Thesis & Dissertations

The Rebellious Feminist Voice in Olive Schreiner’s The Story of an African Farm


Olive Schreiner is a South African writer, socialist, and a politician born to a missionary family who went to preach and promise in South Africa. As she grew older, Schreiner refused her parents religion and became an agnostic who doubted the existence of God. The thesis examines how feminist novelists such as Olive Schreiner were affectedby the rebellious questions that were aroused by intellectuals such as Charles Darwin, Herbert Spencer, John Stuart Mill and Karl Marx. In addition, it focuses on the course of a feminist writer’s way of thinking, with reference to Olive Schreiner’ biography, letters to Havelock Ellis, her book Woman and Labour(1911)and her novel The Story of an African Farm (1883). In her novel, Schreiner openly challenged two of Victorian England’s most sacred precepts: Thestandard of Christianity as the norm of ethical morality and the criterion of wedlock as the sole measure of sexual morality. Critics said that it was the first British novel whose protagonist was openly and unabashedly feminist in the twentieth century mode. Notwithstanding, the novel sublimes from usual prevailing topics of daily life British novels into vindicating women rights and their role as socialist and reformers. In addition, defying moral rules, having sex out of wedlock, embracing atheism, seeking education, raising the question of metaphysics and questions of power as related to gender, are all issues that she openly discussed in her novel. God and His existence were the main issues and many questions that were raised about Him reflected in the doubt the characters of the novel expressed concerning His existence. It also examines Schreiner’s struggle for freedom from prevalent patriarchal values, her struggle for the establishment of a female identity, and her securitization of gender relations. In addition, it traces how Schreiner achieves these aims through her radical writings that powerfully oppose and subvert mainstream Victorian writings, morals and gender construction. In addition, in her novel, Schreiner defied Victorians in themes and style. Victorian writing toward the first part of Victorian age, were concerned with domestic life that women knew well as courtship, family relationships and marriages. While the literature toward the final phase of Victorianism showed an enormous change in attitudes. Some of the Late Victorian writers manifest the change openly by simply attacking the major mind Victorian idols. In fact, Victorian earnestness and moralities were mocked and family lives were satirized in particular the self-righteousness of Victorian fathers. Schreiner defied Victorian moralities and subverted their writings. In her letter to Havelock Ellis, Schreiner discussed Victorian taboo issues as sex out of wedlock, masturbation, menstruation, lesbian and gay relations. Whereas in her book Woman and Labour (1911), that later became the inspirational text for the new women in Britain and America before and after WWI, Schreiner marshaled her argument for women and fought for their rights. In her novel The Story of an African Farm(1883), Schreiner defied Victorian rules though her characters especially the female character who were denied a formal education and branded an odd for their manly behavior. She also negotiated women issues as she questioned the power as related to gender. As a result, Schreiner shed a light on women in colonial South Africa ranging from sexuality, oppression, education, agnosticism, sadism, to colonialism and identity.


Mirna Afif Houmani


Dr. Laila Helmi, Dr. Adnan Khattab