Charles G.D. Roberts
by D.M.R. Bentley and Laurel Boone
WORLD OF BOOKS: The Story of an African Farm*
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.
World of Books: The Story of an African Farm,"
Progress (Saint John, N.B.), 1:40 (2
February 1889), 6 [back]