The South African novelist, feminist, anti-imperialist, pacifist, and Socialist Olive Schreiner is best-known for her novel The Story of an African Farm (1883), whose protagonist Lyndall is an outspoken feminist heroine and New Woman whose tragic end unfortunately belies her forward-looking attitudes on female equality. Like her American counterpart Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Schreiner was a leading feminist thinker at the turn of the century, the author of the feminist tract Woman and Labor (1911), which she referred to as her “sex-book” and suffragists hailed as their bible.
Born in Cape Colony, South Africa, in 1855, Olive was the ninth of Gottlieb and Rebecca Lyndall Schreiner's twelve children. Although her father, a deeply religious missionary of German descent, led the family into destitution, her mother never lost her sense of British superiority over both the Boer (Dutch settlers in Africa) and the native Africans. Olive's bleak childhood was spent wandering the karroo (South African plains), going from mission station to mission station. Although she lacked a formal education, she read widely and was especially influenced by the philosophical works of Herbert Spencer, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and John Stuart Mill, the champion of women's rights.
At the age of fifteen, she took the first of a series of governess positions with Boer farming families. Out of the loneliness and frustration bred from her position as a servant in other people's houses, Olive began to write novels. In 1881, she went to England to become a medical doctor, taking with her the manuscript of The Story of an African Farm. Although the chronic ill health that was to plague her for the rest of her life prevented her from completing her medical studies, her novel of South African life, published in 1883 under the pseudonym Ralph Iron, created a sensation in London and turned Schreiner into an instant celebrity. She