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Isaline Philpot

Isaline Philpot was the wife of Dr J.H. Philpot. Schreiner came to know the couple while she was living in London during the 1880s, and was perhaps introduced to them by Elisabeth Cobb. While a number of her ‘letters’ to Isaline Philpot have been published, these all appeared in Cronwright-Schreiner’s The Letters of Olive Schreiner, in which he published various bowdlerised extracts of Schreiner’s letters to all the correspondents included, with these letters in general edited in a heavy-handed and extremely inaccurate way. Consequently the relationship of the Isaline Philpot ‘letters’ with the originals from which they have been extracted and redacted is unknown, with implications for reading and analysing their content or making inferences about the nature of Schreiner’s relationship, epistolary or otherwise, with Philpot. Finally, an important additional complication concerns the relationship between Isaline Philpot and Cronwright-Schreiner.

Cronwright-Schreiner met and stayed with the Philpots when he visited Britain during the South African War to conduct a lecture tour aimed at raising the profile of the ‘pro-Boer’ cause. It seems that he then established a friendship with the couple, and with Isaline Philpot in particular. Schreiner’s few full extant letters to Cronwright-Schreiner, in particular those she wrote in 1913 before her departure for Britain from South Africa and those she wrote in 1920, suggest that she had perhaps accused or suspected Cronwright-Schreiner of having had a long-term relationship with Philpot, although she also claimed “I have never thought that you loved Mrs Philpot or that she loved you.” Certainly she felt strongly that Isaline Philpot was a woman who could not be trusted, and who gossiped and discussed other people’s affairs: “she had caused a great deal of sorrow & pain by her talking”, with similar comments in other letters too.

Schreiner’s earliest extant ‘letters’ to Isaline Philpot date from the mid-1880s, and many of the subsequent ‘letters’ touch on Schreiner’s writing and reading. She discusses the writing she is working on, or reflects on books she has read. From her letters to Karl Pearson, it seems that Schreiner attempted to get Isaline Philpot invited to become a member of the Men and Women’s Club in February 1886, and the Philpots certainly attended at least one Club meeting as Schreiner’s guests. Schreiner’s last ‘letter’ to Isaline Philpot dates from 1903, and comments on how she would like to see some of her old friends. A disproportionate number of these ‘letters’ appears in Cronwright-Schreiner’s The Letters while those of many very close friends were excluded and/or destroyed, suggesting that he trying to give an impression of closeness for reasons of his own.
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recipient icon Recipient Of
collection icon SCCS Edited Extracts: Four groups of edited extracts from Olive Schreiner's letters can be accessed from here, made by her estranged husband Cronwr... Show/Hide Collection Letters
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collection icon Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin: The HRC, Austin, is one of the world leading locations for archival papers pertaining to literary life and manuscripts across... Show/Hide Collection Letters
collection icon National Archives Depot, Pretoria: The National Archives Depot is Pretoria is a leading location for archival papers across a wide time-period, organisations an... Show/Hide Collection Letters
collection icon National English Literary Museum, Grahamstown: The National English Literary Museum is the leading location for collections pertaining to the imaginative and creative writi... Show/Hide Collection Letters
collection icon National Library of South Africa, Cape Town: Special Collections at the NLSA provide one of the leading locations for archival papers across many periods, organisations a... Show/Hide Collection Letters
collection icon University College London: Special Collections at UCL is one of the leading university collections of manuscripts, archives and rare books in the UK. It... Show/Hide Collection Letters
collection icon University of Cape Town, Historical Manuscripts: Manuscripts & Archives at the University of Cape Town is a leading location for accessing archival papers across many per... Show/Hide Collection Letters
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