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Olive Schreiner (Olive Emilie Albertina Schreiner) Biography

(1855–1920), (Olive Emilie Albertina Schreiner), The Story of an African Farm, Wuthering Heights

south novel african woman

South African writer, born in Cape Colony, the daughter of a German missionary and an English mother. Her first published novel, The Story of an African Farm (1883), is a classic of modern South African literature. In its intense and poetic evocation of mood and landscape the novel shows the influences of Hardy and of Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights. Set in the Bible-belt veld in the 1860s, on a lonely ostrich farm, the novel follows the lives of a group of white characters, notably Tant' Sannie, a widowed Boer woman, Lyndall and Em, two orphaned cousins who grow up under her guardianship, Waldo, the idealistic son of the farm's devout German overseer, and the roguish smooth-talking conman Bonaparte Blenkins. The very different outlooks of the two young women provide the novel's main interest: Lyndall, brilliant, beautiful, and rebellious, is a doomed and unforgettable heroine, who rejects marriage, gives birth to an illegitimate child, and subsequently dies; Em is a more typical example of traditional womanhood, who eventually runs the farm with her husband Gregory. Schreiner's treatment of women, particularly Lyndall with her passionately held unconventional views, a pioneer New Woman, established her as an important early writer for feminists. Published under the pseudonym ‘Ralph Iron’ the novel received instant acclaim. When the author's female identity was revealed, Schreiner was courted by literary and progressive London where she had gone in 1881, returning to South Africa in 1889, and she formed lasting friendships with Havelock Ellis and E. Carpenter. Her other novels are the shorter, allegorical Trooper Peter Halket of Mashonaland (1897), which denounced the expansionist designs of Cecil Rhodes; Man to Man (1926), described by the author as ‘the story of a woman, a simple childlike woman, that goes down, down’; and Undine (1929), written when she was 18, the first novel she wrote. As a pioneer feminist, and an early critic of incipient apartheid and of British colonialism, she wrote An English South African's View of the Situation (1898), which attacked British anti-Boer policies; A Letter on the South African Union and the Principles of Government (1909), an indictment of policies towards the black majority; Woman and Labour (1911), regarded by early British feminists as the ‘Bible of the Women's Movement’; and Thoughts on South Africa (1923). Schreiner's health declined rapidly in her final years, and she died alone in a Cape Town boarding house. The definitive edition of the Olive Schreiner Letters (vol. 1, 1988) was edited by Richard Rive. Biographies include The Life of Olive Schreiner (1924), by her husband Samuel Cron Cronwright, a South African politician, and Olive Schreiner (1980), by Ruth First and Ann Scott.

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