"Don't come, Cron's dear old mother" Read the full letter

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Mary Brown (nee Solomon)

Mary Brown nee Solomon (1847 - 1935) was the third daughter of Henry Solomon and niece of the Cape parliamentarian, Saul Solomon and his wife Georgiana Solomon (with her too being one of Schreiner's correspondents). Mary Solomon grew up in Sea Point, Cape Town and in 1869 she married Dr John Brown and they went to live in Fraserburg, where Schreiner's older sister Alice Hemming and her husband Robert were then resident. In 1873 Mary Brown met Schreiner while she was visiting Alice, and a lifelong friendship grew from the meeting. Mary Brown described her first sight of Schreiner in a brief memoir:

'Her sister Mrs H., and I were great friends, and when I went to call on the newcomer I entered the house by a side door and so saw her without her seeing me. I stood and looked at her, for she seemed like one walking in her sleep. Backwards and forwards on the long stoep she walked rapidly, with her small hands clenched behind her back, her long hair fell like a mantle over her shoulders, and her soft white muslin dress clung closely to her girlish figure. She was talking to herself and, though she looked before her, she was quite oblivious of her surroundings. Olive was about 18 then and very beautiful.' (Brown 1923: 2)

Schreiner herself often described how she had paced up and down since girlhood, thinking, talking and 'writing' stories in her head. In 1880, when the Browns were living at Burnley in Lancashire, Schreiner sent them the manuscript of The Story of an African Farm, and asked them to help find a publisher for the novel. The Browns sent the manuscript to an Edinburgh friend with publishing connections, but who made various recommendations for alterations. After she had brought the revised manuscript to Britain in person and after a series of rejections following overtures to publishers, Schreiner finally secured its publication herself with Chapman & Hall. When the second edition of The Story of an African Farm was published 1883, Schreiner dedicated it to 'Mrs John Brown', and in an 1887 letter to Mary Brown she commented, 'The book always seems to belong half to you & Dr Brown.' The extremely religious and conventional Mary Brown was in fact at the time disapproving of the book's contents, as her letters to Schreiner's oldest sister Katie Findlay make clear.

Mary and John Brown had three children - William, Ray and Julia. While they lived in Burnley, Mary Brown became active in social work and charity work, attempting to alleviate the endemic poverty and suffering she found among the workers in the Lancashire mills and mines. She also worked for the Women's Christian Temperance Union, and then later for the Women's Enfranchisement League in Cape Town, and also the National Council of Women. Mary Brown?s eyesight deteriorated badly with age, and she eventually became virtually blind. She died in her sleep on 16 January 1935.

Schreiner?s letters to Mary Brown contain some interesting references to her writing, and to the writing process. She sent various of her writings to Mary Brown over the years, including the 'Prelude' to From Man to Man. Later on their friendship there is a sense that Schreiner drifted away from the Browns, and many of her letters to Mary Brown take the form of brief postcards. She wrote to Mary Brown in 1889, 'You know I have no friends who are my friends at all in the way you are. It's the feeling one has to one's own family', and this seemed to be the basis on which their friendship continued, in spite of some strains and rifts, particularly around their mutual involvement in the Women's Enfranchisement League in Cape Town but Schreiner's more radical stance on 'race' matters. Schreiner's letters to other people indicate that John and Mary Brown's emphasis on the franchise 'on the same terms as men' in the South African context meant a racial basis. At one point in the ensuing events Mary Brown refused to attend WEL meetings, although she was vice-president. Brown herself notes of this period in her memoir of Schreiner that, 'I have alluded to her strong sense of justice and her brave defence of what she felt was right and true, but these feelings sometimes carried her beyond all reason' (Brown 1923: 15), which suggests that she did not share Schreiner's fight for a full non-racial franchise. Schreiner's public reactions were more even-handed and more loyal, however.

Schreiner's last letter to Mary Brown was written on 9 December 1920 and in it she seems to take her leave, writing, 'You have done so much for others should be walled round with love & care now you need it so Good bye dear dear friend'. This was possibly the very last letter Schreiner wrote. 

For further information see:
Mrs John Brown (1923) Olive Schreiner: Memories of a Friendship Cape Town (pamphlet)
Jill Liddington & Jill Norris (1978) One Hand Tied Behind Us: The Rise of the Women?s Suffrage Movement London: Virago Press
Richard Allan Solomon (compiled and publisher) The Solomons: The Genealogical Tree and a Short History of the Solomon Family in South Africa Cape Town (pamphlet)
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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
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 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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collection icon Cory Library, Rhodes University: The Cory Library, Grahamstown, is a rich resource for books and archival papers pertaining in particular to the history of th... Show/Hide Collection Letters
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 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 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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