Sue of Whispering Gums has been blogging since 2009 and is now followed by probably everyone who reads and thinks about Australian books. Tasma’s Uncle Piper of Piper’s Hill is an Austen-esque portrait of post-Gold Rush Melbourne society and I’m glad Sue chose it to review.
The first thing to say about Tasma’s debut novel Uncle Piper of Piper’s Hill is that it’s rather wordy, speaking to a literacy different from that of today’s readers. For this reason, Uncle Piper won’t appeal to readers who like short simple sentences, and a plot which moves along at a good clip with little reflection or commentary. Consider yourself warned, but know also that, according contemporary reports, this novel made Tasma famous in a week.
So, if you enjoy immersing yourself in the writing of different times, and are interested in late 19th century Australia, Uncle Piper has plenty to offer, starting with well-drawn characters who, in modern clothes, would be as real today as they were in 1888.
Take father, the Uncle Piper of the title, and his son George, for example. Uncle Piper is a self-made man. In his case this involved emigrating from England, where he was poor and with few prospects, to Australia where, starting as a lowly butcher, he worked hard to establish himself as the wealthy, successful businessman he is at the novel’s opening. Now, what often happens when parents struggle to establish themselves and create opportunities for their children that they never had? Why, those children take their easy, comfortable lives for granted. That’s what! Not a new story, is it?
That’s a wrap for AWW Gen 1 week. By readership, participation and above all by the number and quality of the reviews and essays that were written especially, at reasonably short notice, it has been a tremendous success. Thank you to everyone who took part. There is a list at the end of this post of everyone who appeared here, or let me know that they had written a review. Keep letting me know and I will keep adding to the AWW Gen 1 page.
Force and Fraud was the lead serial in the first issue of the Australian Journal: a Weekly Record of Literature, Science and the Arts (2 Sept. 1865). Ellen Davitt must have been a staff writer as over the course of the year she contributed three more stories, though apparently of lesser quality. The Australian Journal was presumably a Melbourne paper, a weekly, with the story serialised at the rate of about 6,000 words or 20 (book) pages per issue, over 12 issues. She must have been busy!
The (paper) edition I read was published in 2017 by Grattan Street Press (an arm of Melbourne Uni) with an Introduction by Ken Gelder and Rachael Weaver. It was first brought out in book form in 1993, by Mulini Press edited and introduced by Lucy Sussex who also wrote the Introduction to the Clan Destine Press -e-book edition. I was put on to Force and Fraud by Lisa of ANZLitLovers when she wrote about Grattan Street Press in November (here).
Ellen Davitt might have been born in Hull, Yorks, in 1812, in which case she married Arthur Davitt at age 33. However Arthur’s ADB entry says he married Marie Antoinette Hélène Léontine (Ellen) Heseltine, b. 1820, of Dublin. He had been a scholar in Ireland and France and then an Inspector of schools in Dublin. Ellen taught drawing. In 1853 they migrated to Australia to take up the positions of Principal and Superintendent for the new Model and Normal School in East Melbourne, which implies that Ellen was educated. As would the fact that the novelist Anthony Trollope was married to her younger sister, Rose (who was Irish, so I think Dr Sussex and Prof.s Gelder and Weaver are mistaken about Hull).
After a few years the school failed. Ellen made an attempt to start a girls school in Carlton which also failed. Arthur died of TB, and Ellen for some years from 1861, made her living as a public speaker throughout Victoria with lectures on such wide-ranging topics as: The Rise and Progress of the Fine Arts in Spain; The Influence of Art; Colonisation v. Convictism; and The Vixens of Shakespeare. Dr Sussex says that Ellen Davitt was “positioning herself as what we would now term ‘a public intellectual’ an extraordinary undertaking at the time – given her gender, the contemporary bias against women orators, and the frontier society of colonial Australia.”
Which brings us up to 1865 and the writing of Force and Fraud, “Australia’s first murder mystery”.
In the years after her stint at the Australian Journal, Davitt taught for a while at Kangaroo Flat near Bendigo (a gold mining city 130 km north of Melbourne) before retiring to live in poverty in working class Fitzroy, Melbourne where she died of cancer in 1879.
The settings for the novel are the property of irascible Scotsman McAlpin; the unnamed neighbouring village which is about 10 miles away and in particular the Southern Cross Hotel run by the Roberts; and Mrs Garlick’s boarding house on the western side of the city of Melbourne (ie. near Spencer Street). McAlpin’s property is about a day by coach from the nearest railhead and then some hours to Melbourne. In 1865 the possible railheads would have been one of Geelong (completed 1859), Ballarat (1862, via Geelong) and Bendigo (1862). Davitt had made speaking tours to these cities and beyond and describes the country of McAlpin’s property as open plains and dry, heavy bush (forest) so maybe she was thinking of somewhere like Ararat, west of Ballarat (map), especially as travellers often push on to South Australia.
At the centre of the story is Flora McAlpin who turns 21 and so inherits her mother’s fortune and independence in the first few pages. Flora is engaged to Herbert Lindsey, a young well-born Australian artist who has blown his own inheritance on a grand tour of Europe and now makes a precarious living in Australia as a portrait painter. Flora’s mother, who supported the engagement, has died and Flora’s father is violently opposed.
Lindsey, who has been away, has an assignation with Flora and shortly after, McAlpin is found in the bush, murdered, his throat cut. Back at the Southern Cross Lindsey is seen to have blood on his clothes, not to mention an obvious motive, and is arrested. His best friend, Pierce Silverton, who has been McAlpin’s agent (does his buying and selling) is also in love with Flora and it turns out that McAlpin’s will leaves him a great deal, especially if he marries Flora.
Flora is distraught for some time on hearing of her father’s death, but on news of Lindsey’s arrest she becomes resolute, instructs a legal team for his defense and makes her way to Melbourne, to Mrs Garlick’s, to do all she can to have him released. There is much byplay at Mrs Garlick’s as her unlovely daughters do their best to secure Silverton.
It has been said that frankness is a quality never seen in the vulgar, and vulgar the Misses Garlick were, not on account of red faces or extreme coarseness, but as being stamped with that type of the half-educated – affectation.
Ellen Davitt is an acute observer, and a forceful writer, and she has created in Flora McAlpin a fiercely independent heroine. There is no detective-hero as we might now expect, but rather the locals pitch in to gather clues, while the constables stand back to see what eventuates, and Flora’s friends bring what they discover to her or her lawyer, Argueville (yes, many of the names are expressive). As Dr Sussex writes:
that narrative mode [detective as hero] had not gained genre dominance. An alternative model equally existed, splitting the role of detective among various characters: it can be seen in works such as Wilkie Collins’ 1860 The Woman in White, and even as late as Fergus Hume’s 1886 The Mystery of a Hansom Cab, the best selling detective novel of the 1800s.
The heart of the story however is Flora and Lindsey’s betrothal and the many ups and downs that takes as Flora alternately proffers and withdraws her hand; not to mention Silverton’s pursuit of Flora in Lindsey’s absence and Bessie Garlick’s pursuit of Silverton. At one stage Silverton faints and Davitt, who really does have a sharp tongue after years as a school marm, writes: “Bessie Garlick, who hoped to take care of him for life, ran screaming about, as if to convince people how unfit she was for such a duty.”
It is only as we make our way through all this, and almost in the background, that pieces of the murder puzzle fall into place until we reach a classic denoument.
Davitt, despite not being born here, is full of praise for the country – “the sweet Australian spring!” and “those rich Australian plains” – though less so for the dusty streets of the less salubrious end of the city; and has written a lively murder mystery (which I guessed wrong) and a perceptive account of small town life.
Ellen Davitt, Force and Fraud: A Tale of the Bush, Grattan Street Press, Melbourne, 2017, Introduction by Ken Gelder & Rachael Weaver. Originally published as a serial in Australian Journal, 1865. First pub. in book form 1993. E-book pub. Clan Destine Press, Introduction by Dr Lucy Sussex. here
Posts/Reviews for Australian Women Writers Gen 1 Week
Jessica White is the author of A Curious Intimacy and Entitlement. Her short stories, essays and poems have appeared widely in Australian and international literary journals and she has won awards, funding and residencies. She has almost completed a memoir, Hearing Maud: A Journey for a Voice about deafness and Maud Praed, the deaf daughter of 19th century expatriate novelist Rosa Praed. Currently she is based at The University of Queensland where she is writing an ecobiography of 19th century Western Australian botanist Georgiana Molloy.
Jess has put up a post today on Georgiana Molloy which begins…
Over at the Australian Legend, Bill Holloway is hosting a focus on the first generation of non-Indigenous women writers in Australia. As this is my area of specialty I thought I’d pen something on Georgiana Molloy and, if I get time, another on Rosa Praed.
Georgiana was born into a life of wealth in 1805 in Carlisle, England. Her father, an ambitious Scotsman named David Kennedy, married Elizabeth Dalton, daughter of the Mayor of Carlisle. Kennedy built a house on his wife’s land (which was now his) at Crosby-on Eden, a few kilometres east of Carlisle. Georgiana, as a girl training to become a lady of leisure, learned her first lessons about plants in its gardens. Like other decorative arts such as writing, painting and flower arranging, botany was seen to be a worthwhile pursuit for women as it combined leisure and learning. It encouraged women to go outdoors, learn botanical Latin and read handbooks about Linnaean systematics.
Georgiana’s father fell from his horse and died in 1819, leaving behind debts, five children and a widow with no means of supporting them. Georgiana was fifteen. As she grew older, her family situation became even more unstable, as there was conflict with her mother and sister. One of Georgiana’s motivations for marrying Captain John Molloy and emigrating with him to Augusta in 1829 was that her options were narrowing.
I, I try not to begin posts with I, but today it really is unavoidable, or if not unavoidable … but why should I use a circumlocution? So: I. I find myself today unexpectedly with time on my hands. I spent yesterday evening loading when I could have been having a Saturday night out, down at the Balmoral maybe with ex-Mrs Legend, eating quinoa and pumpkin – me that is, she eats steak – and catching up on the week past over an immature and overpriced pinot gris, only to find that the customer didn’t need me.
So I thought that I should take the opportunity to highlight the contributions to this week that I haven’t re-posted and which you may have missed. If I ramble a bit it is because the idea only came to me this morning and I haven’t had time to properly think it over. However, if one thing is clear from all that has been written it is that we are surprised by the willingness of C19th Australian women writers and their heroines to rail against the laws and customs that restricted them. I guess this is at least partly because Australia was new, wealthy, with more fluid class boundaries than old Europe, and at the forefront of debate about democracy and labour politics.
But it is also because this period of our history has been deliberately obscured by layers of myths. From where we baby-boomers sit we must view this period, and women’s writing in particular, through the myth of the 1950s – a woman’s place is in the home, a reaction I think to the independence of women during the War, running farms and factories; the big literary myth, the Australian Legend, of men and their mates in the Bush and at war; and the myth of the Victorians – of women bound by corsets and rules to lives of virtue and strict obedience to scripture and husbands.
These books we have been reading blow away these myths. Love of the Australian bush began way before the 1890s and its appropriation by the Bulletin. You can see it in Rosa Praed who was born here, in Annabella Boswell in the 1830s and 40s (also born here) and in writers like Catherine Martin and Ellen Davitt.
Rosa Praed makes a virtue of doing away with husbands, but nearly all the women question the value of marriage, and a few, even if it does not show in their fiction, make their principal relationships with other women – Rosa Praed and Nancy Harward, Catherine Helen Spence and Jeanne Young, Anne Drysdale and Caroline Newcombe (discovered for us by MST here).
The most important writer of the period is Catherine Helen Spence who throughout the second half of the century was the dynamo who got first wave feminism moving, in her novels, in her journalism, and in her activism for women’s suffrage and proportional representation.
The most popular (now) and maybe the most enduring writer was Ada Cambridge with her gentle social commentaries. Lisa (ANZLitLovers) reviewed Cambridge’s memoir Thirty Years in Australia (here) some time ago and if you are interested in reading it for yourself the AWW Gen 1 page has a link. A reader, Alison Stuart wrote in:
[Ada Cambridge’s] husband was vicar of Holy Trinity Williamstown for many years and she did much of her writing in the lovely old (it was new back then!) vicarage. She is honoured in Williamstown today with the Ada Cambridge Prize at the annual Williamstown Literary festival… As a side note she was a friend of Jeannie Gunn, who is reputed to have written part of We of the Never Never on the verandah of the vicarage on a visit to Ada.
Brona at Brona’s Books and Emma at Books Around the Corner put up reviews respectively of Sisters and The Three Miss Kings (which I also have reviewed, here). Brona writes that Sisters “is the story of four young women coming of age on a rural property in northern Victoria. But it is also the story of Guthrie Carey, a young sailor whose life crosses paths with the sisters at various points.” Cambridge, she says, “tackle[s] women’s issues and class consciousness head-on”. (Brona’s review).
Emma too enjoyed her Ada Cambridge. She writes:
The writer under these words appeared to have a progressive view of women’s place in society. She also refers to Darwin’s theories in passing and we know they were controversial at the time. Her vision of religion is also daring for her century. I had the feeling she was well-read and modern, that she was not afraid to speak up for herself and for her gender, that she was interested in new theories, in progress in social matters as well as in science. She comes out as a woman involved and in advance for her time.
And there’s more. Narell Ontivero’s guest post of course (here) and an essay, Ada Cambridge: colonial writer and social critic (here) by Morgan Burgess, which was posted by AWW Challenge last year.
As is the way of trucking, my customer in Kalgoorlie has discovered they are about to run out of product after all, and I have to get going. But before I do let me point out for those few of you who may have missed them, Lisa’s two posts yesterday arising out of her reading of Australia’s First Century 1788-1888, EE Morris ed.
She has discovered a new writer for us, Margaret Seymour, who was in charge of the house (wife?, housekeeper?) on Alpha Station out Barcaldine way in far outback Queensland in (maybe) the 1860s (here). And she has uncovered Mary Gaunt’s journalism, of which I was previously unaware (here).
Finally, Sue (Whispering Gums) whose review of Tasma’s Uncle Piper of Pipers Hill will be with us momentarily put up this post on Tasma earlier in the week (here).
I’ll put up my final post for the ‘week’, A review of Ellen Davitt’s Force and Fraud: A Tale of the Bush overnight, with a list of all the posts received – I think apart from Sue’s there is one about Georgiana Molloy also on the way – but please, keep submitting reviews and I’ll keep adding to the AWW Gen 1 page.
The author of this guest post is Narelle Ontivero who caught my attention last year with her essay “As Nature Bade Her”: Sensuality in Tasma’s Bush Stories (here). Narelle is a doctoral candidate at Western Sydney University in the Writing and Society Research Centre. Her current research explores the relationship between space, gender and identity in the works of Tasma, Rosa Praed and Ada Cambridge. Narelle, thanks for taking part.
Across Both Worlds: Ada Cambridge’s A Marked Man (1890)
When published in volume form by William Heinemann in 1890, A Marked Man garnered its author, Ada Cambridge, considerable attention. Contemporary reviewers praised the literary style of the novel as “remarkable”, “easy and vigorous” with a perfect blend of “[h]umour and pathos” (The Speaker: The Liberal Review, 20 September 1890: 335). The protagonist, Richard Delavel, is described as “a great and original creation […] one of the most striking and touching figures in contemporary fiction” (Westminster Review, February 1891: 218). And the Manchester Guardian assured its readers in its review that “[w]ith such power and finish Miss Cambridge ought to command popularity of the best kind for anything she will bestow on us in the future” (Manchester Guardian, 23 September 1890: 6). More than one hundred years later, there is still much to celebrate in Cambridge’s successful novel.
A Marked Man is cleverly presented in two parts: The first part is set in Dunstanborough “the ideal English village” lorded over by the aristocratic Delavel family (2). The youngest son of this family, Richard, is a rebellious Oxford seminary ‘drop out’ who impulsively pursues and marries Annie Morrison, “the village maid of romance—the ideal farmer’s daughter” (31). The perfection of this village is often pointed out. Even the “beach at Dunstanborough was spacious and level and firm—everything that a beach should be” (21). Alongside Richard’s romantic pursuit of Annie, Cambridge intelligently draws out many of the class structures and traditions which unfairly governed the lives of nineteenth-century British people. The reader is warned, for example, that in Dunstanborough “[t]he lower classes knew their place and kept it, dropping the loyal curtsey to their lord and lady and the young sirs and misses, not only in the street but in the church” (2). But on a more intimate scale, to prove his worth as a true gentleman, and not some common farmer, Richard hastily agrees to marry Annie and is disinherited when the elopement is revealed. As fate would have it, before a fortnight of marriage is through, Richard realises that he and Annie are entirely unsympathetic as a couple, but that they are legally bound to each other in unhappy marriage.
The second half of A Marked Man takes place twenty-five years later in the burgeoning city of Sydney, Australia. Now a self-made businessman, Richard’s sole comfort in his loveless marriage is his daughter, Susan. Together they read Matthew Arnold, question religious precepts, enjoy boating and time at their secluded camp on Middle Head; while driving the ostentatious and principled Annie wild. Notwithstanding the apparent stalemate in the Delavel marriage, the romantic quests continue in the second half. Noel Routledge, an ex-minister without pedigree pursues Susan; and Richard pines after Constance Bethune, his helpmate in his first years in Sydney and “the woman whom nature had intended to be his mate, but whom circumstances had denied to him” who suddenly returns to Sydney a widow (220). It is only once Annie drowns in a boating accident on Sydney Harbour that Richard and Susan are free to marry their respective partners for love.
The novel’s overarching exploration of love, marriage, tradition and modernity is made possible first by the transference to Australia; and, second, by the weight of Annie’s staunch traditionalism. In A Marked Man Australia is a testing-ground in which marital and religious traditions can be challenged and where people like Annie—who doubted “the use of being Mrs Delavel in a wild country where the name had no significance”—become stumbling blocks to the liberal spirit forging the new nation (130). We are told that,
In middle age [Annie] was—what she had been from her youth—the evenest-tempered woman that ever a well-meaning husband found it difficult to get on with […] She had conformed to the customs of a country wherein birth was disestablished like its ancient friend the church, and had no dependent ‘lower orders’ to take off the loyal hat and drop the humble curtsey to it as in the good old times […] Those customs, and all the fundamental changes in social state that they implied, had never ceased to be repugnant to what she called her instincts […] People and things might change with changing times and circumstances, but [Annie] never changed” (145).
So while Annie’s death is a hefty price to pay to secure the happiness of the remaining Delavels, it is symbolically important for Annie with her ‘Old-World’ values to disappear in A Marked Man.
Of course, it is also through Annie and Richard that A Marked Man questions the British laws that bound men and women to unhappy marriages. As is likely well-known by the readers of this blog, the ‘Marriage Question’ was generating a substantial amount of controversy in the 1890s when the novel was published. And it was certainly an issue addressed by the Gen. 1 writers of this blog series—authors like Rosa Praed, Tasma, Catherine Martin, Catherine Helen Spence and Ada Cambridge, to name only a few. Marriage as a source of women’s forced economic dependence and sexual labour were two central issues raised and protested by these admirable and talented women writers through their fiction.
In the Australian colonies, the view of marriage was particularly dim. For first wave feminists, it seemed ineffectual to enforce strict marriage laws in Australia where the unattached, roving, drinking and licentious bush man was idealised with fervour. A country where male domestic violence was a common occurrence, and
It was [still] quite common for men to bash up their wives and the strange thing was, if you were to kick a dog, another man would kick you. But if you were having an argument with your wife, nobody would interfere (McCalman, 1984: 26; see also: Lake, 1986).
And where “marriage made no difference to a man’s life [but] all the difference to a woman’s life” who was enjoined to live for her husband and children’s happiness (Magarey, 2001: 37). While there is no abuse in Richard and Annie’s marriage, it is a penance to the former. And over his entire life there lingers one question: why suffer the bond of wedlock when love is not in it? Richard’s last regret, as he lays dying, is that in fifty years of life, he was only allowed three happy years with Constance, his true love.
In contrast to Annie—who cannot swim or row and only leaves the house to pay social visits—Richard, Susan and Noel are continually moving from Double Bay, on one side of the harbour, to Middle Head on the other. Their mobility, proficiency in navigating the waters of Sydney Harbour and rowing skills analogise their intellectual and spiritual progressiveness. Indeed, the core complaint of the three ‘black sheep’ is “the inadequacies of that inelastic integument to the growing soul” that longs to be free of customs, practices and beliefs that hold no relevance to its personal life (169). Susan, of the three, is particularly obstinate and rebellious;
She was full of schemes for a working life; she wanted no bridal tour, she said, and her heart was set on living at the camp, where and her husband [Noel] would be unmolested by the world of fashion, which would surround and absorb them if they established themselves in a brick house (312).
Despite Susan’s tenacity, she materialises and achieves what her father only dreamed of—autonomy in early life, the right to marry for ‘true’ love, and a life unbridled by time-honoured customs. In doing so, however, she becomes the antithesis to her mother, Annie. To the point where their mother-daughter relationship is full of bitterness and misunderstandings, and Annie dies before they reconcile. Though not perfect, Susan represents the ‘next generation’ in her family and the ‘next’ Australian generation. As Elizabeth McMahon (2010) suggests, colonial Australia offered itself as a place where “range of possibilities” was possible, and as a “measured counterweight of the northern hemisphere”—just as Susan is the counterbalance to both her parents (McMahon, 2010: 181).
Then, as now, Cambridge’s most popular novel, A Marked Man reveals important truths about ideals, faith, tradition and rebellion. And, set as it is, across both worlds, it will not fail to capture your imagination. And as Richard would advise Susan, I encourage you to discover these truths for yourself.
Cambridge, Ada. 1987. A Marked Man: Some Episodes in His Life. London, UK: Pandora Press. [first pub. 1890]
Magarey, Susan. 2001. Passions of the First Wave Feminists. Sydney: UNSW Press.
McMahon, Elizabeth. 2010. “Australia, the Island Continent: How Contradictory Geography Shapes the National Imaginary”. In, Space and Culture 13, no.2: 178-187.
Lake, Marilyn. “Historical Reconsiderations IV: The Politics of Respectability: The Masculinist Context”. In, Historical Studies 22, no. 86 (1986): pp.116-131.
McCalman, J. 1984.Struggletown: Public and Private Life in Richmond, 1900-1965. South Melbourne: Hyland House.
Women’s letters and journals form an important part of the history of Australian Literature. Georgiana’s Journal gives us insights into the early days of Melbourne and into the life of an educated and cultured woman a long way from home. And historian Janine Rizzetti of the blog The Resident Judge of Port Phillip is the ideal person to write about her. Thank you Janine for taking part in this week of reading and writing abut the earliest Australian women writers.
During this week, Bill of the Australian Legend blog is running Australian Women Writers Gen 1 Week. He defines Gen 1 as “those writers who came before the 1890s and the Sydney Bulletin ‘Bush Realism’ school, although many of them continued writing into the first part of the 20th century.” To be honest, I was surprised when he asked me to write about Georgiana McCrae, whom I have generally considered as a source, rather than a writer. She did not write for publication, and had it not been for the efforts of her family (for good or bad), she may well have stayed in the shadows of family history. Nonetheless, let’s consider Georgiana McCrae.
During this summer break, tens of thousands of Melburnians traveling to the beaches of the Mornington Peninsula will pass the beachside town of McCrae, with its holiday houses nestling among the gums on…
Catherine Helen Spence is both the mother of the Australian novel and the mother of Australian Suffragism. I’m really glad that Lisa Hill chose Spence’s Mr Hogarth’s Will to review for this week, especially as I have been dilatory in reading and reviewing Spence myself. Thank you Lisa.
Over at The Australian Legend, Bill is hosting a week (15-21 January) dedicated to the first generation of Australian women writers which he defines as those writers who came before the 1890s and the Sydney Bulletin ‘Bush Realism’ school, although many of them continued writing into the first part of the 20th century, though as he notes, most Australian writing before 1850 consists of letters and journals and novels only began to be published after that. What to read for this ‘week’ was an easy choice for me, because I’ve had Mr Hogarth’s Will (1865) on my TBR since Sue at Whispering Gums recommended it to me, and it has turned out to be utterly absorbing reading.
Catherine Helen Spence by Maude Gordon c 1900 (Source: Wikipedia Commons)
Catherine Helen Spence (1825-1910) migrated to Australia in 1839 aged 14, in the wake of her father’s financial difficulties, and…