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Rattel Hoek journal - HRC

Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas

HRC Schreiner, Olive – Works: MS-3734

Works: Rattel’s Hoek Journal


The entries that comprise Olive Schreiner’s ‘Rattel’s Hoek Journal’ were written between late July and late September 1876, when she was employed by the Martains as a governess for their children and living at Ratel Hoek, their farm near Tarkastad. George Andreas Martain (aka Martin) was a former NGK or Dutch Reform Church minister who had left the church because of his liberal views and become a farmer. His wife, personal name not known, was one of the Cradock Van Heerdens by birth. 

The journal is on one level a rather slight document. On another, it enables some interesting aspects of Schreiner’s writing process at this early stage in her life to be seen, and it also deals with some momentous and indeed epiphanous matters, two in particular.

The first is the sudden rupture of the everyday narrative by the arrival of the news that Olive Schreiner’s father Gottlob had suddenly and unexpectedly died, with potentially significant repercussions for her future. ‘He’ is referred to, although his name and his relationship to her is not. Although the possibility of Schreiner leaving the Martains to live with her mother Rebecca is raised in letters she received after her father’s death, in the event she remained working for them until 1879.

The second concerns the almost daily ruptures of the everyday that occurred with Olive Schreiner’s inscription of matters concerned with her writing, with these entries demonstrating how much this dominated, and it comes across as the most meaningful aspect of her life and something she was deeply immersed in.

Over the period from 1876 to 1879 at Ratel Hoek, she seems to have been involved in writing ‘full pelt’, and was engrossed with a number of different pieces of work that were at different stages in the ‘thinking it out, writing it down, finishing it off’ process. Undine, Thorn Kloof, A small bit of mimosa, Wrecked, Saints and Sinners, are all mentioned in the journal. The lineage of some of these and their transmission into eventually published novels is now well-established (Undine, Thorn Kloof), while others seem to refer to sections of books (A small bit of mimosa, Wrecked) or to a manuscript eventually discarded (Saints and Sinners). Writing itself, the process that she was engaged in, also appears and is commented on with different times used for different aspects of what she was doing. 

In addition to these matters of content, the journal raises some interesting aspects of Schreiner’s writing practices at this early stage. The edits she makes here as elsewhere in her letters and manuscript are overwhelmingly of an ‘on the hoof’ kind, as she was writing rather than after the event. As these show, she is quite precise about how she wants to express herself and particularly so regarding the comments about writing itself. 

The way she writes about the everyday fabric of life at Ratel Hoek is frequent elliptical and so difficult for an outsider and present-day reader to fully comprehend. For instance, people’s names are used but who they are is obviously not explained, and sometimes just initials are used. Some of the entries are rather self-conscious: is or isn’t she liked at the Ms, and her concern about whether people in Tarkastad are talking against her. This is very different from the excited self-assurance of how she writes about her writing.

It comes across strongly that although Schreiner is living and working at the Martins, far from family and friends, and her everyday life is clearly wrapped up in this, she has strong, meaningful and abiding connections with other people who are elsewhere. These include her brother Fred and his wife Emma in England, her mother and father in Balfour, her brother Will at school, her cousin Emmie, her aunt Rolland, Mrs Rich and Miss Davey, her brother Theo, the De Villiers. These links are maintained through letter-writing (thus the importance of the post boy), and also occasionally through the to-ing and fro-ing people (such as mutual friends the de Villiers).

The Ratel Hoek journal is a fairly short one and consists of eight sides of paper, with entries made on eighteen dates between 24 July and 23 September 1876. 

The journal entries are written on lined foolscap paper, five sheets and eight sides of paper. The paper has a watermark – ‘E TOWGOOD FINE’. The first sheet is missing half of its right-hand side, and the other sheets are held within the fold of the first, so this acts as a kind of folder. The details are as follows:

Sheet 1 – is written on both sides. 2 pages

Sheet 2 – is a single sheet, written on both sides, torn from its fellow and it does not match that which follows. 2 pages

Sheet 3 - is a single sheet, written on both sides, torn from its fellow and it does not match either that before or after. 2 pages

Sheets 4 and 5 – are a pair, and not torn apart.

Sheet 4 – is written on both sides. 2 pages

Sheet 5 – is blank on its first side except that SCCS has written ‘OS Ratel Hoek Journal ?July 24-76’ on it. The second side of sheet 5 has some trial spellings on it - occured planed planned dryer dryed becoming dryer becoming drier G[smudge] ?Galello; it also has what looks like scores in a game – 

     ?Peter              Olive

     10                    12

The manuscript journal is part of the HRC collections at the University of Texas at Austin.  However, a digital copy has been licensed and can be accessed as part of the UCT Digital Collections – go to http://www.digitalcollections.lib.uct.ac.za/ratel-hoek-journal