"Saddest & loneliest old years eve, old days at Heald Town" Read the full letter

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John Lawrence Hodgson

John Hodgson was an engineer and would be literary figure who became a friend of Olive Schreiner?s during her period of residence in London immediately before during the First World War. Schreiner's letters to Hodgson date between 1914 and 1920; they contain much on wartime London and also, given Hodgson?s interest in writing for publication on South African matters, there is quite a lot on South African politics between 1914 and 1920. The letters are mainly addressed to 'Dear Mr Hodgson', but sometime during 1917 this changes to 'Dear John' and with some ending with 'your loving small aunt'; certainly by 1918 they have a more affectionate tone.

Hodgson was clearly trying very hard to insinuate himself into Schreiner's life, and in her letters she is constantly fielding a string of invitations from him to concerts, boat trips, the theatre. While responding, the letters also convey the sense that Schreiner does not fully trust him. She immediately suspects that Hodgson had been gossiping when it seemed as though information about a military invention of her friend Bob Muirhead had got out; and she expresses exasperation at his persistence in trying to send her literary work by him and others to comment on - there is for instance a rather cross 1915 letter saying that his views just do not interest her.

Hodgson clearly wanted Schreiner's approval, perhaps as a route to publication, while she was unwilling to comment, not just on writings by friends, but at all. Her strong conviction that 'criticism' should not influence what people write comes through and that writers should follow their own ideas. She also emphasises that she is not 'a judge of what the modern public will like', and refuses to read and ?criticise? the poems by Joan Wickham that Hodgson insistently wanted to send to her, although she also then calls herself disagreeable for this, softening her stance. In addition, these letters contain interesting detail on the war, including air raids in London, while their dominant concern is with making arrangements to meet or cancelling meetings.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Schreiner's letters to Hodgson concern South African affairs, around the late 1914 Rebellion, and also concerning the South African delegation in London to protest against the highly retrograde Natives Land Act of late 1913. In such letters Schreiner expresses her concern about dark days for South Africa, and arranges for Hodgson to meet Georgiana Solomon (at whose home many meetings of South African expatriates took place) and Solomon Plaatje, author of a book powerfully critiquing the operations of the Land Act. However, she also seems to have come to the conclusion that Hodgson was something of a loose cannon and might write and publish something untoward - for instance, she cautions him about not using anything that the South African delegates said in a private gathering against them. It is particularly interesting to reflect on these letters in light of Schreiner's comments to her brother Will about Hodgson, that he and Mrs Solomon were a 'distressing pair'.
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