The Story of an African Farm

by Olive Schreiner

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

And so, it comes to pass in time, that the earth ceases for us to be a weltering chaos. We walk in the great hall of life, looking up and round reverentially. Nothing is despicable—all is meaning-full; nothing is small—all is part of a whole, whose beginning and end we know not. The life that throbs in us is a beginning and end we know not. The life that throbs in us is a pulsation from it; too mighty for our comprehension, not too small.

And so, it comes to pass at last, that whereas the sky was at first a small blue rag stretched out over us, and so low that our hands might touch it, pressing down on us, it raises itself into an immeasurable blue arch over our heads, and we begin to live again.

This passage occurs at the end of the short section “Times and Seasons.” “Times and Seasons” outlines in quick strokes the development and growth of the child’s religious faith and the disillusion that occurs as the child grows older. It ends with the discovery of order in nature, a realization that brings spiritual renewal into a universalist faith system, in which “nothing is despicable.”

What need had he of experience? Experience teaches us in a millennium what passion teaches us in an hour.

Gregory has taken over nursing Lyndall. He overhears a doctor calling him the most experienced nurse he has ever had contact with. Gregory laughs: he knows the tenderness with which he treats Lyndall comes from his deep love for her, not experience. Lyndall tells him he doesn’t hurt her as the other nurses do: the novel attests to the primacy of emotion in guiding life.

And she said, in a voice strangely unlike her own: “I see the vision of a poor, weak soul striving after good. It was not cut short, and in the end it learnt, through tears and much pain, that holiness is an infinite compassion for others; that greatness is to take the common things of life and walk truly among them; that”—She moved her white hand and laid it on her forehead—“happiness is a great love and much serving. It was not cut short; and it loved what it had learnt—it loved—and—”

Lyndall is very ill when she says these words to Gregory. They sum up what she has learned on her life journey by living on her own terms and refusing conventionality. While Lyndall is depicted in many ways as a feminist creation who stakes out her own path, in this late Victorian novel we see her melding that with an embrace of conventional and even sentimental nineteenth-century notions of feminine virtue: compassion, love, appreciation of the ordinary, and the joy of serving others.

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