Schreiner, Olive

1855–1920
South African writer

Olive Schreiner wrote various works of social criticism and fiction, including South Africa’s first important novel, The Story of an African Farm (1883). Her books combine vivid descriptions of life in South Africa, criticism of British colonialism, and support for women’s rights and racial equality.

Schreiner was born in Wittebergen, SOUTH AFRICA, where her German father and English mother were missionaries. She spent her childhood at a Lutheran mission and then worked as a governess, caring for children, in the diamond-mining town of Kimberley. In 1881 she moved to London. Two years later she published The Story of an African Farm, which tells of a farm girl who seeks independence in a culture that limits opportunities for women. The book was a success and brought Schreiner considerable fame.

Schreiner, Olive

In 1889 Schreiner returned to South Africa and married. She and her husband published a book about the country’s political and economic problems. Schreiner became increasingly involved in political causes, such as women’s rights. She also supported the Afrikaners, Dutch settlers in South Africa, in their war against the British. She wrote a lengthy work of social and economic criticism called Women and Labour, but British soldiers burned the manuscript. She rewrote one chapter from memory, which was published in 1911. Two years later Schreiner left her homeland for the second time, returning only in the year of her death. (See also Literature, Women in Africa.)