Read The Story of an African Farm by Olive Schreiner Dan Jacobson Online


A classic story of rural life in 19th Century South Africa, it is a searing indictment of the rigid Boer social conventions. The first of the great South African novels chronicles the adventures of three childhood friends who defy societal repression. The novel's unorthodox views on religion and marriage aroused widespread controversy upon its 1883 publication, and the worA classic story of rural life in 19th Century South Africa, it is a searing indictment of the rigid Boer social conventions. The first of the great South African novels chronicles the adventures of three childhood friends who defy societal repression. The novel's unorthodox views on religion and marriage aroused widespread controversy upon its 1883 publication, and the work retains in power more than a century later....

Title : The Story of an African Farm
Author :
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ISBN : 9780140431841
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 304 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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The Story of an African Farm Reviews

  • Ruth
    2019-06-22 14:31

    I happened upon this book at a very painful time in my life, and I think my state of mind had a lot to do with how powerfully I was affected by this book. Every day I was fighting off the fear that physically, mentally, I was going down. And getting quite old on top of that. So it was precisely the philosophy of the book that impacted me most powerfully. Yes, some people are just cruel for no reason. And maybe, no matter how hard you try to believe in God, you can't make it. The character who impacted me most was the old man, the victim of so much abuse from the landowner female boss. He took the indignities with grace, was grateful, and as his sufferings became nearly unbearable, he still managed to find gratitude and hope. Don't get the wrong idea; his is not the only attitude on how to live that we hear about. For me, this book runs really deep. I have to say I ran into a South African who said that in his time they had all had to read it and it was a children's book and silly. Wow. I walked away from him quickly. Still, this book would not have been my cup of tea for a great majority of my life. It probably helps to be old, and it doesn't hurt to have your back against the wall.

  • Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
    2019-06-25 17:30

    What led me to this novel was the Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain, said to be the only autobiographical work about the First World War written by a woman. If my recollection is right, this novel was a hot topic of discussion between Vera Brittain and her fiance during the few last moments of peace they enjoyed before he, Vera's brother and several of their male friends went to the Front and perished one-by-one in the battlefields of Europe.But why would these Englishmen be discussing a novel about an African farm during the brink of a world war? Well, the novel is not about any farm though the setting is in a farm in South Africa where the author was born in 1855. It is almost about EVERYTHING except farming.Olive Schreiner's parents were devout Christians (Calvinists). Her father was a missionary among the tribesmen in the frontiers of the colony whom he was trying to convert to the faith. Yet at the young age of ten (as she confessed later in life), shortly after the death of her younger sister who was dearly loved, she had become an atheist. She never attended school, even of the most basic nursery-type thing, spending childhood years in lonely missionary outposts. At age twelve she left home to work: as a housekeeper to some of her older married siblings and, on several occasions, as a governess for various white (Boer) families. It was while working as a governess that she began writing this novel. It was published in 1883 with much acclaim mainly because of its feminist theme (two of its principal protagonists were unconventional, strong-willed women, although both looked stupid to me on matters of the heart). And it was also a platform for the 28-year-old author's anti-religious bent where, for example, she made a character say:"Now we have no God. We have had two: the old God that our fathers handed down to us, that we hated, and never liked; the new one that we made for ourselves, that we loved; but now he has flitted away from us, and we see what he was made of--the shadow of our highest ideal, crowned and throned. Now we have no God."'The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.' It may be so. Most things said or written have been the work of fools."This thing is certain--he is a fool who says, 'No man hath said in his heart, There is no God.'"It has been said many thousand times in hearts with profound bitterness of earnest faith.""We do not cry and weep; we sit down with cold eyes and look at the world. We are not miserable. Why should we be? We eat and drink, and sleep all night; but the dead are not colder."And, we say it slowly, but without sighing, 'Yes, we see it now: there is no God.'"And, we add, growing a little colder yet, 'There is no justice. The ox dies in the yoke, beneath its master's whip; it turns its anguish-filled eyes on the sunlight, but there is no sign of recompense to be made it. The black man is shot like a dog, and it goes well with the shooter. The innocent are accused, and the accuser triumphs. If you will take the trouble to scratch the surface anywhere, you will see under the skin a sentient being writhing in impotent anguish.'"And, we say further, and our heart is as the heart of the dead for coldness, 'There is no order: all things are driven about by a blind chance.'"The novel is marred by imperfections. A more careful publisher would have sent it back to the author for revisions or restructuring. As it is, it seems to be one where it has not made up its mind whether it wants to be humorous, tragic or polemical. But it stood out proud during its time, more than a century ago, and at its unique place in the sun, authored by this remarkable young woman. It certainly still deserves to be read to this day.

  • Kathleen
    2019-06-05 19:40

    “Was it only John, think you, who saw the heavens open? The dreamers see it every day.”Warning: racist language throughout, extreme in parts, and a book that only concerns itself with white people. The writing is otherwise stunning, and the narrative voice strong and unique. I thought this would be, I don’t know, the story of an African farm. But Olive Schreiner has woven a story out of spiritual questioning, and discovered some singular connections and exceptional insights along the way.There is so much in this little book.Some gorgeous sentences: “He howled, till the tarantulas, who lived between the rafters and the zinc roof, felt the unusual vibration, and looked out with their wicked bright eyes, to see what was going on.”Sorrow: “In truth, nothing matters. This dirty little world full of confusion, and the blue rag, stretched overhead for a sky, is so low we could touch it with our hand.”Insights into art: “And the attribute of all true art, the highest and the lowest, is this—that it says more than it says, and takes you away from itself. It is a little door that opens into an infinite hall where you may find what you please.”And feminism: “Your man’s love is a child’s love for butterflies. You follow till you have the thing, and break it. If you have broken one wing, and the thing flies still, then you love it more than ever, and follow till you break both; then you are satisfied when it lies still on the ground.”And death: “For this hour—this, this—they barter truth and knowledge, take any lie, any creed, so it does not whisper to them of the dead that they are dead!”And lots of wise and lovely stuff about nature, my favorite being: “Of all the things I have ever seen, only the sea is like a human being; the sky is not, nor the earth. But the sea is always moving, always something deep in itself is stirring it. It never rests; it is always wanting, wanting, wanting. It hurries on; and then it creeps back slowly without having reached, moaning. It is always asking a question, and it never gets an answer. I can hear it in the day and in the night; the white foam breakers are saying that which I think. I walk alone with them when there is no one to see me, and I sing with them. I lie down on the sand and watch them with my eyes half shut. The sky is better, but it is so high above our heads. I love the sea.”I could go on, but I’ll stop quoting now! One last thing. The ending just knocked my socks off. Overall, a thrilling read.

  • Christian Engler
    2019-06-23 16:47

    When The Story of an African Farm was published in 1883, the title gave no indication to readers what the complex scope of the novel was really about.Written by South African governess, Olive Schreiner, the book's crux ran along the controversal: the oppression of women, feminism, the existance of God, anti-imperialism, the bizarre transformation of one the novel's characters (not Lyndall) into a transvestite. It goes on and on. The novel was written when the belief of agnosticism was in the early stages of being in 'vogue.' Also interesting, Darwin's Origin of the Species had been published for some time, and the theory had rooted itself in many areas of society.This was not the traditional Victorian novel that was written in the old English 'bonne bouche' manner on par with Jane Eyre or Emma. The prose of the novel has a broken up fluidity to it; it is not grandiloquent; it is in fact, quite brutal, edgy. As Elaine Showalter writes in the excellent introduction to the Bantam Classic edition, "Readers expecting the structured plot of a typical three-volume Victorian novel were startled by the oddity of African Farm, with its poetic, allegorical, and distinct passages, and its defiance of narrative and sexual conventions." With that clearly explained, it is not a surprise that it shocked old, priggish Englanders with their stiff upper lips and staunch, conservative manners, nor is it shocking that the Church of England called the novel "blasphemous."African Farm details the lives of three key characters: Waldo, Em and Lyndall. The latter character is the one who seems to bring up the key issues that made the novel controversal. Lyndall is always described as 'little,' 'delicate,' 'like a doll,' 'a flower.' However, she is the one who refuses to marry (with one minor exception to the rule) until a social equilibrium is established between men and women. She desires equality between the sexes, and is willing to suffer for it. And she does, more than what is expected. Odd as it may seem, but considering the period in which the novel was written, the character of Lyndall really had to be physically 'feminized' in order to make up for her strongly held convictions of being a 'total' woman and not 'half' a woman.If any person reads the novel, the character of Lyndall needs (from my view) special attention, for she questions the values of men, women who accepted the standard, religion and the social hierarchy in which she was born. Her questions seem like cartels, challenges. Why can't she have a job? Why can't she be educated or independent without the stigma 'weirdo' unflinchingly attached to her? Why must she be dubbed 'strange?' The reader must always ask why when reading this book. The three characters, Lyndall especially, endure a lot of hardship, a hardship that mirrored the very author's life, i.e. her cold and distant upbringing, the religious retraints placed on her life as well as the life-clenching grasp that old norms had on women of that period. African Farm was Olive Schreiner's liberty, her freedom from the societal choke hold.In conclusion, the novel is not one of grace and patrician dogma. It is not a book of nice ladies and gentlemen sitting under the African sun near exotic, wild flowers sipping tea and participating in intellectual banter. No, it is an underscored work of literature where ideas of human aspiration and ecumenical desires are explored under a blazing sun and burnt, sandy plain.

  • Leni Iversen
    2019-05-30 20:57

    The first part of this book was a three star read for me, alright but didn't really connect with me. Then the second part came along and blew me away. The title of the novel is not misleading, exactly, but not entirely accurate. It is not the story of a farm. It is the story of a group of people living on an African farm. It covers several segments of their lives around the 1860s. It is the story of a farm in the sense that everything is set at the farm. When people leave, we only hear about them in letters, or in their stories once they return.The novel was published in 1883, under a male pseudonym that apparently didn't fool anyone. I guess it might have been the eloquent championing of women's rights by one of the female characters, although Schreiner was clearly modelling her arguments on those of John Stuart Mill whose other works also feature in the book. Schreiner goes somewhat further, and mixes up the gender roles in unexpected ways. Her male characters are certainly not what I have come to expect from Victorian novels. But this is late Victorian writing, and times were a-changing. Schreiner was simply a good way ahead of the heat. In addition to early feminism we get a fable about the search for Truth, and the end-of-Victorian era upheaval of science contradicting religion. A considerable amount of the second part of the book is given over to soul searching and long monologues, but it is riveting reading. For the rest, the book is episodic, with lapses of time between chapters and with characters showing who they are in activity rather than words. The effect is quite modern, and again rather different from the usual 19th century style.One word of warning at the end: The book was written in the 1880s and is set in South Africa. It is littered with terms that are today considered highly offensive racial slurs. In the book they are, however, used simply as descriptive terms. The author seems to have subscribed to a type of Social Darwinism that sees people of colour as inferior, but not inherently so. They are inferior as a result of the same sort of circumstances that kept women inferior: Lack of education and opportunity. This is only vaguely explored in the book, and I am a bit unclear on whether she thought that skin colour actually gets lighter with "civilization" so that eventually there would be no people of colour left once equal opportunity had existed for a few generations. But on the whole, this is a book about white people. About Boers, the English, the odd German and Irishman, and the various people of colour are simply there, a part of daily life but yet apart from the human relations, connections, and sympathies of the white people.

  • Krista
    2019-06-14 15:46

    "The Story of an African Farm" is a novel narrating episodes from the lives of three children as they grow up on a farm in South Africa: through dreamy yet visceral prose, the reader learns of Waldo’s spiritual unrest, Lyndall’s fierce and far-reaching ambitions, and of the stolid Em, who is sweet but no fool. The narrative is evocative in its description of a different time and place and a unique culture.But "The Story of an African Farm" is a mess. There is good material to excerpt as food for thought but the narrative is disjunct and the reader is hard-pressed to find much of a cohesive narrative thread. The book is, ostensibly, divided into two parts; in Part I, the reader struggles through episodes wherein the children fight an evil and corrupt man who is trying to take over the farm. Yet they don't really fight. They hunker down and wait for it to be over which, eventually, it is. And when it is over, Part II begins with a waxing, verbose first-person-plural description of Waldo's journey from utterly faithful Christian to atheist. It is a great read, but it doesn't fit. At all. Then, the plot continues moving along but, like the plot prior to the grandiloquent philosophical section, the ensuing storyline is rife with narrative holes and difficulty. And interrupted with more rhapsodic philosophical episodes. It's almost as if Schreiner couldn't decide what kind of book she really wanted to write. She rushes the reader through life experiences in a way that highlights that she is not so interested in what the characters are doing but what they are thinking. Or highlighting what she thinks WE should be thinking. So, in this sense, it isn't the story of an African farm at all (though there are some fantastic descriptions of a Dutch wedding and the landscape of the farm and its surrounds, the dust, the dirt, the lifestyle) but a story of the confusion of coming of age. And written, it seems, by one who was still confused about coming of age and what that really means. Schreiner says it best herself in the words of a stranger talking to Waldo in the karoo; "A confused and disordered story - the little made large and the large small, and nothing showing its inward meaning. It is not till the past has receded many steps that before the clearest eyes it falls into co-ordinate pictures. It is not till the I we tell of has ceased to exist that it takes its place among other objective realities, and finds its true niche in the picture. The present and the near past is a confusion, whose meaning flashes on us as it slinks away into the distance."In reading the above quote, one begins to wonder if Schreiner structured her book to purposefully fulfill the sentiment expressed. And if not, one wishes she had written her book, put it away, and come back to it 20 years later to edit and reorder before publishing.Nevertheless, it was a read I'm glad I undertook. And scattered throughout are wonderful food-for-thought-and-reflection moments;"All things on earth have their price; and for truth we pay the dearest. We barter it for love and sympathy. The road to honor is paved with thorns; but on the path to truth, at every step you set your foot down on your own heart.""In the end, experience will inevitably teach us that the laws for a wise and noble life have a foundation infinitely deeper than the fiat of any being, god or man, even in the groundwork of human nature. She will teach us that whoso sheddeth man's blood, though by man his blood be not shed, though no man avenge and no hell await, yet every drop shall blister on his soul and eat in the name of the dead. She will teach that whoso takes a love not lawfully his own, gathers a flower with a poison on its petals; that whoso revenges, strikes with a sword that has two edges - one for his adversary, one for himself; that who lives to himself is dead, though the ground is not yet on him; that who wrongs another clouds his own sun; and that who sins in secret stands accused and condemned before the one Judge who deals eternal justice - his own all-knowing self."In describing Em, the stolid, sweet character, Lyndall says, "(She is like the) accompaniment of a song. She fills up the gaps in other people's lives, and is always number two; but I think she is like many accompaniments - a great deal better than the song she is to accompany.""There must be a Heareafter because man longs for it? Is not all life from the cradle to the grave one long yearning for that which we never touch? There must be a Hereafter because we cannot think of any end to life? Can we think of a beginning? Is it easier to say 'I was not' than to say 'I shall not be?'"

  • Sarazahrani
    2019-06-19 17:32

    In love with it. I am a fan of any story where a desert is a setting. A warm yet solitary place to be. At any attempt to figure out the best way of coping with it, you just fail, fail, fail. Better back to the novel. Such an in-depth resolution of a basic story! Waldo, as young as he is, is questioning the religion as complicated as it is. Here is the best quote i find: very thoughtful and true to its core:Uncle Otto:"How do you know that anything is true? Because you are told so. If we begin to question everything--proof, proof, proof, what will we have to believe left? [...] How do you know that Godtalked to Moses, except that Moses wrote it?"I am a huge fan of Uncle Otto and Waldo. A perfect father and a perfect son. Aren't they just a perfect family? The storyline is all about children's strength when it comes to their dreams. A strength that never seems to fade away. Those children are just a picture of myself as I would like to be, standing for my dreams. Makes me think twice why life is " a rare and a very rich thing."Definitely an excellent read. Do not miss the movie. It is worth watching. Are there any novels by Olive Schreiner worth reading?

  • Andreea
    2019-05-26 13:31

    Spooky (I kept getting really scared that the dog was going to get killed, but he survives to the end), strange and kinda boring after the description promises you shocking portrayals of premarital sex and cross-dressing. Also a lot of racial slurs and offhand racist comments from characters and othering portrayals of people of colour all of which will probably make you uncomfortable. I think, overall, what's most surprising is that this is a Victorian novel with very little plot. Not only is it quite short (~350 pages at most and only two parts), but it has a really small number of characters (everyone's parents and spouses are conveniently dead) with very limited storylines. You can tell that this is a first attempt at writing a novel? And while (I guess) it's significant for notoriety / context / impact, the philosophising about God feels very flat and I don't think I'd read this if I didn't have an interest in Victorian literature. Also reminds me of Virginia Woolf, especially the middle section.

  • Emilio
    2019-06-09 19:31

    This is a peculiar book by any account, but in its time, peculiarly influential. It's a shame that today more people haven't heard of it.Olive Schreiner was the first well-known South African writer, and this book literally marks the dawn of South African literature. Schreiner wrote it when she was 18, and it has the exploratory feel of a writer trying out different styles to see what she can do; they never entirely meld by the end of the book, but it nonetheless paints a portrait of growing up wrestling with religious doubt that still has surprising resonance.Its unusual 3-part structure is said to have influenced Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse; its comic yet disturbing portrait of a charlatan taking over life on the farm may have helped Mark Twain write Huckleberry Finn; and the World War I poets had read and admired the book. For what's today an unknown work by an unknown author, this is quite a distinguished series of connections to have.

  • ifjuly
    2019-06-05 16:51

    someone who really saw me in my writing, all of my hidden concerns nestled, recommended this to me out of the blue. she was spot on. this book, oh this book. millions of papers could be written about this book. in another life i would love to write a dissertation on it, frankly. there's a TON going on here, and it's all hot buzz worthy topics right now i confess--colonialism, gender, property issues...all wrapped in the far away language of childhood and growing up into awareness. fascinating, to use a cliche term.

  • Rita
    2019-06-12 16:49

    An amazing book. One of a kind. Author born in 1855. Life on severely isolated South African farms. Unbelievable isolation.Written when author very young, very painful to read as author feels so keenly the disappointments and disillusions of life and the cruelties people inflict on each other. Strangely, in the context of the long write-up of her life in Wikipedia, she seems to have foreseen some of her own life's later tragedies [baby dying just after birth for one].

  • Philip
    2019-06-18 21:37

    Reading takes you there, sometimes even to places where you, the reader, may not want to go. Someone else, someone we have never met, did this, thought that, recorded it and related it. The reader, never unsuspecting, willingly takes the author’s hand to be led partially blind along others’ pathways, into foreign lands, or distant times in unfamiliar landscapes. If the experience proves rich, a reader has seen life, culture and time through another’s eyes and is richer for it.And sometimes the experience is utterly surprising, especially when the landscape and culture in question is one whose recent press, and therefore the reader’s assumptions, are not wholly positive. It is then that the readers own assumptions may be questioned, even by apparently uncontroversial subjects. And it in this respect that the reading of The Story Of An African Farm by Olive Schreiner is thoroughly recommended.It’s a novel published in 1883, focusing on the rites of passage from childhood to adulthood, from naïve encounter with nature to married expectancy of two orphaned girls, Em and Lyndall, growing up in a mixed, though predominantly Boer, determinedly white household. Now white South African culture of the nineteenth century has rarely commanded a sympathetic English language press. The twentieth century’s policy of separate development, Apartheid, they called it, can be traced to the assumptions and notions of separateness that we learn to take for granted in the pages of Olive Schreiner’s novel.There is no attempt to explain or justify such ideas in the book. It is no bigot’s apology for failing. What it does do, however, is portray life for this family, and especially the two young girls within it. We grow with them through childhood to the goal of becoming women in a small farm in the dry karoo scrublands of South Africa. Daily life, with its wholly obligatory chores, is almost dispassionately described. These people were farmers, but in fact peasants in modern parlance, since they approached the activity not as a business, but as a means of achieving sustenance. They observed that cattle did not breed with ostriches and that different species inhabited their own cycles and niches of life. It’s what God decreed and, though there was always space for doubt and question, these were activities that could not publicly be expressed or acknowledged, since the bedrock of community might be undermined.There was a perceived and assumed order to things, an order that had to be obeyed, the price for non-observance being non-survival. Outsiders, like guests at any formalised gathering where regular participants implicitly know the rules, were always seen as potential threats. And, when your nearest neighbour might be many miles away, separateness was part of the assumed and inhabited landscape. And so we see the concept applied even to the different people with whom these white farmers had to cultivate daily contact, contact without which none of them would have survived. What happens to the two girls, Em and Lyndall, in their African farm is the very substance of the book, content that only should be revealed via the reading of the tale. Suffice it to say that this novel about lives lived within a system of apparently rigid rules eventually relates events that have all the characters questioning the very basis of the assumptions they live by. Life was hard, and often cruel. But that was the life they lived and, given their location in place and time, it was perhaps the only life that was possible. The Story Of An African Farm by Olive Schreiner is a book that certainly takes the reader into its own world. It presents a life and landscape that is both unfamiliar and little understood. By the end, we may be no more in sympathy with its reality, but we certainly do know more about it.

  • Sylvester
    2019-05-25 15:51

    1st read = 4*2nd read = 4*Manomanoman. Not easy, this one. From the first paragraph I knew I was in for it. The bleakness of the setting, the ignorant cruelty of the people (not the main characters) - I didn't want to continue. I kept thinking - how on earth did I get through this as a young person, never mind give it 4*?? That question kept me going. (These days I don't like misery for it's own sake, and it sure felt like that for a long time in this book.)And it turns out, I think the 4* rating was just. It's an amazing unfurling of so many issues - the restrictive role of women at the time (some of which still applies today), the question of the existence of God, the cruelty of humanity - I could go on and on there is such a multitude of questions posed. For that alone it deserves credit. I don't necessarily agree with the conclusions (are there conclusions made, though? lets just say I don't hold with the responses of the main characters), but that is a small thing in light of the importance of voicing the questions. This is a book that incites thought and discussion - and, in it's own difficult and bleak way, it's beautiful. It broke my heart. The part where Lyndall says that men's love for women is like someone chasing a butterfly - when they succeed in capturing one, they break it's wings and then lose interest - that sadness pervades every sentence in the book. It felt to me like the failure of love - the lack of it or the twisting of it or its failure to fulfill an individual's deep needs and longings. A book like this doesn't encourage me to go skipping down the lane, that's all.

  • Janille N G
    2019-06-25 17:58

    This was a surprisingly moving and interesting read! I was almost immediately intrigued by the unique storyline and the very distinct setting, and all of the characters are so well described and articulated. Many of the scenes are disturbing, strange and unsettling (I am thinking of the chapter when Gregory acts as Lyndall's nurse), but these moments add to the intricacies and complexities of a plot that is unlike any that I have encountered in my extensive reading of Victorian literature. Lyndall is an absolutely fascinating character, and many of her longer quotations and ideas about gender equality and social hierarchies are poignant and thought-provoking, but I was also very intrigued by several of the minor characters, most particularly Em and the description of her relationship with Gregory. There is something deeply emotional about the interactions between the characters and about the struggles they each encounter in their lives (especially Waldo whose childhood is very difficult and whose moments of religious contemplation are very well-articulated and profound) and I thought the ending of the novel, specifically the last image of Em and Waldo, was extremely affective and a beautiful conclusion to an unexpectedly touching text.Check out my literary blog for more reviews!

  • Gill
    2019-06-17 16:32

    I wasn't sure to begin with, but ultimately I decided this was a 5 star read for me. It was about so many things and ideas, in addition to being about life on an African farm more than 100 years ago. I found it interesting and thought provoking. Sometimes the writing style seemed a bit clumsy, but for much of the time I thought the writing was startling and/or beautiful.I loved things like (from Chapter 2.XI):'A convict, or a man who drinks, seems something so far off and horrible when we see him; but to himself he seems quite near to us, and like us. We wonder what kind of a creature he is; but he is just we, ourselves. We are only the wood, the knife that carves on us is the circumstance.'This whole chapter is amongst the best in the book.

  • Christy
    2019-06-23 19:44

    A South African classic I read on the plane back to Seattle. Set on a nineteenth century farm in the arid semi-desert Karoo, this is a bildungsroman of three children: Waldo, the philosophical son of a German immigrant; Em, the step-daughter of the farm's widowed owner; and Lyndell, whose connection I couldn't establish, but who is beautiful, intelligent and doomed. Contains: a spiteful Irishman, ostriches, scenery, death, musings on religion, transcendentalism, and the woman question. I'm not sure I liked it - but I was moved by its familiar landscape and its ecstasy.

  • Jared Murphy
    2019-06-10 19:49

    Schreiner is probably not well known outside of South Africa. Heck I don't even know if she is/was well known there. However, this is a Victorian era work of fiction written by a South African about experiences in South Africa and reads unlike other books of the era. It carried me away when I read it for a Victorian lit class. It probably wouldn't carry a lot of people away but it was an opening into an area of the world and a cultural heritage that I previously knew little or nothing about. Recommended for students of literature and those who like to expand their knowledge of the world.

  • Wanda
    2019-06-20 19:31

    Project Gutenberg download -

  • Katy
    2019-06-24 16:43

    What a strange book that has not held up well over time. It may have been groundbreaking at the time, but is now dated. There are some lovely descriptions of South Africa.

  • Aaron Eames
    2019-05-31 21:46

    Perhaps more properly, The Story of a South African Farm, Schreiner’s novel explores the lives of its inhabitants, in particular the feminist-minded free-thinking Lyndall and the agnostic labourer Waldo. The first part reads like an extended passage from Huckleberry Finn minus much of the humour, transplanted to a new continent and hauled up onto dry land; narratorial philosophical meditations spread throughout like roots in the stonework of the plot, and the claustrophobic setting chafes and stifles, yet the book remains engrossing, deep and fulfilling. Schreiner’s portrayal of the “New Woman” and “New Man” is historically significant and remains curious to witness.

  • MMG
    2019-06-19 16:42

    Wow! This book turned out to be a peculiar yet delightful surprise. I thought it was going to be a 19th-century version of Isak Denisen's Out of Africa. Boy, was I wrong!So many elements (and plot lines) combine to make this a riveting, entertaining, and enlightening read.First and foremost, Schreiner creatively and adeptly examines women's issues specific to her 1860s South Africa (Cape Colony). The book earned a well-deserved designation as one of the "first feminist novels." Limits on women's education, employment, and other freedoms are explored. The merits and drawbacks of both marriage and single life, especially for women, are at the core of several plot lines, and one character (view spoiler)[ enters into an unmarried domestic partnership, which would have been scandalous to many 19th-century readers. (hide spoiler)] Suspenseful intrigue and humor combine in a plot line about a gold-digging male con artist and interloper who pursues a widowed Boer smallholder. Gender identity issues are also explored in a surprisingly modern way through the author's characterization of (view spoiler)[ Gregory, who seems to self-identify as heterosexual, yet who engages in cross-dressing. Given the date of publication, I was pleasantly surprised that Schreiner depicts Gregory's behavior objectively and nonjudgmentally, in that she merely describes his behavior; therefore, Gregory is not made a moral example of, he is not painted as abnormal, but rather, his behavior is normalized in that it is described in the same objective, matter-of-fact fashion as the behavior of any other character in the novel. His cross-dressing isn't written about as being a "problem," nor does it lead to Gregory's destruction or downfall, as one might expect in a novel from this time period; rather, Gregory's cross-dressing is merely something he does. In any other book published in 1883, I would have expected the opposite. I found it refreshing to read such an open-minded, accepting, and progressive handling of cross-dressing in a 19th-century novel. (hide spoiler)]In addition to women's issues, Schreiner touches on ethnic/class issues between the Boer, German, and English settlers of Cape Colony. I wish I'd known more of that history before I'd read the novel. In any event, Schreiner's book has inspired me to learn more about the topic.Where Schreiner shines in her examination of feminist and gender issues, to the modern reader, her handling of race and racism comes across as well-intentioned yet condescending and ill-conceived. While her passages about black South Africans highlight the racism and political/social subjugation that black South Africans endured during the colonial period, unfortunately, these same passages also cast black South Africans as something akin to "noble savages." Likely, in 1883, the author's views would have been considered progressive, but they would not seem so today. In fact, when describing black characters in the book, Schreiner uses the words "Hottentot" and "Kaffir," words which are now considered derogatory racial slurs in South Africa. Yet, Schreiner's intention is not to disparage her characters, and I think her word choice must be viewed in the context of her time and place. American civil rights activist and author W. E. B. Du Bois used the term "Negro" in his writings, a term which was considered acceptable in his day, but is now a racial slur. It's less Schreiner's word choice and more the sidelining and absence of black South Africans in her novel that I find so strange, disturbing, and problematic. This novel is about the world of the Boer smallholder, and the few English and German colonists who populate that world. Schreiner provides little to no description of the few black servants and laborers who travel to and from the farm each day, and who work alongside Tant' Sannie and the German farm overseer and his son, Waldo. None of the servants or laborers are named, and they exchange little to no dialogue. They are observed largely at a distance, as objects of the landscape, but mostly, they are invisible. They are strange and silent figures moving occasionally in and out of scenes. It was an odd and unsettling omission, and it says much, perhaps, about how white South Africans viewed the black South Africans whom they had colonized.The novel's most intriguing, inspiring, and poignant passages involve the various characters waxing philosophical about the nature of human existence, about humanity's relationship to animals and the natural world, about life's meaning and purpose, and about the existence and/or non-existence of a deity. I was moved to tears when two of the characters, Waldo and Lyndall, engaged in philosophical conversations and reveries. The character of Waldo, the German overseer's son, especially, was the most sympathetic, and he often ponders the beauty of a life spent largely in quiet contemplation and revery of nature, and he learns to revere the wisdom gained from such an experience. Waldo is a fascinating and lovable combination of St. Francis, Merlin, and a Buddhist monk.While the book has its flaws, what book doesn't? Overall, it's an incredibly worthwhile read, an interesting relic in the literary attic that I'm happy to have discovered by happenstance.

  • Dakota
    2019-06-17 19:43

    This was a very difficult book to read, mainly because it didn't have a clear plot. However, despite my 3-star rating, I do think others should take the time to tackle this book at some point or another.The Story of an African Farm takes readers through two different stories: a young boy who grows up questioning his extreme adherence to religion and trying to find a balance of spirituality, and a girl who abandons all religious scruples and instead dives into the world of secularism. Both learn things that are expressed rather abstractly within the novel.In particular, the section of the book that divides time based on the seasons of Waldo's life is interesting. Instead of marking time by days, months, or years, it marks time based on the episodes he goes through in his life, each of which are changes in his perspective on religion.The author, Olive Schreiner, grew up the daughter of a Methodist minister, but later in life (before writing this novel) abandoned her religion and became an active feminist (something unheard of in the early 20th century). She spent some time actively campaigning against religion. With this in mind, it's fascinating to see how she does not trash religion the way one might think throughout her novel, but instead presents it as a viable path under certain circumstances.In general, Schreiner appears to value thinking and deciding on a path in life based on one's own investigations as opposed to just accepting what one is told. For her, that meant questioning her religion and getting out of it, but throughout her novel she does seem to acknowledge that a religious/spiritual life is viable...provided those who select that path do so because THEY select it, not because they were pushed into it. In general, this perspective is refreshing, because it doesn't have any agenda besides the individual doing what is right for THEM.

  • Ann
    2019-06-23 16:39

    Originally published in 1883, this is the story of Lyndall, a young girl growing up on a farm in South Africa. Lyndall sees the limited options available to her, and dares to want more. She leaves in order to obtain an education, but the education that was available to women at that time fails to satisfy her need for independence and self-determination. Her longing for autonomy, and her observation of loveless marriages make her detremined to avoid marriage. She ends up running away with a lover after refusing to marry him. Eventually, she is discovered to be alone and critically ill. Another devoted suitor disguises himself as a female nurse in order to care for her.I liked The Story of an African Farm, but was not overwhelmed.One thing that bothered me was that the themes seemed to be written with a certain amount of bluntness. They were big themes, with great ideas, but I felt that they could have been expressed with a bit more subtlety. You know the old addage; "Show, don't tell.".I could not help but be struck by the irony of the author's seemingly strong stance against limiting the potential of women while at the same time she uses the "N" word, or the word kaffir, which is just about as bad, to refer to black people. I know it was a different time and place, but I would have hoped that someone who was so sensitive to her own limited role in society might be able to expand her views to include all groups of oppressed people. Overall, because of the big themes and because I liked the way the characters were written, I definitely enjoyed the book. I just didn't find it anything to get too excited about.

  • Roger Whitson
    2019-05-29 20:35

    This is a gem of a Victorian novel. Olive Schreiner is a feminist, anti-war campaigner, and agnostic who lived in South Africa and was friends with Havelock Ellis and (briefly) Cecil Rhodes. Her novel treats the African wilderness as a backdrop for what's essentially a novel of ideas exploring everything from waning Christian faith, to the ideas of Herbert Spencer and Charles Darwin, to the emergence of the New Woman, the de-humanizing effects of industrial labor, and even animal rights. Both Waldo and Lyndall have become two of my favorite characters in fiction, and the dreamy atmosphere of a good portion of the book continues to haunt me. That being said, I almost gave the book 4 or 4.5 stars because it is unwieldy at parts and I honestly almost quit it during the extensive Joycean-like second portion — where Waldo explores his faith. To be sure, I'm glad I read that section and it had some of the most beautiful and memorable lines I've ever read. But I have little patience for such experiments, to be honest, and I've had to encourage other readers to push through the section to get to the tragedies and reflections of the third portion. Schreiner always gave me just enough of an amazing insight or two to keep me trusting her as an author, which is why I retain the 5-stars. Overall, while this isn't an entirely perfect novel, it's well worth reading and should be more widely known outside of Victorian scholars.

  • Kelsey
    2019-05-25 13:37

    The story is set in South Africa, on a farm during the time of the British Empire. The story focuses on Em and Lyndall, who are cousins, and a boy named Waldo. Part One takes place when they are all children and Part Two tells about them as young adults. The book has a feminist thread (espoused by Lyndall) and an atheist thread (discovered by Waldo). It is basically a story of their lives. There is a lot of philosophy, many long conversations, and poetic descriptions of settings and events in the natural world. (How the farm animals are behaving, or what the sunrise is like, for instance.) I think it's beautifully written. Definitely not a fast-paced or action-packed story. Although I disagree with atheism, I think a lot of the points made in the story ring very true as far as "human experience" goes. I think it's insightful.

  • Eric Bruen
    2019-06-10 17:44

    I love this book. Some of the reviews here say that it's a hard read and disjointed. I don't think this is a difficult read at all, in fact, it's quite a page-turner. The plot and characters and their perspectives feel surprisingly fresh. Sure, the language and style are a little dated but not distractingly so. I think it's a beautiful story and dealing with important themes for its time and themes that continue to resonate into our own time. Young characters searching for truth, dignity and comfort in a world of ignorant and brutal autocracy. Everything is connected by the farm and the young people who've grown up there - all of their hopes, illusions, disillusionment, it's much more than a great coming of age story - it's a fiercely confident voice for women's rights and atheism and I would say humanism in general.

  • Matt
    2019-06-19 15:57

    This book has some great writing in it, with an excellent story. It is also littered with numerous pages that could have been omitted. There are pages of religious groveling that almost feel out of place. As though the author is trying to take you through the transformation that the character goes through. I think it feels a bit out of place, and when it occurs can happen in between stories. Maybe it is a bit like classic Greek stories, where the conclusion of an even is followed by reflection, before beginning the next chapter.While this was published in 1883, the author was quite forward thinking about the sexes. On the flip side it racism is pretty ingrained in the writing. I am glad I read this book though, and at times I would say it was great.

  • Ray
    2019-06-07 19:44

    Entrancing descriptions of the South African landscape and of the strange clash of cultures and customs where Boers and Germans and English people struggle to scrape by in the heat and dust. The bullying conman Bonaparte Blenkins is a terrifying figure more real, I think, than Dickens's abusive authority figures but, oddly, he disappears halfway through the book. That leaves long chapters of philosophical pondering to make up the weight.

  • Christie
    2019-05-30 17:33

    Introspective and utterly, utterly sad, "African Farm" is not your typical Victorian novel. It would take at least 2 or 3 more reads to parse fully the religious philosophies and commentaries of natural selection, evolution, feminism, and "life's journey." One read is enough to know that it's chock-full of the types of quotations that high school seniors use in their yearbook entries. So, so different and not what I expected it to be.

  • Christiana
    2019-06-01 18:37

    I was excited to read this book because it's billed as a groundbreaking feminist novel about an independent woman in Victorian colonial Africa. Actually it's about a woman who tries to be independent and ends up dying young. What's groundbreaking about that? Also, the characters talk in lectures.Read for my Empire & The British Novel class.