Olive Schreiner in the British Library

Olive Schreiner in the British Library

On 28 June 1883, which was a Thursday, Olive Schreiner was in the British Library in London. She sat in seat 46. The slip of paper that recorded this also had her reader’s number on it as well as the date. But there the record stops, as there was at the time no system of recording which items people requested to read that has survived, alas. A photographed copy of the slip was sent to me some years ago by Brian Willan, magnificent biographer of Solomon Plaatje. Clearing up my study from debris left in the wake of finishing a chapter of my book on Olive Schreiner‘s analytical ideas, I found a printed out copy of the slip in a filing basket. Filing from 2016 onwards, which indicates something of the state of the room. The book is nonetheless progressing. Chapters are done in draft on Olive Schreiner as a public intellectual, analysing Woman and Labour in its ideas context, exploring her ideas about imperialism and capitalism, and teasing out the changing trajectory of her thinking about race and racialisation, and there is just one chapter left. This is on her ideas about the state, war and social change. And all I know about June 1883 is that she moved around quite a lot at that point and was in and out of London. There are very few letters from 1883 that have survived. The African Farm had been published and the first edition sold out, with a new edition appearing in July 1883. But its sales and reviews had not yet spiralled to produce her fame, she had not yet met Havelock Ellis or Edward Carpenter although she had probably met Eleanor Marx in Ventnor, Isle of Wight, but she had not met other people she became close to. Oh to know what she read in the British Library that day.

Last updated:  25 February 2022


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