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Letter ReferenceKarl Pearson 840/4/3/61-64
ArchiveUniversity College London Library, Special Collections, UCL, London
Epistolary TypeLetter
Letter Date10 September 1886
Address FromThe Convent, Harrow, London
Address ToHotel Alpen Club, Madernauer That, Tri Austury, Switzerland
Who ToKarl Pearson
Other VersionsRive 1987: 103-5
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 of this letter is provided by the postmark on an attached envelope, while the name of the addressee and the address it was sent to are on its front. Schreiner was resident at the Convent in Harrow from mid May to the end of September 1886.
1 On the other side I have scribbled down some such plan of a Woman’s
2Book as has been in my mind for many years. I wonder if yours is at
3all like it? It seems to me most important that we should begin by
4unreadable ^trying to see as clearly^ as possible not what sex is, & to
5understand who how it has gradually assumed its present form as found
6in man: to do this we must study not only the human embryo, but the
7first forms of life. There are for instance animals that have three
8modes of reproduction: why has the sexual, the union of two
9individuals or organs, conquered so universally? How deep we should
10see into the mystery of life if we could solve this! It will not be
11solved in our day perhaps, but it will some day. If we cannot give the
12reason ^for the existence of sex & its mode of operation^ we can at
13least trace its gradual development in all its wonderful & beautiful
14adaptions. Of course it would be mainly concerned with the lower sea
15animals. (We ought to get Ray Lankester to write us a paper for the
16club on this matter. Shall I try some day) One ^might work from his
17basis. He of course would only treat of sea animals.^ It seems to me it
18would be particularly valuable to open a book by a chapter of this
19kind; we want as far as possible to take the whole subject out of that
20low, mean, polemical atmosphere in which it has always been treated,
21of &, raise it into a higher one. We want to watch those wonderful as
22yet uncomprehended forces working on primitive sentient matter &
23slowly shaping it into the form of male & female, with their wonderful
24interactive power. We want to raise the question of sex to its true
25place as one of the deep, richly reaching problems of the Universe,
26regarded scornfully only by those who look at its surface & never see
27its wonderful depth. One should strike a note in that first chapter
28which one should maintain throughout the entire work, never sinking
29below it. The second ^chapter^ would have to give of course such facts
30as are known with regard to the mental affect of the monthly periods
31in woman, with regard to celibacy; solitary sexual indulgence both in
32men & women; the affect of childbearing on women, equality or
33difference in sexual feeling in men & women, &c, &c, &c, all being
34dealt with from the purely scientific stand-point, the conception of
35right or wrong, the desirable or undesirable being carefully excluded.
36That should be kept rigidly to its own place at the end of the second
39 It seems to me with regard to the historical part that it would be
40very important to understand something of the Chinese. A wonderful
41light might be thrown over our whole subject by studying them. They
42are ^almost^ as distant from us as the Orang. from the Gorilla, a
43comparison would be valuable. Don’t you think so. Couldn’t you get
44some good Chinese scho ^literature^ authority to interest himself in the
45matter. You should not of course find the facts for yourself. I rather
46resent the time you have to spend in worrying out little particular
47facts for your own particular work, because your mind seems to have
48the power of dealing with large complex masses; but it is well that
49just on this one line you should work it out completely to the finest point.
50 What is so glorious in dealing with a large complex subject is the
51way in which each throws its light on every other part; when one is
52working at one part that seems trifling & small, one finds out
53suddenly that it touches every other part of the question.
55 A plan like that on the other side seems very colossal, but one can do
56anything if one concentrates oneself year after year. I would like to
57know exactly what your plan is. I should say it would take from three
58to four years to write the book the first time - then it would be
59crude, redundant, have long statements of facts that are not needed. –
60Then write it over again in about two years or three? Bring it down to
61half its size, perhaps quite alter the plan; who knows whether one
62might not have come upon some large generalization round which one
63might group the whole body of facts. The first time one would have to
64write it for oneself, one’s thoughts would be forming as one went.
66 Do you know that for many years I have had the thought of a woman’s
67book like this pressing on my mind; & I felt as if no one else would
68see what I saw, or say what I saw was to be said, or treat the subject
69as I wanted it treated ^from the standpoint that seemed to me the true one.^
70& yet I didn’t see how I was to do it. And now I know it will be done,
71& so infinitely better than I could ever have done it. It is as though
72a weight had gone off me. You are not ready to write the last part of
73the book yet; but you are splendidly ready to write the first - & by
74the time you get to the end you will have served your apprenticeship
77 //Don’t you think it might be a help to you if you wrote a "dash off"
78sketch of the whole? I don’t mean a mere plan. I mean a real little
79ridiculous miniature of the book "dashed off" recklessly in two or
80three days, on ten or twelve pages, true or false ridiculous or not,
81just get the whole in embryo! To do this helps me, ^whatever I am doing,
82 it is like an artist’s ridiculous little study that always precedes
83his picture.^ I like to get even the vaguest sense of having my whole
84subject in my hand before I go to the parts. I don’t care how long I
85work at a part, but I must realize it’s a part of a whole & know what
86part it is.
88 All this is not an answer to your letter except to the question how I
89would combine historical facts with a sermon on the iniquity of the
90present social forms. I would combine them only as a hand is combined
91with a foot as parts of one organic whole. I would not mix them.
93 //I must strangely have mis-expressed myself about the monogamy. I,
94the sworn enemy of all conflicting unions, to be accused of advocating
95compulsory monogamy!! My argument with regard to economy of force does
96not touch on that question.
98 //I wonder if you are as happy as you were at Innsbruck that day. I
99liked the letter you wrote me there. I always pictured you as sitting
100in that window looking out into the quaint old street – till I got
101your London post card. It must be very glorious up there in your
102mountains. You will let me know how your work goes on.
104 Yours
105 O.S.
107 I had a note from Ray Lankester this week He had a sun stroke in Paris
108& has come back very unwell. I will tell you about Dr Donkin & several
109other things when next I write
113 Woman
114 Vol 1
115 Part 1
116 Physiology of Sex
118 Chapter 1 Chapter 2
119 Origin of Sex Sexual difference in the human race
121 Part 2
122 Historical
124 Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6
125 Sexual Condition Condition Condition Condition Condition
126 relations of women of woman of woman of woman of woman in among in
127early in Egypt, in China in India? Early Arabia? savages Germany
128Greece & Rome
130 ^Condition of women among the Sclavs &c, &c would be interesting. The
131The wider the historical part the better, & the more full of
132"probablies" & "possiblies" & "likelies" the better!^
134 Chapter 7
135 General Summary of historical survey
137 End of Vol 1
139 Vol 2
140 Condition of woman in modern civilised world
142 Chapter 1 Chapter 2
143 * Introduction Description of modern position of woman.
145 * This would be the most important chapter of all going to the
146philosophy of the matter (if the unfortunate author, he or she, knows
147what the philosophy is!!)
149 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5
150 The causes which Its Evils The direction which * the direction
151 Have produced it change seems tending to which it
152is ^lead to it^ take desirable it
153 should take
155 *It is here permissible to insert ones ideal of the future & to
156speculate wildly! Hurrah! After having held our selves in so horribly
157to the facts all along let us have a burst!
159 Chapter 6
160 Summary of entire work
161 The End
163 They ought to be two small vols not large ones when they are condensed
164down the second time.
Rive's (1987) version omits part of this letter and is also in a number of respects incorrect.