Letters of Olive Shreiner


Cape Town,
14th May., 1904

The week after next Parliament ends, and we return to Hanover. It has been very very beautiful to be here with the grand old mountains and the sea for three months. I have three friends here, almost the only friends I have in South Africa, except some of the Boer generals and one of the public men in the Cape (and my feeling for them can hardly be called "friendship" because it is just the feeling which binds people who are devoted to one common impersonal end, and whose natures may not harmonise on any other point) and it has been very beautiful to see them too. I should say perhaps I have four friends here, because the husband of one of my friends is almost as much my friend as she is, in fact she and her husband [Dr. W. F. Purcell] are so much one that you can hardly think of them apart. He is a scientific man, a rather celebrated entomologlst, and she has written some rather fine little poems on the war, but the beauty of them both is the purity and simplicity of their natures. I always hate visiting anyone, but in their house I always feel as perfectly restful as if I were at home. They live close to me here and their little boy runs in every day to see my two dogs and five mierkats which I had to bring with me from Hanover as I couldn't trust anyone else to take care of them. .....My other two friends [Miss Molteno and Miss Alice Greene] are two splendid women who have lived together for about 17 years and who are so closely united that I can never think of them apart, but as parts of one whole. They are both so noble and beautiful, each in her own way.

You say that children are "the only excuse for marriage," but I think quite otherwise. I think a close union with some human creature, permanent, bearing on all parts of the daily life and with the element of excitement and change eliminated from it as much as possible, is in itself a primary necessity in all fully developed human natures. This union may exist between a parent and child (as in the case of Buckle and his mother) or between a brother and sister or two friends of the same sex as in the case of my friends Miss Molteno and Miss Greene; the element of sex and above all the element of physical sexual union is not necessary to it; but I think it most naturally and fully tends to exist between a man and woman; and that, and not the mere bringing of children into the world, is the prime excuse for marriage in fully developed human creatures. Of course marriage originated for the purpose of producing children; just as friendship originated in animals, and afterwards man, being compelled to unite to hunt for food and to defend themselves against foes; but highly developed human beings have a necessity for other's fellowship for very different purposes than these. Of course thousands of human creatures even to-day have not the need for this deep calm unchanging fellowship; but, for those who feel, its satisfaction in marriage is the first condition of success in marriage. Children may make the emptiness less felt, where this fellowship does not exist, just as lesser friendship may do. But I believe there is, deep in human nature, a need for this close unending relationship with one above all who shall be as it were a part of oneself which it is the highest function of marriage to satisfy. But one can't explain well what one means in a few words. I think women have this need much more often fully developed than men; but among my men friends are many in whom I know it is as strongly developed as in any woman. Of course the tragedy of marriage comes in when one has the need of this fellowship and the other has not but only of continual change and excitement.