Queer Hospitality and African Resistance in the Novels of Olive Schreiner
This article analyzes moments of queer hospitality in two novels by Olive Schreiner to argue for new ways of understanding her complex views of race and gender. I focus on Otto Farber’s missionary ethics, in contrast to a competing model of imperialist domination, to show the beginnings of queer hospitality in African Farm. Otto’s disruptive Christian morality frames two of the few instances of African resistance in this early novel. While the unfinished later novel, From Man to Man, seems at first glance to embrace two classic Victorian domestic plots, those of marriage and of the fallen woman, I argue that Rebekah’s Cape Town home functions as a queer space that allows a radical rewriting of those plots. Her adopted mixed-race daughter, Sartje, and Bertie’s rebellious African maid, Griet, embody as-yet unfulfilled potential for women of colour in the novel. Rebekah’s redefinition of her own marriage and Bertie’s fall into prostitution create new spaces for women’s lives and allow us to imagine profoundly altered understandings of sympathy, maternity, and community. Drawing on Sara Ahmed’s call for a new communicative ethics in our globalized moment, I highlight moments of resistance and possibility in both novels to demonstrate both the political limitations and ethical potential of Schreiner’s South African vision.