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Julius Gau (1845 - 1927) was briefly engaged to Olive Schreiner in 1872. She met Gau at the home of the Robinsons in Dordrecht, where Gau was resident and she was employed as governess to the Robinson children. She became friends with him and his sister, with whom he lived. Gau was born in Germany but migrated to the Cape in 1861. It appears he and Schreiner were engaged around the middle of 1872; her letters show that they then travelled together to her parents’ home in Hertzog to announce the engagement. On 18 August 1872, Schreiner wrote from Hertzog to her sister Katie, “I am engaged to be married to Mr. Julius Gau of Dordrecht. I can’t say just yet when we shall be married; it may be very soon, that is in four or five months, or it may not be for at least a year to come.” However, the engagement was broken off by Gau shortly after, and Schreiner went to join her siblings Theo and Ettie at the Diamond Fields at the end of that year. Gau fairly swiftly married a rich widow from Dordrecht, Florence Relly, in early 1874 and later became a prominent business man in Johannesburg. There has been considerable speculation about the nature of Schreiner’s relationship with Gau and why it ended, including that she was pregnant by Gau and perhaps had an abortion, although there is in fact no actual evidence for this beyond Schreiner using the word ‘abortion’ (in the sense of a mishap) in some of her writing. It is likely that some letters were exchanged between Schreiner and Gau, although none have been traced.
For further information see:
Karel Schoeman (1991) Olive Schreiner: A Woman in South Africa 1855-1881 Johannesburg: Jonathan Ball
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