"Act now against Rhodes or life-long regret" Read the full letter
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Letter ReferenceLetters/506
Epistolary Type
Letter Date7 August 1912
Address FromDe Aar, Northern Cape
Address To
Who ToHavelock Ellis
Other VersionsCronwright-Schreiner 1924: 312-3
PermissionsPlease read before using or citing this transcription
When Cronwright-Schreiner prepared The Letters of Olive Schreiner, with few exceptions he then destroyed her originals. However, some people gave him copies and kept the originals or demanded the return of these; and when actual Schreiner letters can be compared with his versions, his have omissions, distortions and bowdlerisations. Where Schreiner originals have survived, these will be found in the relevant collections across the OSLO website. There is however a residue of some 587 items in The Letters for which no originals are extant. They are included here for sake of completeness. However, their relationship to Schreiners actual letters cannot now be gauged, and so they should be read with caution for the reasons given.
1To Havelock Ellis.
2De Aar, 7th Aug.
4Dear old Havelock, I hope you will have a nice little time in France.
5Somehow I think of you and France together. ... I got the Freewoman. I
6think it ought to be called the Licentious Male. Almost all the
7articles are by men and not by women, and the whole tone is unlike
8even the most licentious females or prostitute. It is the tone of the
9brutal self-indulgent selfish male. There is something that makes one
10sick, as if one were on board a ship. It's unclean. And sex is so
11beautiful! It can be discussed scientifically, just as simply and
12straightly as one discusses the use and function of the eye and
13stomach, the latter with its wonderful function of turning organic and
14inorganic matter into flesh, bones, nerves, and muscles. One can
15discuss it philosophically, noting the yet wholly mysterious and
16marvellous place it holds in the life of the globe. You can talk of it
17from the poetic standpoint, as Shelley, Keats, Euripides, and all
18lofty souls see it, and it is divine. You can talk of it from the
19matter-of-fact practical standpoint, as the doctor, and the nurse
20discuss it, and it's just as clean and good to talk of as indigestion,
21or the best way of planting trees or baking bread. You may talk of it
22from the personal standpoint (to a very close and intimate friend who
23is interested in all that concerns you), you may mention sex as it
24affects yourself and they may talk of it as it affects themselves -
25and it is all beautifully clean and natural and healthy.
27The difficulty seems to me, with a thing so beautiful, wonderful,
28mighty, all-pervading, a thing so bound up with the deepest and
29noblest emotions of our nature, to talk of it in any way that is not
30noble, or at least clean and rational: but the Freewoman and the New Age
31make it coarse and repulsive every time they touch it. It's like Upton
32Sinclair's description of a birth in that book he sent me. I have been
33present at many. I could describe them physiologically; I could
34describe them emotionally; and there would be nothing painful, nothing
35repulsive. I have never been present at a birth - even when a poor
36drunken Hottentot woman gave birth to a child in the road, and I
37helped her - that I didn't feel to be wonderful and sacred. Why does
38he make one feel that one wants to strike him down when one reads his
39book - it is so repulsive? It's not life that's repulsive, it's the
40unclean soul that sees it so; it is the coarse or licentious man's
41attitude. I have known only two women in the whole course of my life
42talk of sex just in that way. To me sex is something connected with
43all that is best and highest in my nature; and it is so with many
44other women, and, I know, at least with some men.
46My beautiful little Jewish friend in Cape Town took me into her
47bedroom one day and showed me a tiny mark on the wall-paper near the
48bedside. The moment her second little daughter was born she stretched
49out her little foot, and that mark of mother's blood was made on the
50wall by the little new-born foot. She said: "I shall never have the
51room repapered, I shall always keep it here." And I think there were
52tears in both our eyes as we looked at it. They may say: "Yes, because
53you were two blithering fools of women!" But that's how we feel! To
54say that the Freewoman is the expression of all we are going to fight
55for is a lie. It is the expression of exactly that which we are going
56to fight against, that we may free ourselves and the world from that
57brutality and selfishness that degrades and tarnishes the divinity of sex.
59You'll have had enough of this now. I am sure you do understand.