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Letter ReferenceKarl Pearson 840/4/3/22-26
ArchiveUniversity College London Library, Special Collections, UCL, London
Epistolary TypeLetter
Letter DateFriday 10 July 1886
Address FromThe Convent, Harrow, London
Address To
Who ToKarl Pearson
Other VersionsRive 1987: 91-5
PermissionsPlease read before using or citing this transcription
The Project is grateful to University College London (UCL) and its Library Services for kindly allowing us to transcribe this Olive Schreiner letter, which is part of its Special Collections. The date has been written on this letter in an unknown hand. The name of the addressee is indicated by content and archival location.
1 The Convent
2 Friday night
4 I am writing to ask you a favour. When I have the first printed proof
5sheets of my book completed, if I send them to you would you look at
6them, &, if you do not find anything in the spirit of the book that
7you do not sympathize with; & if further you do not think think there
8is anything in it, which for you, in your position, (I mean as a
9public teacher) it would not be well for you to be associated with, I
10would like so much to dedicate it to you giving as yo my ground your
11sympathy with woman, & your scientific interest in her condition &
12development. Your promise would be conditional upon your approval, & I
13would trust you to tell me exactly what you felt without any
14consideration for my feelings. I think I have told you what the story
15is about often: two sisters grow up on An African farm; the elder
16reserved & self- contained with a passion for physiology, & Mill’s
17Logic as her particular companion. The younger beautiful & sweet, with
18the clinging, where she loves, self forgetful nature, incapable of
19enduring the anger of anyone who is near her which forms the ideal
20wife ^in most men’s minds^. She becomes a prostitute, not through any
21evil, but through her sweet fresh objective nature, through her
22gentleness lovingness, & her non-power of opposing the human creatures
23who are near her. The men whom she comes into contact with, from the
24first who seduces her to the last who leaves her in London streets,
25are none of them ^depraved^, they are more or less all of them "good
26fellows" in different ways - the only misfortune is that they look
27upon a woman as a creature created entirely for their benefit. Her
28noble pure hearted cousin when he proposes to her, & she tells him of
29her p first lover, says quietly he cannot marry her: a man cannot have
30an impure wife, & leaves her. No one can blame him. I make no comment
31throughout the book, I never speak in my own person, the characters
32simply act & you draw your own conclusions. Rebekah the intellectual
33sister marries, because she finds she has exhausted the farm, she
34wants to see a new life; she wants the new experience of marriage, why
35should she live all her life without knowing it? - she has a
36passionate admiration for the glorious strong cousin Frank. At
37eighteen she marries him & goes to live at Cape Town. There is an
38account of her life there as shown in her diaries. You vaguely see the
39agony she enduring & the growth that is going on in her, but it is
40only in the last scene of the book that you have the full key to it.
41She grows harder & colder & deader to the outer world, more careful in
42the performance of her outward duties, but longing finding her life
43only in her tiny study with her books & her microscope, it is they
44alone which make the torture of union with an animal nature possible
45to her. So far there is nothing in the book which the philistine need
46much object to: then near the end ^near the middle^ of the book there
47comes on the scene, a man, a traveller from England ^who has come to
48the Cape to see his wife who is staying there^. You feel that with her
49hunger for intellectual sympathy, with the fierce suppression of all
50her desires that has gone on all her life it is impossible that this
51man should not become paramount to her. His nature is somewhat
52artistic in type, keen & analytical, ^properly intellectual^; for the
53first time the woman meets a nature that with which she can be alone,
54to which she has not to bend herself: I paint very shortly the growth
55of her feeling for him. Then there is one scene & the battle to hold
56it down. Then there is a scene where she sits on the sea shore in Kalk
57Bay, & he comes to her, & he tells her unreadable ^what she is to him^.
58Then you have the two sides. His view - the right of the individual,
59the right each human-being has to complete & perfect his life, not to
60have it crushed & warped by. He tells her of his married life, why he
61has ceased to live with the woman who is his wife; he paints the agony
62that ^animal^ physical union was to him, & the ?dead (I have sometimes
63wondered whether I have painted him as suffering more than a man would
64suffer under such circumstances, but I think not) the death to his
65intellectual nature that contact with that placid low unreadable typed
66nature was. Has society, have our fellow men, all our fellow men a
67right to say to us "Here is your life, your one life; take it, crush
68it, deform it; I demand it!"? He cries out in passion to the woman.
69Then there is her view, she paints all the evil in marriage as it is,
70the uneven union, framed & held together for the purposes of material
71life of property, she shows that she feels its degradation &
72prostitution, then she says – you are that he is right to leave his
73wife, but she is not to leave her husband. However clearly we may see
74the abstract right & truth, there is always this - our duty to the
75human beings nearest us in our place, & time & country. She says that
76she is strong to live & work out her own life where she is, she can do
77it: if he could not, then he was right to leave, she knows she has
78strength to live on to the end. Then in a bitterness of agony & scorn,
79ab wordspace her with her weakness & clinging love for husband &
80children he leaves her. He goes a-way from Cape Town & she thinks they
81will never meet again. Then there is a scene, she is travelling in an
82oxwaggon; they are "outspanned" in the sun one hot afternoon; she sits
83alone looking out over the hills. Over her heart that strange
84impersonal peace comes that comes into our hearts when we contemplate
85nature. What does it all matter. All the wild longing that has been
86feeding on her heart fades away from her. Then comes the Nirvana like
87quiet in which all the things of life slip away from her. Then a
88waggon passes & the driver of that waggon speaks to the driver of hers.
89 Long after it has passed, she hears from the driver he that ^the man
90she care for^ was in it. Then the wild mad waking up again of the human.
91 They "outspan" in the moonlight: the children go to sleep in the
92waggon the driver & leader under it: she lies alone on the front box:
93on the opposite hill there is a light fire burning, she knows what it
94is. And then she wants to go to him; she wants to go & creep in where
95he lies asleep, & creep up to his feet & put her face against them -
96just that nothing more, while he lies asleep there. Oh, she wants to
97see him, to hear his voice; she is almost mad. She beats her head
98against the waggon chest - she must go to him, she must go to him - he
99is so bitter against her! Then a horseman stops at the side of the
100waggon; it is he. He has heard too from his driver who is there. Then
101she gets quietly down from the waggon & stands by him & talks. - This
102is the scene that I can’t bear to think anyone should read - they do
103not kiss each other; once he takes her face between his hands, & holds
104it. He is strong now. Both see their life of work stretching out
105before them; & both know they will not be alone in it. He creeps into
106the waggon to kiss her children; ^with a sudden impulse^ unreadable she
107cuts off the long black braids of her hair that she has been so proud
108of, close to her head, & gives them to him when he comes back to her:
109they stand still, talking in the moonlight, & then he goes. So they
110are united forever.
112 Afterwards there is a scene where she finds her prostitute sister.
113When she is dying Rebekah sits beside her & paints before her the
114womans dream of the future, the freedom, the joy, the strength that
115are to be. Bertie listens but half uneasily; there is to be all this
116for woman but what of man! True to her old love for them she says
117uneasily, "But, Rebekah, we dont want anything to happen to men!" And
118Rebekah kneels down by her, & paints as she sees in that moment of
119passionate & hope the future of love; the time when men & women shall
120so use their sexual natures & the power they have over each other that
121they shall be the source of life & strength; when love shall be no
122more bound down down to material conditions; but shall be what it is
123striving to be now
, the po union of mind, the foundation of the entire
124nature; there is no hereafter for the individual, but for the race a
125glorious future. She paints it as she sees it at that moment.
126Afterwards when she is lying with her arms round Bertie unreadable ^her
127sister, the sister^ dies. ("Grave digger again!" you will say. But to
128me, there is nothing sad, nothing depressing in that scene. It fills
129me with joy & exhilaration. What is death! "And yet we thank God ever,
130 That dead men rise up never;
131 And even are the weariest river,
132 Winds somewhere safe to sea!" It is not the death of the individual
133that is the sad thing in human life, but the death of the ideal. All
134we desires is that as long as one ^we^ lives ^we^ should keep up faith in
135it, & the strife after it. One would like to think that after the
136change of death one’s mind’s work, like the material of one’s
137body, might form a matrix from which a higher type of existence might
140 Then comes the main scene in the book. Rebekah’s husband reproaches
141her with having brought brough Bertie into the house & buried her
142openly, when it ought to have been done quietly, so that nobody talked.
143 And then she turns to him; in all her long married life it is the
144first time she has acted ^in material things^ without unreadable
145attention to his pleasure. unreadable She asks why she should not take
146out her dead & bury it in the sunlight - she who for ^14^ long years
147herself has been living as a prostitute. Then they talk. Then one sees
148what all her life has been: those first married years when intense
149passionate love works in her heart for him. When week after week &
150month after month all life was ^is^ one long striving to come near to
151him, one passionate mad determination that at last they shall
152understand each other, & a spiritual bond be formed between them -
153then how she unreadable ^finds^ out his unfaithfulness, & bit by ^bit^ the
154strife dies. Then she turned to unreadable to her books & lived in
155them alone. - They talk & she tells him of her feeling for the other
156man. He thinks she is rather good to have known all about his
157unfaithfulnesses & kept so quiet. When he finds she has never kissed
158the man & never writes to him, he laughs & calls it all moonlight
159folly. When she talks of the work, that ^work that is^ is going to be
160done in the future, of the sexual institutions which shall be dragged
161down & altered, he laughs ^half kindly^ & pats her on the head: ^he says
162she talks like a fool^ he says she mustn’t excite herself so, it’s
163not good for her in her condition (she is expecting a child), he tells
164her to come into the dining room with him; to unreadable his brandy &
165soda. unreadable And now she has said all, & there is not a shadow of
166deception. unreadable The end of the book is two tiny scenes. One is
167the man she loves dying in the Kaleharee Desert with his Kaffir boy
168near him ("Grave digger again"; Yes, but I can’t help it.) He is
169dying of & in the dim confusion he keeps telling the boy to get up on
170the waggon chest & see if he doesn’t see anyone coming. The boy says
171"No". He says yes, but a little figure, a little woman ^figure^
172unreadable, figure, do you see nothing coming. He thinks she is coming
173to lie by him, now that there can be no wrong now.
175 - Then the last scene. - unreadable She is sitting alone in the
176twilight; she has got the letter that day to say that he is unreadable
177gone. She sees before her her life’s work & his, that must be done
178by her alone now. Then her little child comes in & wants ^asks^ her to
179take it to bed it is very sleepy. She takes it up in her arms but it
180says it can walk. She says "No, I am not tired: I am very strong."
182 (K.P. "Dear me! dear me! This is very, very sad! Emotions, unmixed,
183unmitigated emotions! I must write to my respected ^friend^ O.S. at once.
184 I, K.P., sworn enemy of the emotions, Professor of Applied
185Mathematics to have my name appended to ^so emotional an effusion^, no I
186must write at once. It’s not the morals I object to, but ^it’s^ the
187emotions!!!" Takes out a sheet of paper & sets down: "My dear O. S.")
189 But I don’t want to put your name. I would only say "To a Friend", &
190no one but you & I need ever know who it was unless we liked. In the
191last four years, I who used to be made up of ambition have lost all
192ambition. I feel like a watch with the spring broken, all the works
193entire but nothing to set me in motion. I will spend days in worrying
194out an idea to it’s hiding place, & I am never alone for five
195minutes but I have fantastic dreams, but I never feel any wish to give
196out to the world. Just I for myself alone, I want to know the truth &
197to see; but the old longing which leads to giving out work to the
198world is gone. The work I have before me with my book is dreary. The
199parts which touch Rebekah & the man her friend & all the parts which
200interest me most I hardly need to touch, but I ^when I wrote the book^
201treated Drummond’s wife, & all the good hands-folded-in-the-lap
202philistines with sarcastic bitterness. Now I feel that isn’t right.
203I see now always in the men & women about me, "Durch tiefes Verderben
204ein menschliches Herz." I can’t treat them so, & it’s dreary work
205eating ones own fire. One woman I have practically to suppress
206altogether, because if I don’t treat her sarcastically she’s no
207reason for being there at all. If I thought that perhaps I could
208^?inscribe^ the book to you, I think it would just give it the spring I
209want. It seems childish but you will understand (K P. "Watches that
210can’t go by themselves had better stand still.")
212 This note, & my last, require no answer but a brief yes or no to my
213request, & the address of your German village, & unreadable ^word^ when
214you are going there. unreadable The difference between the man who sat
215talking to Mrs Cobb in my little sitting room in Baker Street a year &
216three months ago, & the man who leaned over the gate the other day is
217greater than I like to see. It is not that you are older, ^though your
218hair is getting grey^, it is that you are living under too fine-drawn a
219tension, & must relax. There is no reason but you shall yet "wind
220somewhere safe to sea". Goethe was over forty when he published the
221first part of Faust. Your life is not begun.
223 O.S.
225 The part of my book I like writing best is about Rebekah & her eldest
226boy; the relation between mother & son when it is mental as well as
227physical is the ideal type of relationship unreadable nothing can come
228near to it.
230 Sat. afternoon. I wonder if it would be of any use to you in your
231study of the woman question if I were to tell you me more of myself,
232exactly what I ^had^ thought & felt, ^good & bad, & "naturally" as a
233woman?^ If ever you think anything I could tell you would be useful to
234you, will you unreadable ask me? I seldom write to you about myself
235personally, as a woman, because I don’t know what would be
236scientifically interesting to you. I will tell you every thing about
237myself that unreadable if it will help you to hear it – with out
238fencing. One is afraid to ask questions of other human beings lest one
239should tread inside that sacred circle of defence which individuals
240throw up about themselves; but I would like to think you could make
241any use of me ^as a scientific specimen^, it would be some compensation
242to me. One often wishes one could see just what the world is like to
243one of another sex or race.
245 ^I thought you’d perhaps gone abroad early last week. MS shall be
246return at once.^
248 ^(K.P. "If my respected friend O.S. whould spend her time in writing
249her book instead of writing pamphlets to me, it might - - humpt!")^
The book Schreiner would like to dedicate to Pearson is From Man to Man. The books referred to are: John Stuart Mill (1843) System of Logic London: Parker; Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1808) Faust: Eine Tragödie Tübingen: np. The line of poetry, 'Durch tiefes Verderben ein menschliches Herz', is from Goethe’s poem ‘Der Gott und die Bajader’. Rive's (1987) version of this letter has been misdated, omits part of the letter, and is also in a number of respects incorrect.