"Half-dead but into action" Read the full letter

A|B|C|D|E|F|G|H|I|J|K|L|M|N|O|P|Q|R|S|T|U|V|W|X|Y|Z|All

Adela Villiers Smith (nee Villiers)

Adela Constance Smith nee Villiers (born 1872) was the daughter of Colonel Ernest Villiers and Adela Sarah Ibbotson. She married the British MP Sir Francis Smith in July 1901. She suffered a number of periods of extreme ill-health including tuberculosis, but lived well into her 80s, when she was contacted by a US researcher inquiring whether she still had any letters from Olive Schreiner to her (they had all been given to Cronwright-Schreiner). Olive Schreiner met Adela Villiers and her cousin Constance Lytton during an extended visit to their aunt, Lady Loch and her husband Sir Henry Loch, at the Cape, during which time both of them became good friends with her. The friendship was a close and loving one and lasted until Schreiner’s death.

No ‘actual letters’ from Olive Schreiner to Adela Villiers Smith are extant - those she had received were used and then destroyed by Cronwright-Schreiner. Consequently the ‘letters’ to Villiers Smith that now exist take in the form of Cronwright-Schreiner extracts, and consequently it is difficult to reach an overall reading of them: the relationship they bear to Schreiner’s ‘real’ letters is now unknowable, but where original letters to other people can be compared against his versions there are frequent profound differences. However, within this great limitation, the more than fifty ‘letters’ to Villiers Smith are extremely interesting and have substantial content. As well as there having originally been many more letters in number, the indications from the versions made by Cronwright-Schreiner is that the content of the destroyed letters too would likely have had a similar intellectual seriousness and depth to them.

Many of these ‘letters’ deal with fairly abstract topics, including the nature of character and friendship, marriage and its relationship to friendship, power in the relationship between doctors and patients, remembering, and the power of landscape. There are also many substantial mentions of Schreiner’s writing. A fair number of the ‘letters’ are concerned with feminist topics, including the ingrained injustice of women’s oppression, the vote as a symbol of something much larger with the struggle to gain it more important than voting itself, the international women’s movement, the South African Women’s Enfranchisement League, the justification for militancy and the moral need not to criticise women more than men for similar behaviour. The breadth of Schreiner’s approach is well conveyed in them; as a July 1912 letter puts it,

“If I, personally, had to devote myself to working for woman's emancipation in some special branch, I should devote myself to aiding women to enter professions and business, and to reform in dress. But that is not to say that the vote and dozens of other things are not as important and more so. I sympathise with all the women of earth, in whatever direction they are working, who are helping to do away with artificial distinctions of sex.”  

These ‘letters’ also contain guarded hints concerning how Schreiner in later life perceived her accomplishments and also the plans, in particular regarding her writing, which had not come to fruition. A 1915 ‘letter’ on this rather sadly comments that,

“... the only feeling I have about my life is that I have thrown it all away, done nothing with it. I have only two excuses, that I started with everything against me, and that I have always done at the time what I felt to be the right thing. But I doubt me whether I have been right; I have always felt, do the nearest duty first; so one sacrifices all the larger ends. But it's no use weeping over the past - one must always live in the present and future while there is any - the past one cannot touch.”

And regarding war and Schreiner’s pacifist convictions, she wrote to Adela Villiers Smith in 1916 commenting that “... I'm determined whatever this war does it shall never divide between me and anyone I love, from my side. The great thing, when you differ in abstract matters from anyone you love, is never to speak of that matter. Great is silence.”
Back to top


recipient icon Recipient Of
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 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
Back to top


mentioned icon Mentioned In
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 Lytton Family Papers: Schreiner’s letters to Constance Lytton are part of the extensive family papers of the Lytton family and are held in th... 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 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
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 Sheffield City Libraries, Archives & Local Studies: Edward Carpenter Collection, Archives & Local Studies, Sheffield City Libraries: The Edward Carpenter Collection is held ... 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
Back to top