"Sauer's last act, no glimmering of modern truths in South Africa" Read the full letter
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Letter ReferenceHRC/OliveSchreinerUncatLetters/OS-PhilipKent/2
ArchiveHarry Ransom Center, University of Texas, Austin
Epistolary TypeLetter
Letter Date30 March 1883
Address FromEdinburgh House, Warrior Square, St Leonards, East Sussex
Address To
Who ToPhilip Kent
Other Versions
PermissionsPlease read before using or citing this transcription
Legend
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.
1Edinburgh House
2Warrior Square
3St Leonards-on-Sea
4March 30 / 83
5
6My dear Sir
7
8I trust you will forgive me troubling you as I am about to do. The
9kindness of your review on “the Story of an African Farm” causes
10me to hope that you will pardon the liberty I take.
11
12I am almost or completely ignorant in publishing affairs, & know of no
13one whose advice I can ask. I would feel it an exceedingly great
14kindness if you, whose experience has doubtless been large, would
15allow me to ask you a question.
16
17My publishers, Mssrs Chapman & Hall, have written to offer me £10
18(ten pounds) for the copyright of “The Story of an African Farm”,
19& I have no means of judging whether this is or is not the fair money
20value of the book. It has been very favourably received in the
21“Broad Arrow”, “Society”, “Athenaeum”, “Daily News”,
22&c., & I had thought, might be worth more; but I have no means of
23judging. Unwisely I made no arrangement in black & white before the
24printing of the book. If you would tell me whether you think that the
25sum mentioned is fairly what the book is worth, it would be a great
26kindness. I do not want to seek for more than it is worth; it is hard
27enough to have to sell the works one has loved so at all, ^&^ harder
28much to have to bargain about them.
29
30I cannot close without thanking you again for your review in
31“Life”. The mental stimulus & encouragement it brought was much
32needed by me.
33
34Hoping that you will forgive the liberty I take in thus tres-passing
35on your time & thought,
36I remain, dear Sir,
37Yours faithfully
38Olive Schreiner
39
40Philip Kent Esq.
41
42
Notation
Early largely unsigned reviews of The Story of an African Farm appeared in a wide range of publications, with Philip Kent's being published in Life. The review in Society has not been traced. However, some of the more notable reviews are as follows:

Broad Arrow Saturday 3 February 1883: "This is a powerfully-written story, in which many odd problems that have puzzled the wisest are presented under new aspects."

Life 8 February 1883: "This is so exceptional a book that we go out of our way to treat it in an exceptional manner. Since reading, now many years ago, Le Pere Goriot, Jane Eyre and Adam Bede, no romance has created so profound an impression on our mind as this one... We have no room for any more extracts, and must now confine ourselves to a few general remarks on the merits and defects of this extraordinary work. Its defects resolve themselves, for the most part, into one grand defect - the intrusion into the body of the story of a long dissertation entitled, 'Times and Seasons.' From a strictly artistic point of view, this is indefensible; one the other hand it must be admitted that the dissertation is not only remarkably well-written but full of deep thought and sober reasoning which prove Mr Iron to be a clear-headed, highly-cultivated and right-minded man.... One word more: we hope that Mr Iron - who has not stolen his name - will not wrap his 'talent' in a napkin. Unless we are gravely mistaken, that 'talent' is genius."

The Athenaeum 3 March 1883: "The Story of an African Farm shows considerable power. Mr Iron has followed no recognizable model of romance... His descriptions are wonderfully graphic and his pathos is forcible. The book is too melodramatic to be altogether pleasant; but Mr Iron obviously writes about what he knows with a successful result which is well deserved."

St James Gazette 20 March 1883: ""Put down enthusiasm" was the advice of Primate Manners Sutton. Nevertheless, after reading this book we find ourselves in the frame of mind which he deprecated. It is, indeed, one of those pleasant surprises which so rarely befall reviewers. ... No doubt this work will encounter reprehension in many quarters - indeed, the author seems himself to expect it; but attention it must receive in all. ... recommending all and sundry to read "The Story of an African Farm.""

Saturday Review 21 April 1883: "The Story of an African Farm is clever, imaginative, original, and terribly dull. Yet it is only fair to say that the dullness is relative, or rather is the result of conscientious experiences during a comprehensive survey; for their are effective scenes and bright pieces of description which prove that Mr. Iron might be entertaining if he pleased. We own to a certain preliminary disappointment, for we fancied we should have a story of South African speculation and adventure on the borderland between savagery and civilization... so much for a novel which is a striking example of how a really clever and ingenious writer may overreach himself in ambitious efforts after originality."

Pall Mall Gazette 11 May 1883: "The story is a painful and a terrible one. It is the old tale of human misery flavoured with a modern pantheistic despair... The world may be hollow, and our doll may be stuffed with sawdust; but constant insistence upon these unpleasant facts does not tend to increase the greatest happiness of the greatest number, even in the worst of all possible worlds. In spite of all faults of matter or manner, however, "The Story of an African Farm" is certainly a remarkable and interesting book."

Fortnightly Review December 1883, Henry Norman, "Theories and practice of modern fiction": "memorable... this novel offers a rare treat... This book teaches the lesson that wherever there are human hearts beating with natural impulses there is scene enough for all the tragedy and all the comedy of life - that for the delineation of the highest interests of men and women una dumus sufficit. The characters are all original - we have met none of them before; the style is fresh and full of humour; and, in spite of its occasional lapses, the whole story is of fascinating interest, and, what is more, of great moral power."