The Story of an African Farm

by Olive Schreiner

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What is the cultural and historical setting of The Story of an African Farm by Olive Schreiner?

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The Story of an African Farm chronicles the lives of a group of people living on and near a farm in southern Africa during colonial times. While Olive Schreiner later was hailed as a trail-blazing female author, she used a male pseudonym, Ralph Iron, when she published this book in 1883. Most of the novel’s action takes place two decades earlier, in the Karoo plains of South Africa. The characters are primarily Boer and English heritage and are part of the huge wave of settler colonialism that dominated the area in the nineteenth century. There are few African characters, and the author does not explore the social dimensions of race. Rather, the primary characters are two white women of British background, the orphaned cousins Lyndall and Em. They present contrasting images of women’s upbringing in and adjustment to the constraints of colonial society: Em is the conformist, and Lyndall is the rebel.

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