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Summary Article: Schreiner, Olive Emile Albertina (1855-1920)
from Encyclopedia of South Africa

Born on March 24, 1855, in Basutoland (now Lesotho), Olive Emile Albertina Schreiner emerged as the great South African writer of the late nineteenth century. She is known for her condemnation of imperialism and racism, as well as for her commitment to feminist thinking.

Olive Schreiner was born into an impoverished family of missionaries, although she did not absorb the religious beliefs of her German father and British mother. At fifteen, she left home and worked as a governess. Despite lacking a formal education, she was an avid reader who studied the works of prominent eighteenth- and nineteenth-century thinkers. Barely out of her teens, she wrote her first two novels, Undine and The Story of an African Farm.

In 1881, Schreiner moved to England to pursue a career in medicine. Though she was not suited for medical training, she found success as a writer. The publication of African Farm in 1883, initially under the pseudonym of Ralph Iron, brought Schreiner international notoriety.

After returning to South Africa in 1889, Schreiner continued writing, targeting the racist and imperialist practices of British and South African leaders, as well as gender inequality. She produced a number of short allegories and journalistic pieces that were later published in compilations, such as Dreams, Dream Life and Real Life (1893) and An English South-African's View of the Situation (1899). In 1893, Schreiner married a like-minded farmer, Samuel Cronwright. She was active in the women's suffrage movement but later resigned from the Cape Women's Enfranchisement League after the organization refused to support black voting rights.

During World War I, Schreiner spent several years living in England, where she suffered from ill health and endured criticisms for her stance against the war. Shortly after returning to South Africa in 1920, she died of a heart attack. A significant amount of Schreiner's work, including her novel Undine (1929), was published posthumously.

See also Literature

© 2011 by Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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