected Poems

1960 – A Choice of Ballads (poetry)

1966 – Taste and Remember (poetry)

1970 – Celebrations (poetry)

1973 – Collected Poems (expanded edition)

1975 – The Autobiography of William Plomer

1978 – Electric Delights

Awards and Acknowledgements:

1951 – Elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature

1959 – Awarded an honorary D.Litt by the University of Durham

1966 – Chaired the panel of judges for the Cholmondeley Award

1963 – Won the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry

1967 and 1972 – Publicly tipped for the Poet Laureateship

1968 – Awarded a CBE

1958 – Elected president of the Poetry Society

1976 – Mbulelo Mzamane was awarded the inaugural Mofolo-Plomer Prize created by Nadine Gordimer which was named in honor of Thomas Mofolo the Basotho writer and Plomer.

1973 – The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper’s Feast (the collection of children’s poems) won the Whitebread Award

Correspondence and literary papers in an extensive collection besides full biography lists on the website and printed books are available at Durham University.