The Story of an African Farm by Olive Schreiner
is a novel written by Olive Schreiner, a South African writer and feminist, and was first published in 1883. The book is set in the Karoo region of South Africa and follows the lives of three characters: Lyndall, Em, and Waldo. The novel is known for its exploration of themes such as religion, gender roles, and colonialism, as well as its depiction of the harsh realities of life in rural South Africa in the late 19th century.
The novel opens with the introduction of the three main characters: Lyndall, Em, and Waldo. Lyndall is a young girl who is intelligent and independent, but also cynical and disillusioned with the world. Em is Lyndall’s cousin, who is more traditional and conformist, but also kind-hearted and sensitive. Waldo is their friend, who is deeply religious and idealistic.
The first section of the novel, titled “The Waldens,” follows the three characters as children growing up on a farm in the Karoo. They are looked after by Tant Sannie, a strict and religious woman who is their guardian. The children’s lives are defined by their relationships with each other and with Tant Sannie, as well as by their experiences of the harsh and unforgiving landscape around them.
As the children grow older, they begin to question the religious beliefs and social conventions that have been imposed on them. Lyndall, in particular, becomes increasingly disillusioned with the world and sees little hope for her future. Em, on the other hand, begins to feel stifled by the restrictions placed on her as a woman, and she dreams of a more fulfilling life.
In the second section of the novel, titled “The Mill,” the characters are now adults and have moved away from the farm. Lyndall becomes a governess, but she is still deeply unhappy and struggles to find meaning in her life. Em marries a man she does not love and feels trapped in her role as a wife and mother. Waldo becomes a minister, but he too struggles with doubts and questions about his faith.
The third section of the novel, titled “The House of Jakobis,” sees the characters reunite and confront the consequences of their choices. Lyndall has become a radical feminist and rejects traditional gender roles, while Em has become more assertive and independent. Waldo, meanwhile, has lost his faith and is struggling to find a new sense of purpose in life.
Throughout the novel, Schreiner explores a range of themes and issues that were controversial at the time, including women’s rights, religious skepticism, and the legacy of colonialism. She also provides a vivid and unsparing portrait of life in rural South Africa in the late 19th century, depicting the hardships and challenges faced by people living in this harsh and unforgiving landscape.
Overall, “The Story of an African Farm” is a powerful and thought-provoking novel that remains relevant and compelling today. Schreiner’s complex and nuanced characters, combined with her evocative and lyrical prose, make this a book that is both engaging and challenging, inviting readers to reflect on the many social and cultural issues that it raises.