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Alice Hemming (nee Schreiner)

Alice Elizabeth Hemming nee Schreiner (1845 - 1884) was Olive Schreiner’s second eldest sister. She married Robert Hemming in 1863 and they lived in Fraserberg where Robert Hemming ran a profitable general dealership. Alice Hemming established a friendship with Mary Brown while living in Fraserberg, and Schreiner met the Browns during her visit to the Hemmings. According to Schoeman, “Alice’s marriage was, by all accounts, happier than Katie’s”, although of the couple’s fifteen children, eleven died in infancy, and Alice Hemming herself died at the age of just 38 from a heart attack (Schoeman 1991: 460). After her death, Alice’s surviving children were cared for by Ettie Schreiner, later Stakesby Lewis.

There are only a few extant letters from Olive Schreiner to Alice Hemming, which mainly centre on family news, in particular the births and deaths of Alice’s children. The earliest was letter to Alice dates from 1872 when Schreiner was living in Dordrecht, and the last dates from 1883; this latter was seemingly written shortly after the publication of The Story of an African Farm, with Schreiner commenting, “About my book, dear, I did not send you a copy because my horrid old publisher made me pay the full price for each copy that I had, and I did not like to send to one without sending to all lest they should be pained, and I couldn’t send to all.” There is a sense in these letters of Alice Hemming as a somewhat remote much older figure for Schreiner (they did not after all grow up together), but that their relationship was warmer and more loving than Schreiner’s with Katie Findlay, to whom she tended to write somewhat formulaic and stilted letters. 

For further information see:
Karel Schoeman (1991) Olive Schreiner: A Woman in South Africa 1855-1881 Johannesburg: Jonathan Ball
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