Olive Schreiner - The Story of an African Farm

A Tea with a Book Addict talk

Regarded as one of the first feminist novels, this is the story of three children growing up on a farm in the Karoo, South Africa. We meet them first as children and then as adults. When published in 1883 it immediately attracted controversy for its portrayal of feminism, pre-marital sex and even transvestitism.

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“Olive Schreiner, the first and for many years the only, South African writer to win a substantial reputation and readership outside her own country.”
― Dan Jacobson

A brave statement in its time

When The Story of an African Farm came out in 1883, there were hopes that ‘the great South African novelist’ had emerged. Sadly, Olive Schreiner never wrote another really good novel, but she did write feminist and political works that were hugely influential.

Her novel was a brave statement. It explores the position of women in late 19th century South Africa, it paints a picture of the cultural and intellectual deprivation of life on a remote farm in the Karoo, and it even includes a cross-dressing character which was something quite shocking for the time. The book had sold over 100,000 copies by the end of the 19th century and was admired by Oscar Wilde, Gladstone and George Bernard Shaw. It has often been compared to Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights.

Writing powerfully about Apartheid

Learn more about the woman behind the book. Olive Schreiner drew heavily from her own childhood in her creation of the book’s heroine Lyndall. Discover how Schreiner fought for better treatment of the Boers and warned about what could happen if there were a Boer War. Enjoy some ‘virtual travel’ to the stunning Karoo landscapes and to her homes which are now museums.

No South African could today write a book which so ignored the position of black South Africans. No major character in her book is black, and yet the novel is a condemnation of white colonialism and the harm that can be done to colonisers and colonised alike. The book inspired others who went on to write powerfully about Apartheid and the tragic outcomes of white settlement in South Africa.

Discuss it with me

Regarded as one of the first feminist novels, this is the story of three children growing up on a farm in the Karoo. Let’s discuss it here.

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I only recommend books I have read or know. Some of these links are my affiliate links. If you buy a book by clicking on one of these links I receive a small commission. It doesn’t cost you anything extra, but does help cover the cost of producing my free newsletter.
Featured image credit- Kasha Kropinski & Anneke Weidemann in The Story of an African Farm, 2004 Rodini Films movie adaptation, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0388441/

Comments (6)

  1. Linda Barnes

    The Story of an African Farm. I’m not that far into it, but pretty vicious!! I hope that retribution plays a LARGE part in the remainder of the book, because I don’t like charlatans!!
    I saw the movie, The Dry yesterday, and it is riveting – even though I had read the book 2 years ago..

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Isn’t that Bonaparte an utterly vile character!
      I also saw The Dry recently and really enjoyed it.
      Happy New Year, Linda.

  2. Heather Grant

    I agree with your comments that Olive Schreiner describes the Karoo area beautifully and one can visualise what that area looked like. The story is rather bleak and I must confess that I found the novel hard going. And yes, I too found Napoleon an insidious and horrible character.

    However, I found the talk on Olive herself extremely interesting. A fascinating woman and I would like to read more about her in the future.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Yes, a most interesting woman, but an odd and rather challenging book.

  3. Vanessa Stockford

    Hi Susannah,

    I have managed to acquire a copy of the movie, but it is not a region 4 or region-free DVD. I am working on how to convert it to play on my completely inflexible Sony DVD player. Looking forward to it! This was not a book that had ever crossed my radar before – how lovely to be introduced to a new author!

    Thanks 🙂


    • Susannah Fullerton

      Oh do let me know what the film is like, once you’ve been able to watch it.

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