Schreiner was a South African writer. She was born in Wittebergen,
South Africa, the ninth child of Gottlob and Rebecca Schreiner.
Her German father and English mother, both missionaries in South
Africa, provided a household grounded in a strict Calvinist tradition.
this rigid structure, however, Schreiner's upbringing was tumultuous
at best. Gottlob Schreiner's failures in mission work as well
as a number of businesses prompted chronic financial insecurity,
catalyzing the family's disarray, eventual disunion and, significantly,
Schreiner's separation from her parents at the age of twelve.
After studying at a brother's school in Cradock for three years,
Schreiner began working as a governess, an occupation she pursued
for eleven years.
a child, she exhibited her precocity, challenging her parents'
deep religious devotion and the family's deep religious roots.
Such precocity again surfaced during her tenure as a governess,
as she studied the works of a wide array of prominent Victorian
intellectuals, wrote a considerable number of her own short stories,
and began to develop her own social ideas -- ideas that would
eventually brand her as a Victorian revolutionist.
found work as a governess and then taught at the Kimberley New
School. In her free time she began work on a novel about her experiences
in South Africa. When Olive had saved enough money she travelled
to Britain in 1881 with the objective of becoming a doctor. While
working at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary Olive heard about the
Women's Medical School that had been established by Elizabeth
Garrett Anderson and Sophia Jex-Blake. Olive moved to London where
she began attending lectures at the Medical School, although she
subsequently abandoned her initial aspirations of becoming a medical
doctor because of her own poor health.
the second time, sought publication of her book, The Story of
an African Farm. Chapman and Hall's acceptance of the novel in
1883 marked a landmark in Schreiner's career as a novelist and
later, as a social activist. The novel's immediate success, which
persisted throughout her lifetime, provided her acceptance among
a group of revolutionary and, at the time, infamous thinkers.
Schreiner began to associate with a distinguished group of intellectuals,
not only exposing herself to England's literary and intellectual
élite, but introducing and expounding her own social ideas
as well. She began going to socialist meetings and during this
time became friends with leading radicals such as Edward Carpenter,
Eleanor Marx and Bruce Glasier.
returned to South Africa in 1889 and met her husband, Samuel Cronwright,
three years later. After meeting Cronwright and before the outbreak
of the Anglo-Boer War in 1899, Schreiner suffered the loss of
her first child (a tragedy that emerges prominently in her later
fiction) and published a considerable number of fictional pieces
as well as political essays. Schreiner's intellectual role escalated
to that of an outspoken, oftentimes revolutionary political leader.
political and literary work included tracts opposing Cecil Rhodes'
colonialist activities in Africa as well as England's involvement
in the Anglo-Boer War. Her political activism in the twentieth
century included further polemical writing, her participation
in women's suffrage groups, and a stalwart pacifistic stance against
the outbreak of World War I.
life and writing provide invaluable exposure to both the latter
stages of the colonialist movement in South Africa and one vigilant
woman's discourse against late nineteenth-century, early twentieth-century
imperialism, war, and oppression of women.
and Labour was published in 1911. Although Schreiner was disappointed
with the book, it was immediately acclaimed as an important statement
on feminism and had a major influence on a large number of young
women. A strong supporter of universal suffrage, Schreiner argued
that the vote was "a weapon, by which the weak may be able
to defend themselves against the strong, the poor against the
the outbreak of the First World War Schreiner moved back to Britain.
Over the next four years she was active in the peace movement
and worked closely with organizations such as the Union of Democratic
Control and the Non-Conscription Fellowship.
August 1920 Olive Schreiner returned to South Africa. Four months
later she died suddenly on 10th December, 1920. She was buried
without religious ceremony next to her daughter at Buffels Kop,
overlooking the Karoo Desert.
first novel, The Story of an African Farm, was published in 1883
under the pseudonym Ralph Iron. It was an immediate success and
has become recognised as one of the first feminist novels. Not
long after this she met the sexologist Havelock Ellis with whom
she had a close friendship up until her death.
1891 she published Dreams, a collection of allegorical and visionary
writings. The next year she met Samuel Cronwright whom she would
later marry in 1894.
next novel, Trooper Peter Halket of Mashonaland (1897), was an
attack on Cecil Rhodes, whom she had met in 1890.
most important political work is Woman and Labour (1911).