The sense of an audience

The sense of an audience

All ‘spare’ time, or rather time not occupied by pressing obligations, for the last week or two has been spent working on a book manuscript on Olive Schreiner‘s analytical ideas. It has been very pleasurable to focus on just one thing at a time, rather than the more usual juggling three or four things at once. This has led to comparing different pieces of her writing; and when doing this for some of them, the sense of an audience, of a very specifically conceived audience, comes across strongly. Re-reading the essays in her Thoughts on South Africa as these were originally conceived, as being published anonymously as by ‘a returned South African‘, they have a kind of travelogue feel in making descriptive statements that give measured and impersonal overviews of people and issues in the four settler states that existed at the time. The audience is very general, the authorial tone is dispassionate. Mainly these were written in the early and mid-1890s. Also written at the time, but in very different circumstances, is the short book The Political Situation, published in early 1896. It provides a stringent critique of speculators, financiers and others at back of imperial expansionism, in particular Cecil Rhodes, and it was given as a public address at the heart of the Rhodes matrix, in Kimberley Town Hall and attended by the massed ranks of Chartered Company and De Beers employees. As befits something given as one person addressing a group of others, it is written in a very ‘opinionated’ way, in the literal meaning of the word and not intending any criticism of this. It is both highly opinionated, and it adopts the strategy of using many of the terms that would have been used by people in the audience, most likely in hopes of persuading them to something better.

PS: It was given in the lion‘s den, with all his minions around him, and Rhodes neither forgot nor forgave.

PPS: It was actually read out for OS by her husband, Cronwright-Schreiner. Part of its argument was the need to establish small radical political groupings, and the intention was to launch a political career for him as a possible leader for this. Much disliked, he was not a good choice! His temper and aggressiveness put people’s backs up, and eventually Rhodes was able to use this against her.

Last updated:  4 February 2022


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