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.
“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
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.
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.