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Olive Schreiner Letters Online

“Two articles on woman, Lloyd ratted about war” Read letter...
Olive Schreiner

Welcome to the Olive Schreiner Letters Online!

The feminist and socialist writer and social theorist Olive Schreiner (1855-1920) was one of the most important and radical social commentators of her day.

Her published writings include novels, allegories and influential works of social theory, among them The Story of An African Farm, Undine, From Man to Man, Dreams, Dream Life and Real Life, Trooper Peter Halket of Mashonaland, The Political Situation, Closer Union, and Woman and Labour.

The writer Moore Ritchie, in reviewing Thoughts on South Africa, wrote a comment that seems even more true today than in 1923, that:

'Olive Schreiner was not a creative artist only, but one whose comprehensive mind was such as to entitle her to rank as one of the greatest women of the age, and incontestably the most formidable interpretive intellect that South Africa has produced. You may disagree with her as you read; you may assent with reservations: but, whatever your attitude, you feel her forcing you to think hard. On the first page of almost any of her books you realise at once that you are in touch with that rare phenomenon, a truly first-class mind, bearing all the essential marks of such a mind, such an imagination, impassioned wide sympathy, and penetrative power bent to the search for truth. ... Most remarkable to anyone who knows latter-day South Africa is the author's apparent gift of prophecy; her forecasts written in most instances not less than a quarter of a century ago have all come true to-day. But then to prophecy is only to possess the gift of thinking so deeply and so logically as to be able to pronounce the outcomes of one's conclusion. ...' (Moore Ritchie (1923) 'Olive Schreiner on South Africa' The Bookman September 1923 pp.284-5)

Around 4800 of Schreiner’s letters survive, and they appear here just as she wrote them - including their omissions, spelling mistakes, deletions and insertions. They were written between 1871 and 1920, have these strong 'bird in flight' characteristics, and provide an unparalleled source for exploring the unfolding thinking of one of the great feminist theorists and key New Woman writers. Her letters provide an unparalleled resource for investigating colonialism under transition, metropolitan feminism and socialism, prostitution, marriage, changing understandings of ‘race’ and capital, imperialism 'on the ground' in southern Africa, the South African War, women's franchise campaigns, ‘race’ and labour issues, international feminist networks, pacifism and war economies, and political and economic changes in South Africa post WW1.

Olive Schreiner's letters also enable letter-writing practices in the social networks she was part of to be explored over a time-period in which many technological and related changes massively impacted on epistolary exchanges, including the invention of addresses, postage stamps and postal services, steam transport, the telegraph....

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