Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

"How Are These Things Related That Such Deep Union Should Exist between Them All?": The Textual Integrity of the Story of an African Farm

Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

"How Are These Things Related That Such Deep Union Should Exist between Them All?": The Textual Integrity of the Story of an African Farm

Article excerpt


A commentary on the first revision of the text of The Story of an African Farm for at least a century, by Stephen Gray (2008), is followed by an argument for the integrity of Schreiner's text, based on the contexts which shaped her choices, the novel's multilingual idiom, its historical determinants of material culture and social and ethnic attitude, and some chronological markers and thematic sequences of the story.


Kommentaar op die eerste hersiening van die teks van The Story of an African Farm in minstens 'n honderd jaar, deur Stephen Gray (2008), word gevolg deur 'n argument vir die integriteit van Schreiner se teks, gebaseer op die kontekste wat haar keuses beinvloed het, die roman se veeltalige idioom, sy histories bepalende faktore van materiele kultuurlewe en maatskaplike en etniese houding, en van die verhaal se chronologiese bakens en tematiese strome.


Since the first appearance of The Story of an African Farm, the text of the novel has suffered from the benign, or indifferent, neglect of its "editors". So the appearance from Penguin (South Africa) of a "125th anniversary edition", edited by Stephen Gray, was clearly something to look forward to. The novel has not, to my knowledge, been edited since 1893. Chapman and Hall published at least two editions in 1883, and another in 1887. In an earlier essay (Voss 1998), I called these the first, second and third editions. Here I will call them the Chapman and Hall first, second and third issues and refer to them as C&H1, C&H2, C&H3 respectively. I have not yet seen Hutchinson's first (two-volume) text of 1883, described by Verster as a "new edition" (no. 76), which presumably followed C&H2. Although Stephen Gray describes his copy-text of 1893 as "reset", it consists of the same number of pages (346) as Verster ascribes to Hutchinson's of 1883. There is some uncertainty, however, about this Hutchinson 1883 issue. The catalogues of the National Library of South Africa (Pretoria Campus), the British Library, the National Library of Australia and the Wits University Library, list a one-volume Hutchinson edition of that date, but these copies are in fact undated and advertise such works as Cynthia Stockley's Virginia of the Rhodesians (1904), Conan Doyle's Sir Nigel (1906) and H. De Vere Stacpoole's The Ship of Coral (1911). The cataloguers have adduced a publication date from the date of the dedication to Mrs John Brown. The earliest Hutchinson edition listed in the new Mendelssohn is dated 1893 (IV, 166). I offer an examination of Stephen Gray's editorial decisions as an approach to the question of the integrity of Schreiner's text.

No matter how low-key, editing still marks and changes an originating text and has consequences for how readers understand it.

(Stanley & Salter 2009:11)

To edit is to some extent to move into a space beyond time, and into a mind other than one's own. (2) The editor may assume an absolute and clear intention on the part of the author, and perhaps even presume to know it, but equally importantly, must commit to a form which that intention will assume in print. Accepting that such intention may in the past have been betrayed on its way to the reader, the editor, in this case, aims to restore the text, in such a way as to re-calibrate and redeem the relationship between Olive Schreiner and her readers.

This version of The Story of an African Farm "follows the reset text published by Hutchinson in London in 1893, complete and unabridged", although it is not clear how this has led to the restoration of "details omitted in later editions". Gray dispenses with Schreiner's "Glossary of Dutch and Colonial words", which, he claims,

   have for once become nativised, as it should be noted they would
   have been for the author herself and her original characters ...
   details such as "aasvoels" through to "velskoens" are for the first
   time assumed to be part of the everyday nineteenth-century South
   African vocabulary. … 
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