(A shorter version of questions appears after the main entry.)

Olive Schreiner was born in 1855 on a mission station in what was then called Basutoland, in South Africa. She disliked the Calvinism of her father and what she considered the philistinism of her background. She later became a pacifist, feminist and universalist, and the first South African novelist of distinction.

Self-educated, Schreiner left home at age 12, first to live as a housekeeper with older siblings, then as a governess in households of Boer families, where she wrote The Story of An African Farm (originally titled Thorn Kloof). The incident of the stranger's encounter with Waldo is from life, and like her heroine, she read Herbert Spencer's First Principles, J. S. Mill, Darwin, and Emerson; she was attacked by her family and friends for freethinking. At one time she aspired to obtain a medical degree, but since this was financially impossible she determined to focus her ambitions on writing.

Schreiner went to England at age 26 in 1881, and arranged for the publication of her book in a shortened version under the name Ralph Iron (compare Mary Ann Evans' use of the name George Eliot and the Brontes' pennames of Currer and Ellis Bell). In England she suffered greatly from illness and the medicines she took to control them, and it has been suggested that she may have been a victim of poisoning by drug remedies. She was described as dark-haired, with bright brown eyes, vigorous, and broad of build. She associated with left-wing theorists and causists of the day, among them Eleanor Marx, Havelock Ellis, and Edward Carpenter, and she lectured on social topics.

Survival in a foreign country was difficult, however, and Olive returned home after eight years in 1889. Her younger brother became prime minister of Cape Colony, and she married former politician Samuel C. Cronwright-Schreiner. She was deeply grieved by the death of their one still-born infant. She opposed the imperialist expansionist policies of Cecil Rhodes and the Boer War.

In England she had begun her powerful uncompleted fragment, From Man to Man, published after her death, and later in 1911 she also published a major feminist polemic Women and Labour, which (like Charlotte Gilman's 1898 Women and Economics) argued that middle-class women must be permitted to shed the traits of dependent ladies and to act with "manlike" independence; still she accepted the Victorian role of woman as that of nurturance and self-sacrifice for human progress.

In 1913 she returned to England, opposed Britain's entrance into the First World War, and described herself as often depressed and lonely. She wrote to her husband, "I don't think absolute solitude is healthy for any human creature." She returned to Cape Town and died in 1920 at the age of 65. That both her novel and Eliot's most autobiographic fiction end with the death of an aspiring woman seems a bleak comment on the position of women in their century, but in Schreiner's case cultural isolation seems to have been a near-crippling problem. Eliot did write several other novels in which the protagonist survived, but this is Schreiner's one completed fictional message to the world.

What are some resemblances between The Story of an African Farm and works by earlier Victorian authors?

What is the function of the author's introduction? For what kind of story does it prepare the reader?

What is the effect of the opening descriptions? Which features of the environment seem to be emphasized?

What are some traits of Schreiner's style? Does the novel contain elements of humor?

What do we first learn about Lyndall's character? About Waldo's character? How is he contrasted with Lyndall?

What role does Em play in the story? How is her character different from that of Lyndall and Waldo?

Is there significance to the fact that all three are orphans?

Are there themes common to The Story of An African Farm and The Mill on the Floss?

What function is served by the episode of Bonaparte Blenkins?

What qualities are represented by the old German Otto?
--represents a naive but genuine piety
What are remarkable features of the scene of Otto's death? What saves the account from sentimentality?
--prepares carefully for a journey, bids farewell
his simplicity--takes seeds, stones, a romance to read, his most respectable coat
What seems to be the early relationship between Waldo and Lyndall?
How does part I end?
--Waldo behaves well to end, and keeps his self-respect. Blenkins is finally gone, 12.
In both Books I and II, outer experience violates the innocence of the protagonists.

How are the aboriginal peoples (the Bushmen) and colonized peoples ("Kaffirs" and "Hottentots") represented? Are these representations consistent with Schreiner's later advocacy for the equality and independence of African peoples?

Part II
What is the importance of the chapter "Times and Seasons"? Why do you think it is placed at the beginning of part II rather than at the beginning of the novel?
What are important stages of the child's development?
What is the significance of Waldo's carving?
Is it significant that Waldo rather than Lyndall creates the novel's central myth of pilgrimage?
--He expresses what Lyndall enacts.

What is the significance of the allegory of man's search for truth? (i. e., its stages)
According to the allegory, will human beings progress to a final knowledge of truth?
--in century of evolution, such hopes were possible, but it is agonizingly remote--displacement of hope, cmp. George Eliot, Mona Caird
Are there parallels between the man's journey and Tennyson's Holy Grail quest?

What is the significance of Waldo's encounter with the stranger?
--155 his world shared by another
--sudden intensity of unexpected mutuality, sadly aborted
How has the stranger's life been different from that of Waldo?
--154 loss of faith led him to a corrupt hedonism

Has the sudden shift to a long monologue been properly prepared for? Is it effective as a commentary on the plot?

Do you feel the characterization of the stranger in this scene is consistent with what we later learn of his life and attitudes?

When Lyndall returns home and learns Em is engaged to Gregory, what does she tell Em about men? 169 What does the reader suspect her opinions may reveal about the nature of her past experiences while at boarding school?
--as always tends to generalize from herself
--169 seems to describe sexual passion vs. affectionate loyalty; feels men are by nature fickle and unreliable

How does she behave to Em and Waldo upon her return?
--170 has desired to see latter "not often but still sometimes"
What is her initial impression of Gregory Rose? 168
--he is infantile, surely an excess of condescension
--attacks him as womanly, 185, would seem a form of self-hate

How long has she been absent?
--4 years, 172
What change has occurred in Lyndall after she returns home from school? To what extent do her views reflect those of the author? 172 ff.-178
How is she different from Waldo?
What does she think of motherhood? How do their views on having children differ?
Does she hope to do anything about her situation?
--seeks deliverance, 183-84; yet buys into women's role as duty to others, 187 Scorns Rose, faced with individual solitude.

What are unusual features of Gregory Rose's personality?
--narcissism; attraction to pink, jewelry
How would you characterize his courtship of Em?

What change does Lyndall note on her return home?
What is the significance of Waldo's gift?
What do we learn from her encounters with Gregory Rose?

What is the purpose of introducing Tant' Sannie/Little Piet Vander Walt's courtship scene?

--revolting parody of marriage of convenience, contrast Gregory's views on marriage? 197

What is Lyndall's relationship with Waldo? With Rose? With the stranger?

What has happened to Waldo in his journeys around the world? How has he changed?

In what context is the issue of cruelty to animals introduced? What seem to have been Schreiner's views on the topic, and were these shared by others of the time? (253)

What does Gregory learn in seeking Lyndall? What were traits of her partner? How does Lyndall behave as death approaches?

Lyndall's death:
What do you think is the significance of her final attempt to dress and take a journey?
What does she seem most to reject about her death?
What gesture does she make towards her dead child? What is her attitude toward the child?
What does she tell her lover she wishes from life? What is her last fear?
Why is it important that Waldo die after she does?
What is Waldo's dream, and its significance?

--final vision of unity of life after his loss.
--remembers Lyndall singing to him, she gathers shells by the sea, looks at him and places one hand on his forehead and the other on his heart.
--Her death has killed a part of him; feels emptiness of her loss, 287.
She seems to return to him, 287.
How is Waldo's dream different from that of his father?

What are the circumstances of Waldo's death?
--returns to childhood, moves from moon to sun
--he dies in a dreaming trance, a kind of translation. He stretches out his hand to the ice plant--joined to nature freed of other passions, he can see its unity and beauty at last, 310. Merging into it, he finds a final peace with existence.
the narrator interjects the belief that this was the best time to die, 310
He is surrounded by chickens and domestic birds--still they do not come to him while he is alive.
Symbolism of passage abounds: butterflies are symbols of eternity; the milk is to drink in passage; he dies in proximity to animals and nature, and his death occurs in sunshine, after receiving the book's most affirmative unitive spiritual vision.

In what ways is this work not a conventional bildungsroman or work of realist fiction? What is added by its poetic and allegorical qualities? By the use of interpolated letters and songs?

Do you believe the novel's conclusion provides an adequate resolution of its themes? What are some of the merits and/or limitations of this novel?
African Peoples:
Kafirs or Kaffirs, Arabic for infidel, was a name applied by European settlers to the Xhose branch of the Bantu-speaking people of South Africa. Originally used only for the inhabitants of the Transkeian Territories (then called Kaffravia), the name came to be commonly employed as a derogatory term for all Negro Africans. The South African government encourages the use of the term Bantu.

As of 1975, this was a group of 39,000 people in S. W. Africa on the NW Cape Province, Republic of South Africa. In language and in physical type they appear to be related to the San (Boshnu) and speak a variation of the Khrisan, or Click, language. They are generally much lighter in complexion than the neighboring Bantu. A pastoral people, inhabiting the coast of the Cape of Good Hope in historical times, the Khrhri were the first native people to come into contact with Dutch settlers (in the mid-17th century). As the Dutch took over land for farms, the Khrikri were dispossessed, exterminated, or enslaved, and their numbers dwindled. They were formerly divided into 10 clans, each ruled by a headman and councillors elected by universal suffrage. The Khokhoi have disappeared as a group, except for the Namas, who still live as pastoral nomads.  

Shorter version of questions:

Can you think of earlier British novels which may have influenced Schreiner’s themes and presentation? (e. g. The Mill on the Floss, Wuthering Heights) What are some common features and differences?

What do we learn about Lyndall’s character from her remarks on Napoleon? From her response to being locked in her room? How do others respond to her?

How is Waldo’s character contrasted with that of Lyndall? How does Em differ from the other two?

What function is served by the episode of Bonaparte Blenkins? What forms of harm does he do to Otto and Waldo?

What circumstances enable Blenkins to seize a measure of authority? How is his character shown by the manner of his departure?

What are noteworthy features of the scenes of Otto’s death? What are Waldo and Lyndall’s different responses to the death?

What seems to be the relation between members of different national and ethnic groups—Germans, Dutch, English, and Irish, for example? What stereotypes are attached to the different groups?

How are black South Africans represented in the novel? (The terms Kaffir and Hottentot have since been replaced by Bantu and Khoikhoi).

What are recurrent themes in the first part of the book? Is there any hope in the section’s conclusion?

In part two, what is the importance of the chapter “Times and Seasons”? Why do you think it is placed at the beginning of part II rather than at the beginning of the book?

What are important stages of the child’s development? What are the stages of his/her response to religion, nature and life as a whole? How does he/she seek meaning?

What is the meaning of Waldo’s carving? Is it significant that Waldo, not Lyndall, creates the novel’s central myth of pilgrimage?

What is the meaning of the allegory of the stages of man’s search for truth? Will human beings progress to a final knowledge of truth?

What is symbolized by Waldo’s encounter with the stranger? How has the stranger’s life been different from that of Waldo?

What are unusual features of Gregory Rose’s personality? How would you characterize his courtship of Em?

How long has Lyndall been at boarding school, and how has she changed during her absence? What experiences may prompt Lyndall to give Em her negative evaluation of men on her return?

How does Lyndall behave to Em and Waldo on her return? What is her initial impression of Gregory Rose?

What are Lyndall’s opinions on women, equality, motherhood, and children? What does she think of her possibilities for a vocation? How do she and Waldo differ in their views?

Does she hope to do anything about her situation? Which of her qualities does she think may be of some benefit to her?

What relationship develops between Lyndall and Gregory Rose? How do you interpret her offer of marriage? His professions of attraction to her?

What is the purpose of including Tant’ Sannie/Little Piet Vander Walt’s courtship scene?

Before he leaves the farm, what is Waldo’s relationship with Lyndall?

What are the traits of Lyndall’s “stranger”? What seems to be her relationship with him? Why does she leave with him but refuse to marry him?

What effect does Lyndall’s brief affair have on her?

What happens to Waldo in his journeys around the world? How do his experiences change him?

When he seeks Lyndall, what does Gregory learn about her situation? What is her attitude towards her child, and what symbolism is associated with its death?

What happens just before her death? At the moment of her death? What are symbolic and psychologically arresting features of her death scene?

Why is it important to the novel that Waldo should die after Lyndall does?

What is Waldo’s dream, and its significance?

What are the circumstances of Waldo’s death? Do you find any hope in the final scene?

Do you feel the novel’s conclusion provides an adequate resolution of its themes?

What are some of the merits and original features of this novel?