The Story of an African Farm
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The novel details the lives of three characters, first as children and then as adults – Waldo, Em and Lyndall – who live on a farm in the Karoo region of South Africa. The story is set in the middle- to late-19th century – the First Boer War is alluded to, but not mentioned by name. The book is semi-autobiographical: in particular, the two principal protagonists (Waldo and Lyndall) display strong similarities to Schreiner's life and philosophy.
The book was first published in 1883 in London, under the pseudonym Ralph Iron. It quickly became a best-seller, despite causing some controversy over its frank portrayal of freethought, feminism, premarital sex and pregnancy out of wedlock, and transvestitism.
"The Story of an African Farm" is a novel narrating episodes from the lives of three children as they grow up on a farm in South Africa: through dreamy yet visceral prose, the reader learns of Waldo’s spiritual unrest, Lyndall’s fierce and far-reaching ambitions, and of the stolid Em, who is sweet but no fool. The narrative is evocative in its description of a different time and place and a unique culture.
The book is, ostensibly, divided into two parts; in Part I, the reader struggles through episodes wherein the children fight an evil and corrupt man who is trying to take over the farm. Yet they don't really fight. They hunker down and wait for it to be over which, eventually, it is. And when it is over, Part II begins with a waxing, verbose first-person-plural description of Waldo's journey from utterly faithful Christian to atheist.