"Downward movement of England, of South Africa, downtrodden millions" Read the full letter
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Letter ReferenceHRC/OliveSchreinerUncatLetters/OS-TFisherUnwin/27
ArchiveHarry Ransom Center, University of Texas, Austin
Epistolary TypeLetter
Letter Date14 December 1896
Address FromThe Homestead, Kimberley, Northern Cape
Address To
Who ToT. Fisher Unwin
Other Versions
PermissionsPlease read before using or citing this transcription
The Project is grateful to the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, the University of Texas at Austin, for kindly allowing us to transcribe this Olive Schreiner letter, which is part of its Manuscript Collections. This letter is by Olive Schreiner and signed by her, with Cronwright-Schreiner acting as her amanuensis or secretary.
1The Homestead,
3Cape Colony,
414. Dec. 1896
6Dear Sir,
8I have just finished a story, the scene of which is land in South
9Africa at the present day. It deals with political and social troubles
10in S. Africa during the last year.
12Would you care to have the manuscript of the book sent you?
14Kindly reply at once, addressing your reply to Alice Corthorn, M.B.,
1519 Russell Road, Kensington, ^London W.^ who has the MSS and will
16forward them at once to you.
18I make it a condition which you must feel yourself bound to maintain,
19that, if the MS is sent to you, no one but yourself and your reader
20sees it, and that no mention is made of it or its contents to anyone:
21that you regard it as strictly private.
23Kindly, when you have read the book, write at once, returning the MS,
24and stating what is the largest sum you will be prepared to pay for
25the Copyright in England & the Colonies, which would be yours entirely,
26 I retaining the American copyright and the rights of translation.
28Yours faithfully,
29^Olive Schreiner^
31P.S. An immediate answer will oblige, as I shall be only a few days in
32England and wish to complete my arrangements with regard to the book
The manuscript Schreiner offers to send Unwin is Trooper Peter Halket of Mashonaland, which was read for Fisher Unwin by WH Chesson and George Schreiner (no relation) in January 1897. Schreiner then later brought the completed manuscript to London and it was hand-delivered to Unwin.

W.H. Chesson’s report, dated 19 and 20 January 1897, is:

‘Frankly, we are disappointed. If Mrs Schreiner goes on like this, we shall have some smart and brutal person writing her down as an author who had never any business to be up. This is to be said all the more sadly because Mrs Schreiner certainly did write a moving and powerful study of child-martyrdom, and of hopeless and pathetic striving, in her first book. But, gradually, the tract-element has been displacing the imaginative in her work; a fact which is grievously apparent in "Trooper Peter Halkett."

With the ideas in “Trooper Peter Halket,” we are in entire sympathy. A just and generous indignation against land- and man-exploiters and their ways, breathes through every line; but what form does it take? Is there any drama, any psychology? A brief description suffices.

“Trooper Peter Halket” is, in the main, a dialogue between Jesus Christ and a man in the service of the Chartered Company. Christ enforces his sympathy with all men, and condemns the sham Christianity of the world. He abhors Rhodes, Barnarto, Beit and the rest of them, and He converts his hearer. Subsequently Trooper Halket, commits suicide sooner than murder a tied and wounded native at the command of his chief.

Every now and then the novelist peeps out in vigorous descriptive touches and neat satirical ones; but one is sorry to see so many inflated nothings put in the mouth of th his Saviour. A better opportunity for slating Mrs Schreiner could not be desired by those who disagree with her noble and worthy stand point. A great style gone to pieces is a sorry sight; but where the carcase is, there the young eagles of the Saturday and the PMG be gathered together.

The pity is that, as a tract, the thing is not likely to do a ha'p'orth of good. It is the Statham style that tells best. Mrs Schreiner aims at the heart; Statham aims at the head. And the head is the place to aim at decidedly, if you want to transfer political views.’

The second report of Trooper Peter is by G. (George) Schreiner (no relation) and is dated 1 – 97, as follows:

‘This is halfway between a Tract & a Novel. It is a thousand pities that Olive Schreiner has so good an opinion of herself that she cannot take the necessary trouble to fo make her work effective. Her position, her standpoint is quite explicable – it is one side of the truth - & she might have made a most damaging artistic attack on the Rhodes Party by simply exhibiting the worst features of the average man in a rush for gold. But as it is she gives herself away to all but the Religious Public. Some of her passages are most striking & effective - some of them are ludicrously weak, goody-goody & obviously the result of pumped-up feeling, & of an inspiration that wont work.

The fact is, Olive Schreiner has been spoiled. She has much too high an opinion of herself, & her egoism leads her into positive insincerity at times – just as a popular preacher, having it all his own way, often because loses his original fire.

On the other hand there is a good deal of sincerity hidden under the verbose insufferable ?washy form she has adopted. Egoism can go no further than in an author than for him to introduce Christ as a personage, & let him rant on UEvangelical line for upwards of 5000 words. All Christ’s language is bad, ineffective, bombastic, borrowed, untidy, flat. All that is good in the book is the actual description of the suffering of the "niggers". The book will certainly certainly sell to the Dreams public - & we should not be surprised if it excites a little war between the Rhodes party & the Pulpits And with a consequent strong selling boom.’

There are two other, unsigned, reader’s reports on Schreiner manuscripts in the Unwin letters concerning Dream Life and Real Life. The first has the date ‘28.9.93’ on it:

Olive Schreiner.
Well, this volume (?) will be a simple Reductio ad Absurdum of Mrs’s Schreiner methods. “Was it Right, Was it Wrong” is a priggish, stilted self-conscious piece of work that nobody would print if it were not signed. “The Woman’s Rose” is simply an insignificant fragment. Unless there is a very good & very long third story coming, we don’t see how the trick is going to be made done.”

The second concerns the ‘Dream Life & Real Life’ story in the book, commenting that:

‘This is the strongest of the three stories. It is very fairly written, & leaves a definite artistic impression. We read it before on a former occasion & thought it good because it had less pose & pretention than some of her later stories. On the other hand it is of course only a simple story, & it would be absurd to make a fuss over it.

The book will certainly be “Schreiner & Water” – but if, for various reasons, TFU decides to publish it, it seems to us the bestway to tackle it woulbe would be as 1/6 book – printed in frica, on a rather odd shaped page. (Can a Pseudonym be made out of 8000 words or less?) But it is a unreadable question.’

The reports on Dream Life and Real Life are both in George Schreiner’s hand-writing.