Non-Fictional Prose

by Charles G.D. Roberts

Edited by D.M.R. Bentley and Laurel Boone


THE WORLD OF BOOKS: The Story of an African Farm*


The masculine pseudonym of "Ralph Iron" is a disguise under which Miss Olive Schreiner has sought to conceal her identity. It is not surprising that an identity so vigorous and brilliant was speedily dragged out of covert. The Story of an African Farm* is no thrilling romance of adventure. There is no mark of an assagai from cover to cover; and its pages reveal no trace of elephant or lion, save for a carved lion’s head in an old Dutch bedroom. The book is filled, nevertheless, with tremendous movement, with spiritual terror and anguish, conflict, victory and defeat, beside which the struggles of Zulus and the trumpetings of mad elephants show with a certain pallor and remoteness. I say this with all due respect and admiration for the enthralling tales which Mr. Haggard has given us—tales which, I think, should be forever acceptable to the palate of the healthy man or boy. But in such a story as Miss Schreiner’s there are mightier issues at stake; the suspense becomes more breathless. This book has won a marked degree of popularity, but it has been quite overshadowed by the fame of Robert Elsmere, a novel which— with all its excellent literary quality, all its sympathetic voicing of the questionings of the day—seems amateurish in its philosophy and almost artificial in its attitude, beside the strenuous sincerity of Miss. Schreiner’s pages. In her depiction of the strange, barren life of a Boer household, this writer reveals life at the core. She probes inexorably to the roots of human desires and human motives. In her pages a remorseless logic, an inescapable keenness of vision, are combined with passionate humanity, tenderness, pathos and a certain religious exaltation. The landscape, the atmosphere, the accidents or material phenomena of this human tragedy are all unfamiliar to us, and strangely provocative. They are rendered with few and broad strokes, but with an intensity which makes them well nigh ineffaceable.


"The World of Books: The Story of an African Farm," Progress (Saint John, N.B.), 1:40 (2 February 1889), 6 [back]