Whenever I read a novel from the first-wave feminism era, my reaction is generally split into two: I'm either shocked at how forward-thinking the novelist is, or appalled at how restricted their thinking is. The Story of an African Farm falls into the former category.
As it's part of first wave feminism's literary movement, although the novel is set in Africa, we don't see any intersectional feminism. It's very much about a Dutch white family living in South Africa and how they approach feminist ideals.
At the beginning of the novel, the three protagonists Em, Lyndall and Waldo are children. Waldo is an overtly Christian boy, who believes in the teachings his father passed down to him, whilst Lyndall constantly expresses more modern ideas about the world she lives in.
Lyndall leaves the farm to study at a boarding school, but comes home disheartened at the fact that they teach her 'women's duties' such as sewing. She wanted to learn about the world, become more adept in mathematics and scientific study. Back at the farm, Em has fallen for a man named Gregory, who loves her easy feminine acquiescence and mannerisms. He hates Lyndall when he first meets her: she is abrupt, outspoken and 'unwomanly'. But soon he sees a charm in her that he overlooked at first. Now Gregory falls for Lyndall.
Gregory asks for Lyndall's hand in marriage. She however, has other ideas. Lyndall does not plan to get married, ever. She's in love with a stranger, whom the others have never met, but tells Waldo that she intends to cohabit with this man. She does not wish to marry as she wants both herself and her lover to be free to move on if the relationship wears thin. This was obviously quite a revolutionary idea at the time, and it's interesting to see how Schreiner lets it play out.
Have you read it? What did you think?