Image of Olive Schreiner


Lifetime: 1855 - 1920 Passed: ≈ 103 years ago


Novelist, Suffragist, Political Activist


South Africa

Olive Schreiner

Olive Schreiner was a South African author, anti-war campaigner and intellectual. She is best remembered today for her novel The Story of an African Farm (1883), which has been highly acclaimed. It deals boldly with such contemporary issues as agnosticism, existential independence, individualism, the professional aspirations of women, and the elemental nature of life on the colonial frontier.

Since the late 20th century, scholars have also credited Schreiner as an advocate for the Afrikaners, and other South African groups who were excluded from political power for decades, such as indigenous Blacks, Jews and Indians. Although she showed interest in socialism, pacifism, vegetarianism and feminism amongst other topics, her views escaped restrictive categorisations. Her published works and other surviving writings promote implicit values such as moderation, friendship, and understanding amongst all peoples, and avoid the pitfalls of political radicalism, which she consciously eschewed. Called a lifelong freethinker, she also continued to adhere to the spirit of the Christian Bible and developed a secular version of the worldview of her missionary parents, with mystical elements.

Schreiner is also known for her later novel, From Man To Man Or Perhaps Only (1926), published posthumously. She had not completed its revisions before her death. The first edition was produced by her husband, Samuel Cronwright-Schreiner. It was re-edited and published by University of Cape Town Press (edited and introduced by Dorothy Driver). This edition corrects previous errors. This edition provides another ending to the novel, in Schreiner's own words, in addition to the one her husband summarized. From Man to Man or Perhaps Only was said by Schreiner to be her favourite among her novels. From exploring white women's confinement to domestic life in colonial-era South Africa, the novel eventually expands its gaze to include black women and girls, whose presence gradually informs the central character's struggle to re-create herself and educate her children against the racism and sexism of the period.

Books by Olive Schreiner

The Story of an African Farm Cover image

The Story of an African Farm

Fiction Novel
Farm Bildungsroman Philosophical fiction Feminism

The Story of an African Farm (published in 1883 under the pseudonym Ralph Iron) was South African author Olive Schreiner's first published novel. It was an immediate success and has become recognised as one of the first feminist novels.

Thoughts on South Africa Cover image

Thoughts on South Africa

Non-Fiction Science
19th century Social Science Culture Anthropology Modern

'Thoughts on South Africa' is a collection of Schreiner's observations of colonial South Africa in the early 19th century, mostly regarding Boer-English relations. The book was published posthumously in 1923. Prospective listeners should be aware tha...

Woman and Labour Cover image

Woman and Labour

Political Science
Twentieth Century Women's Rights Politics Struggle Society Labour Modern Women

This is a groundbreaking feminist work that challenges the status quo of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Written by Olive Schreiner, a pioneering South African author and suffragist, this book delves deep into the complexities of gender roles...

Woman and War Cover image

Woman and War

War Children Culture political Short Works Anthropology Women

What is the true cost of war on women? Woman and War by Olive Schreiner is a powerful and moving novel that explores the impact of war on women. Set in South Africa during the Second Boer War, the novel follows the story of Lyndall, a young woman wh...

Dreams Cover image


Marriage Love Dream Challenges Freedom Loss Race Desire Emotion

In her haunting and visionary collection of short stories, Dreams, Olive Schreiner explores the inner lives of women in Victorian-era South Africa, grappling with issues of identity, love, and societal expectations. Schreiner's stories are set in a...