Advertisement

Capturing the Ideal: Olive Schreiner’s From Man to Man

  • Carolyn Burdett
Chapter

Abstract

W. T. Stead, journalist and commentator on the reality and fiction of New Womanhood, gave a special place to his friend Olive Schreiner in the pages of his 1894 review of ‘The Novel of the Modern Woman’.1 Schreiner’s only published novel was, of course, The Story of an African Farm; its heroine, Lyndall, the novel’s ‘first wholly serious feminist heroine’.2 Lyndall speaks — although she does not manage to enact — a language of progress which identifies marriage and maternity as amongst the chief bars to women’s emancipation: ‘I am not in so great a hurry to put my neck beneath any man’s foot; and I do not so greatly admire the crying of babies’, Lyndall says as a counter to her cousin Em’s not-yet-disabused enthusiasm for married life.3 Lyndall is, like her author, a modern: she scorns the worthlessness of crafting for six weeks a footstool that ‘a machine would have made better in five minutes’ (SAF, 186). Her analysis of the constructedness of gender identity is so strikingly modern that, when Schreiner’s work was rediscovered by the women’s movement of the next century, Lyndall could be quoted ‘straight’, her words as relevant to the position of women in the second half of the twentieth century as they were at the end of the nineteenth. There has been no question that what Lyndall speaks is the truth; the problem for Schreiner’s present feminist critics is what happens to the woman who does so.

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Notes

  1. 1.
    W. T. Stead, ‘The Book of the Month: the Novel of the Modern Woman’, Review of Reviews 10 (1894), 64.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Elaine Showalter, A Literature of Their Own: British Women Novelists from Brontë to Lessing ( London: Virago, 1978 ), 199.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Olive Schreiner, The Story of an African Farm, (1883; Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1971), 184. Subsequent references to this work, abbreviated as SAF, will appear in the main text.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Grant Allen, The Woman Who Did, ( London: John Lane, 1895 ).Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Olive Schreiner, Woman and Labour ( 1911; London: Virago, 1978 ), 33.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Olive Schreiner to Havelock Ellis, 2 February 1898, Richard Rive (ed.), Olive Schreiner: Letters 1871–1899 ( Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988 ), 149.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Olive Schreiner, From Man to Man (1926; London: Virago, 1982), 33. Subsequent references to this work, abbreviated as FMM, will appear in the main text.Google Scholar
  8. 9.
    Lucy Bland, Banishing the Beast: English Feminism and Sexual Morality 1885–1914 ( Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1995 ), 145–6.Google Scholar
  9. 11.
    George Egerton, ‘Virgin Soil’, Discords (1894), rpt. as Keynotes and Discords ( London: Virago, 1983 ), 145–162.Google Scholar
  10. 20.
    The phrase is Virginia Woolf’s, about George Eliot; Woolf, Women and Writing, ed. Michèle Barrett (London: Women’s Press, 1979 ), 160.Google Scholar
  11. 26.
    Jacqueline Rose, ‘On the “Universality” of Madness: Bessie Head’s A Question of Power’, in States of Fantasy ( Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996 ), 99.Google Scholar
  12. 30.
    Gerald Monsman, Olive Schreiner’s Fiction: Landscape and Power ( New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1991 ), 161.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Carolyn Burdett

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations