Olive Schreiner

“We are a race of women that of old knew no fear and feared no death, and lived great lives and hoped great hopes; and if today some of us have fallen on evil and degenerate times, there moves in us yet the throb of the old blood.” Olive Schreiner

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Olive Schreiner

Most people, when they think of Olive Schreiner, remember her classic novel The Story of an African Farm. (Originally published in 1883 under the pseudonym Ralph Iron). I was scratching through my Long Drawer and came across the quotation cited above. According to my notes I originally found the quote in Mary Daly’s Pure Lust.

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Olive Schreiner was born in 1855, the twelfth child of missionary parents, with more children to follow. Olive Schreiner’s mother appears to have abused her children, thrashing them for the smallest misdemenour. One such sin that earned five-year-old Olive fifty lashes was hanging on the door handle and saying “Ach!” a Dutch word and speaking Dutch was forbidden in the Schreiner household. It seems the injustice of the many vicious beatings was the main reason Olive, at as an eight year old, rejected the religion of her parents and refused to go to church. Nevertheless, she inherited her mother’s intellect, her ethical fervour and her longing for the infinite. Perhaps, in the shocking abuse of her childhood, Olive subliminally received the secret, ambiguous knowledge of the power of women?

When Olive was nine, her beloved baby sister, Ellie, died. This was seen as punishment for Olive repudiating her parents’ faith. She was devastated and cradled Ellie’s tiny corpse in her arms all day and into the night. After Ellie was buried, she stayed near the grave and talked passionately into the tiny mound of earth. In later years, Schreiner said that the death of her baby sister was the most important event of her childhood: it was to Ellie that she owed her lifelong love for women, her mystic faith in the unity of the cosmos, her pacifism, and her desire to be a doctor (Letters, 29 October 1892).

Her rebellion against Victorian and parental mores saw her become a feminist, a best-selling writer and intellectual, philosopher and a celebrity of her time.

The first time I read anything by Olive Schreiner was in an anthology of South African stories Veld Trails and Pavements given to me by a friend of the family. I was a teenager and didn’t have much understanding. I can’t remember Olive Schreiner’s stories very clearly but I do remember that they haunted me for a long time and I had to return to it again and again. I didn’t know you could write sad stories that did not have a happy ending. I didn’t know you could fit an enormous amount of emotion into a one or two page story. I don’t have the book anymore although I can see it in my mind’s eye and I found this image on the Internet. I don’t remember any of the other stories in the anthology, not even the H. C. Bosman.

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I have borrowed quite considerably from Anne McClintock’s paper Olive (Emilie Albertina) Schreiner for this blog post. The original paper can be accessed here.

Reference: *Anne McClintock. “Olive (Emilie Albertina) Schreiner.” British Writers. Ed. George Stade.: Supplement 2: Kingsley Amis to J. R. R. Tolkien. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1992. Literature Resource Center. Web. 4 May 2010.

*Anne McClintock was born in Harare in 1954. She is a writer, feminist scholar and public intellectual who has published widely on issues of sexuality, race, imperialism, and nationalism; popular and visual culture, photography, advertising and cultural theory.

Olive Schreiner

Delivering a ‘Paper’

Scratching through my Long Drawer I came across an article I wrote some years ago (think, 20 years ago) about the first academic paper I presented. The article was published in the Murdoch Uni Postgraduate (MUPSA) newsletter, Mupifesto (June 1999, vol 2 no 1).

Some of the hints that I outlined in the article seem reasonable such as, “Practice by reading the paper aloud … many papers look really good written, but flounder miserably when spoken”. I warn against listening to the nightmare stories, adding that I have a few of my own.

My nightmare story was the first time I delivered a paper at a conference. The chairperson did not enforce the 20 minute time limit allocated to each of the three speakers. As a result I had to fit a twenty minute paper into twelve minutes. Apart from being an excellent lesson in humiliation, it was frustrating and made me angry. Add to that, more than half the audience left after the first two papers. When I eventually stood up at the lectern, I proceeded to drop all my overheads on the floor and lost time picking them up and putting them in some sort of order. You don’t know what an ‘overhead’ is? Well, it was the time after writing stuff on a whiteboard and before the dodgy technology difficulties that haunted conferences in the early 2000s. Certainly well before Death-by-PowerPoint.

Very important. If you are given the choice of question time being at the end of each paper or at the end of the session, always choose the end of the session. Some people in the audience like to take question time to present their own views at length. This, of course, eats into the time allocated for the next presenter.

Two good things to come out of an ignominious debut such as mine: however poorly the paper is received you can still add the presentation to your curriculum vitae, and secondly, the experience taught me to be a good chairperson and to stand up for myself.

There is a third good thing. I actually got a publishable paper out of my experiences at that conference that served to change the direction of my Thesis completely.

 

Delivering a ‘Paper’

The Long Drawer revisited

I wrote this Blog seven years ago and wanted to draw on it again today. I was stuck for a topic so this is my ‘go to’ box. I’ve added a couple of photos and edited it slightly (some of it seemed a bit garbled). I had to copy and paste as I didn’t know how to bring the post to the top of my Blog.

I dipped my hand into one of the files just a moment ago and came up with this – I cut it out of the Weekend Australian Magazine in February, 2001. So, it isn’t all serious stuff!

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As you can see from the photo, there’s nothing posh about my Long Drawer. The cardboard box has has had a few incarnations – packing case, repository for academic drafts, and toy box for Rosie amongst other things.

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My Long Drawer – box

The value of the Bakhtinian notion of the “long drawer”.

I have been a researcher since childhood. I have discovered that my researcher persona seldom takes a holiday. Conversations I have—and have had (or overheard), the books I read and have read, the events I participate in or observe become intrinsic to my life. The garnered information is stored, often in a journal, sometimes in memory, sometimes on tape or in pictures, sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously, but is there to be “drawn” on when I need it!

Connecting my familiar to what is, at first strange, carries me into my writing. Remembering stories and myths allows me, indeed provokes me, as author, to use my ‘long drawer’. A colleague mentioned (in passing) ‘the long drawer’. He was speaking about Bakhtin’s custom of ‘drawing’ on material that he had written many years earlier. The play on the word ‘drawer’ (I imagine the material was kept in a bureau of some sort) and ‘drawing’ upon it, befits the way I work and research and remember. These things I keep: letters, essays, and notes; I write down dreams, conversations and memories of conversations; I eavesdrop and take notes. I keep journals, diaries, taped interviews, lists, and newspaper clippings—many of which I draw on at various stages in my work.

When the dreaded block happens, I plunge my hand into one of the various boxes or files that serve to house the bits and pieces. I find in my ‘long drawer’ journals and diaries that go back forty years or more; scraps of paper with notes are even older. I remember the journals and letters I destroyed when I left Africa and regret that I was so imprudent and impulsive in burning them. The papers and letters I did keep take on a meaningfulness that makes me realise I was an historian, an ethnographer, an anthropologist, before I knew what the words meant. Among the treasures that remain in the cache, my ‘long drawer’, are my father’s handwritten notes of the eulogy he gave at his mother’s funeral in 1967—the year my daughter was born—and just by seeing his handwriting I feel and savour the threads that link the generations: I remember the fountain pen he used, I remember my grandmother’s funeral, and most of all, I remember my father.

The correspondence and conversations with friends, relatives, Australians, Zimbabweans, and expatriate Rhodesians is evident and the anonymous others whose words and conversations, overheard, are stored for retrieval when I need them. In the long drawer, past impacts on the present and the present on the past and traces of autobiography are spoor to draw in the reader.

This post is now part of my long drawer and in it I have drawn on my doctoral thesis, emails to friends and other hoarded sources.

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Looking tidy today!

Mikhail Bakhtin (1895-1975)

The Long Drawer revisited