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58 THEMINNESOTAREVIEW JANE MARCUS OLIVE SCHREINER: CARTOGRAPHER OF THE SPIRIT/A REVIEW ARTICLE OUve Schreiner's Woman andLabour (1911) was caUed the Bible of the international woman's movement. It stUl retains its elemental prophetic power. And its outmoded anthropological and social darwinist trappings, its dream of matriarchal origins based in Bebel and Spencer, only add to its Old Testament hunger and thirst for justice and freedom. It expresses the need of the oppressed to see themselves as a chosen people. Women are for OUve Schreiner a lost tribe, keeping the memory of original sexual freedom alive in the slavery of centuries of diaspora. Like the Old Testament, Woman andLabour combines history and poetry. It curses the enemy, bewails woman's fate, urges her on with tales of the trials and tribulations of her forebears, sings her to sleep with a lullaby of revenge on her enemies and hope of peace after struggle, for her daughters. It is a text for "keeping the faith," that is, woman's faith in herself, and was meant to be chanted aloud in smaU groups of struggUng, persecuted women, as the books of the Bible were read by persecuted Jews and Christians. And so it was. In HoUoway Gaol and prisons throughout the British Isles, suffragettes "kept the faith" by whispering or shouting aloud OUve Schreiner's words of wisdom and courage. She was cast out early by her missionary family and felt an outsider to their earnest Christianity. Later she denied them aU with her radical poUtical beUefs, her work against racism, antisemitism and antifeminism. "I shaU die a soUtary wanderer," she told Havelock Ellis. She was truly an outsider, an inner exile whose spirit longed to free itself from bodily pain, an outer exile as a white socialist South African in an age of capitaUst expansion, with an EngUsh Uterary and scientific identity. But she had no roots, was at home nowhere for long. She was always an emigrant or an immigrant, never at home except in the land of her dreams. "A woman is a ship with three holes in herbottom," she reportedly once told George Moore. It was a ghost ship, a slave ship, a ship of exiles from beyond the pale, condemned to eternal wandering. MARCUS 59 If Woman and Labour is her Old Testament, TrooperPeter Halkett ofMashonaland is her New Testament. Christ himself is one of OUve Schreiner's characters in his most endearing role as friend of the common man. But in the aUegories ofDreams (1893) she wrote her prophetic books for womankind. Dreams is a feminist Pilgrim 's Progress. In her hands, as in Bunyan's, the spiritual journey, the moral tale, is poUtical as weU as religious. The teUer, the reader and the Ustener (for surely these allegories were meant to be spoken, sister to sisters) form a conspiracy. The wretchedness of their Uves is to be redeemed by hope. The suffragettes in their ceUs found solace inDreams and strength for their hunger strikes, courage for passive resistance. They repeated Olive Schreiner's words as nuns say their beads, alone and in groups, casting spells on doubt and despair with the power of the word. Later she criticized Mrs. Parkhurst as a "war-Uke woman" and a jingo, for she always remained a pacifist, but stiU she admired her splendid physical courage as "the strongest and cleverest woman I ever met." It is a mistake to read OUve Schreiner as sophisticated inteUectuals do, dismissing her power because her prose lacks logic or her biology a scientific basis. Some books can best be judged by their readers, and Dreams is one of them. One can have visions of freedom over a washtub or on one's knees with a scrubbing brush, and the cooperative working women who contributed toLifeAs We Have Known It give ample testimony to the influence of Dreams. Though she had insisted onAfrican Farm being pubUshed at one shiUing, for working men Uke Waldo were the readers she imagined, Dreams was intended for another audience. The novel had brought her many letters and she knew her brothers and sisters had heard her. Now she wanted to have a go at the enemy. "If...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2157-4189
Print ISSN
0026-5667
Pages
pp. 58-66
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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