"Please don't discuss my affairs, my big sex book" Read the full letter
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Letter ReferenceKarl Pearson 840/4/3/30-31
ArchiveUniversity College London Library, Special Collections, UCL, London
Epistolary TypeLetter
Letter Date13 July 1886
Address FromThe Convent, Harrow, London
Address To
Who ToKarl Pearson
Other VersionsRive 1987: 95-6
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 name of the addressee is indicated by content.
1 The Convent
2 July 13 / 86
4 Your paper is deliciously, tantalizingly, excitingly, suggestive. It
5sends one off in every direction. I have a pamphlet of remarks on it:
6I shall send them with the woman paper notes in six weeks’ time.
8 To answer the remark at the end of your letter with regard to
9life-long unions being a mistake would draw down the whole woman
10question. To me it seems that one should no more enter on a life-long
11sexual union, than on a life long friendship, or a life long strife
12after truth. The ideal ^sexual^ union, is, I think, life-long, as the
13ideal friendship is, or the ideal strife after truth. They may grown
14to be life long, but they should not be entered upon with such an
15understanding, can not be. The ^most^ ideal of marriage at the present
16day, possible seems to me to be the union of two individuals strongly
17sympathetic, who after deep thought enter on the sexual relationship.
18There should be no bond or promise between them; for the sake of
a legal contract should be, I think, formed. The less said
20about love & life-long continuance together the better. The fact that
21they are willing to enter on the sexual relationship is with highly
22developed natures the strongest expression of affection that could be
23given. The union will be, as long as each one feels they are expanding
24or aiding the other’s life. If life-long or of many year duration,
25well; if short, well, but not so well (perhaps it is a woman & a
26German who feels this? To the French ^nature^ perhaps the ideal union
27would always be the short one?). - There are two ideals of love the
28feeling of the boy who unreadable catches a bird, & holds it tight in
29his hand & crushes its wings up, & who says "I love you so, you are
30mine, I will never let you go." & the feeling of one who catches a
31bird, & says "My own, my beautiful, I love you so I can’t crush you
32up," & lets it fly, & watches it, & thrills with delight; & feels the
33joy in its wings as it rises! Those who The one kind of love is as
34much higher ^sweeter^ than the other as sympathy is higher ^sweeter^ than
35passion. Only the one kind of love can form the basis of a life-long union
36When a sexual union is based on the first kind of love it seems to me
37it can never be anything but accursed; - whether it extends over a
38month or a life time. And the second might be indefinitely protracted
39with out losing its beauty. The old lover’s question - Will you love
40me for ever? - has to be changed to - If you feel I am pressing on
41your individuality will you let me go? It may be thousands of years
42before the mass have attained to this ideal unreadable, but it is that
43towards which the race is slowly but surely moving. What we are
44already beginning to unreadable that, & nothing else, If I unreadable

45^All this is nonsense; I can’t say it didactically, only in a story I
46can say it.^ You may think the view very credulous, but I believe that
47sexual relations built on such a foundation might be very permanent
48without ceasing to be invigorating & pungent. I think that for a
49successful sexual union it is ^absolutely^ necessary the woman should be
50materially independent of the man & have her own work life, otherwise
51he is not free. A man cannot say to a woman who depends entirely on
52him, & has no work in her life, "Leave me." You say you have not seen
53a quite happy sexual union, nor have I ^except an old gentleman & lady
54at Shanklin^ - but may it not often be attained when free men & women
55growing ^up^ together combine simply for mental sympathy & sexual
56purposes & to share the parent-hood of children together? (They would
57probably, perhaps generally live together & share their material
58possessions but that is a different thing.) It is the possibility of
59this in the far future to which I look as the hope of the race. While
60we live ^through your^ by the use of our sexual natures, we are slaves,
61& our slavery reacts on you. To me it seems, that what we have to
62fight for for woman is a condition in which she shall as little make
63the use of her
make her living through the use of her sexual nature as
64man does. Do you think it is attainable? If not, woman will never be
65free, & the ideal marriage, & the ideal future of the race depend on
66her freedom. Can there be a free & joyful union except between
69 //Thank you very much for saying that I may unreadable perhaps
70dedicate my little book to you. You have not taught me anything
71definitely, & unreadable ^perhaps^ we have not been near enough to
72become close friends; but the little book seems to belong to you. I
73don’t think I should ever have had the courage to revise & finish it
74if I had ^not^ known you. I wrote it long ago when I was full of hope.
75Then all that died away. I was so pathetic ^tired^, I could do nothing.
76Without faith & hope in human nature, no artistic work. You have
77brought back my old faith. unreadable
78 "Nor knowest thou what argument,
79 Thy life to thy neighbours creed hath lent."
80 ^You’re not to laugh at me^
82 You are please not to answer this for at least six weeks when I shall
83perhaps get a further instalment of the woman in Germany paper? You
84ought to have two months instead of two weeks climbing about. Eat,
85drink, sleep, lead as animal a life as you can, & above all never
88 Good bye.
89 Olive Schreiner
91 I’m going to work so desperately hard at my book. You are not to say
92it’s "fantastic dreams" when it’s done - though there are two live
93grave-diggers, real ones, at the end!!
94 O.S.
96 Thank you so much for saying that I may: it helps me unreadable I
97always have to unreadable for fear unreadable

The 'little book' Schreiner wants to dedicate to Pearson is From Man to Man. Pearson's 'deliciously suggestive' paper is his 'A Sketch of the History of Sexual Relations in Germany', read at the Men and Women's Club in June 1886. Schreiner's 'woman paper notes' are her comments on his July 1885 'The Woman's Question', and one version of these is her short 1885 'Note'; see Pearson 840/4/1/105. Rive's (1987) version omits part of this letter and is also in a number of respects incorrect.