Mothers of the Novel, Dale Spender

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My understanding, prior to today, of the history of English Lit. goes like this:

Greeks & Romans
The Bible in Greek, Latin and Hebrew
The Dark Ages
Beowulf (975-1025)
Piers Ploughman (1370), William Langland
The Canterbury Tales (1387), Geoffrey Chaucer
Gutenberg’s moveable type printing press (1440)
The Bible in English
Shakespeare (1564-1616)
Jane Austen (1775-1817)

Walter Allen in The English Novel: a Short Critical History (1951) writes “The comparatively sudden appearance at the turn of the seventeenth century of the novel as we know it was a manifestation of a marked change in men’s interests.” Dale Spender is nothing if not a feminist and you can imagine how this gets up her nose!

The subtitle of Spender’s Mothers of the Novel (1986) is ‘100 good women writers before Jane Austen’ and Spender’s intention is to demonstrate the influence on the early development of the novel of women, who were then and I am sure are often now, completely ignored by the literary establishment, not least of course by Allen. I have in previous posts discussed male writers and essayists (here) who influenced Jane Austen, and I have also started working backwards, with a review of Austen’s immediate predecessor, Fanny Burney’s Evelina (here).

I won’t say much about the list above. Beowulf, which begins, “Hwæt. We Gardena in geardagum,/þeodcyninga, þrym gefrunon,/hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon”, I know only from seeing in Campus Lit that real lit. students had to study it. Piers Ploughman and The Canterbury Tales I owned and read in my (Engineering) student days. English translations of the Bible were mandated by Henry VIII in 1539 (see for instance my review of The Taming of the Queen, Phillipa Gregory (here)).

Shakespeare is credited by Allen with the introduction into literature of fiction, by which he means the telling of made-up stories in current settings.

Then there is Jane Austen from whom the modern novel sprung fully formed.

On reflection I might add John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678) and Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe (1719) which Allen regards as the modern novel’s immediate predecessors. Alongside Shakespeare there were poet/dramatists Ben Jonson (1572-1637) and Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593). Samuel Pepys was a bit later and his Diary (1660-1669) wasn’t published until the C19th.

Spender begins her account of the rise of the novel with Sir Philip Sidney’s pastoral romance Arcadia (1590). Sidney was another contemporary of Shakespeare’s and Shakespeare drew on Arcadia for the Gloucester subplot of King Lear (wiki). This brings up two issues, firstly that ‘pastoral romances’ were fictions carefully avoiding any connection with current times (longer definition below); and secondly that writers routinely used each other’s plots, writing variations on a theme so to speak, which is why there is so much material for the ‘who wrote Shakespeare?’ crowd.

The first of Spender’s 100 is Sidney’s niece, Lady Mary Wroath (1587-1652) who wrote Urania (1621), a variation on Arcadia with significantly stronger female figures. Also, for the first time –

Realism intrudes: and it is not just the realism of content. Wroath also introduces dialogue … and it is impressive and realistic dialogue… One of the responses to Urania … was widespread discussion among writers and readers about who these realistic characters really were.

Lady Mary Wroath (or Wroth) was clearly the first woman to write with the intention of being published, and the first to write for money, her husband having died in 1614  leaving her destitute. She was also a notable poet. See for yourself, Latrobe Uni have published transcribed and modernized versions of her poetry side by side (here).

Spender goes on to discuss – and I’m only talking about Spender’s first three chapters for the time being, there’s already too much to write about – Anne Weamys who wrote A Continuation of Sir Philip Sidney’s Arcadia (1651); Katherine Philips, one of a number of women who wrote poetry privately but was published posthumously; Anne Clifford, Lucy Hutchison and Anne Fanshawe who wrote biographies of their husbands, to assert claims arising out of the disruption of the Civil War or just for family information; and Margaret Cavendish.

… if there is to be one woman singled out to represent the starting point of women’s entry to the world of letters, it must be Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle (1624-1674). She wrote and she wrote; she wrote poetry, prose, philosophy; she wrote about people and she wrote about science…

She wanted to be a writer, a serious writer, and a recognised writer, and because she did not shrink from public view, because she unashamedly sought publication and wasted not one whit of her time in trying to preserve or protect her reputation, she encountered the most savage and sneering response that society could devise. She was called ‘Mad Madge’ for her literary efforts and was publicly mocked and ridiculed.

Margaret Cavendish was a feminist who reflected at length on the position of women and the power of men.

She had, writes Spender, to invent many of the genres of writing (including SF!) which are today taken for granted, and was as well or better known as a writer in her own time than all the men cited by Allen.

The exclusion of women from the literary heritage has not been confined to efforts to keep them out of print but has extended to keep them out of consideration even when they are in print.

Spender is a fierce feminist, and Mothers of the Novel is a polemic, well argued and bursting with the stories of previously unacknowledged women writers.


Spender writes of the literature Mary Wroath would have grown up with –

Any reading for leisure or pleasure would have consisted of versions of the classics with their heroes (and occasional heroines) of antiquity, or pastoral romances, based on conventions of courtly love, and which were unrealistic, highly extravagant and affected affairs, such as those written by Marie de France in the twelfth century …

Apart from the more imaginative offerings (some would say fantastical offerings) of the pastoral romance – where romantically named shepherds and shepherdesses [who mostly proved to be princes and princesses in disguise] gambolled in exotic surrounds and obeyed the ritualistic dictates of love, compounded by mistaken identities – there were also … sermons, tracts and ‘philosophies’ which were associated with education.


Venturing down yet another rabbit hole: Marie de France who is not otherwise mentioned by Spender was a poet of the C12th whose life is completely unknown except from her surviving work. She may have been French, but then so was the whole English court (of Henry II). She was a “creator of verse narratives on romantic and magical themes that perhaps inspired the musical lais of the later trouvères, and author of Aesopic and other fables, called Ysopets. Her works, of considerable charm and talent, were probably written in England” (Britannica).


 

Dale Spender, Mothers of the Novel, Pandora, London, 1986

Further reading:

Mary Wroth, The Countess of Montgomery’s Urania (Abridged with modern spelling), 2016  (buy it here)
Margaret Cavendish, [her ‘science fiction’ classic] The Blazing World, 1668. Project Gutenberg, 2016 (here)
Myra Reynolds, The Learned Lady in England, 1650-1760, Project Gutenberg, 2015 (here)
Aurélie Griffin, Mary Wroth’s Urania and the Editorial Debate over Philip Sidney’s Arcadia, Études Épistémè [Online], 22 | 2012 (here)

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Louisa Lawson v Kaye Schaffer

The Drovers Wife Stamp

Henry Lawson’s The Drover’s Wife (1896) is clearly the seminal short story of Australian Lit. against which all other accounts of life in the Bush must be measured. Frank Moorhouse’s The Drover’s Wife (2017) is a collection of essays on ways The Drover’s Wife has influenced and been reflected in Australian writing and painting. I won’t review the book here, not least because I’ve only just started reading it (and thank you B.i.L who gave it to me for my birthday) but what I do wish to explore are two essays within it which go to the heart of my thesis – that there is an Independent Woman in Australian Literature who is a counterpoint to the myth of the Lone Hand/Bushman/larrikin soldier which most Australians see as the only true symbol of Australianness.

Louisa Lawson, The Australian Bush-Woman (1889)

Louisa Lawson (1848-1920) was of course Henry Lawson’s mother. But she was also a story teller, a writer, a poet, a suffragist, a newspaper publisher, and for many years, a drover’s wife. By 1889 when this essay was commissioned by the Boston Woman’s Journal she had been publishing and writing in her newspaper Dawn and its predecessor for more than a year.

… for hasty purposes, my colonial sisters may be roughly sorted into three heaps – city women, country women and bush-women, and it is of the last I will write; for it is of their grim, lonely, patient lives I know, their honest, hard-worked, silent, almost masculine lives.

Bush-women she says may be all day in the saddle alongside the men, then doing “what little had to be done in the house on her return… It would not anyhow be much more than making a ‘damper’ in a tin dish and putting it in the ashes.”

For by bush-women I mean … the wives of boundary-riders, shepherds, ‘cockatoo’ settlers in the far ‘back country’; women who share almost on equal terms with men the rough life and the isolation which belong to civilization’s utmost fringe.

The bush-woman is thin, wiry, flat-chested and sunburned. She could be nothing else, living as she does.

… she will tramp five miles with a heavy child on her hip, do a day’s washing, and tramp back again at night. She works harder than a man. You may see her with her sons putting up a fence, or with the shearers, whistling and working as well as any.

There is one thing the bush-woman hates – it is discipline. The word sounds to her like ‘jail’.

In those remote and isolated spots, man is king and force is ruler. There is no law, no public opinion to interfere. The wife is at the man’s mercy. She must bear what ills he chooses to put upon her and her helplessness in his hands only seems to educe the beast in him.

Louisa concludes that all of the bush-woman’s hopes reside in her daughters – “now wherever a dozen children can be got together there is a school.” The girls surpass the boys, besides, the men always “have the drink washing away their prospects.” These girls, “quick, capable and active … will give us a race of splendid women, fit to obtain what their mothers never dreamed of – women’s rights.”

Louisa’s vision is remarkably similar, no doubt because of its inherent truth, to that of Barbara Baynton (1857-1929), another women who spent her early married years imprisoned on an isolated back-block.

Kay Schaffer, Henry Lawson, The Drover’s Wife and the Critics (1993)

I went straight to Kay Schaffer’s essay because countering her arguments had been an important motivator for my Masters dissertation, The Independent Woman in Australian Literature (2011). Basically, Schaffer argues that “Women have been considered to be absent in the bush and the nationalistic bush tradition” and that the Bush stands in for the feminine, abused and conquered by men.

Yes, the tradition excludes them, but women are only “absent in the Bush” because Schaffer, and Marilyn Lake, and Gail Reekie and Anne Summers don’t look for them. I argued in my dissertation and I think I have demonstrated over a number of years on this blog that there is a considerable body of work supporting both the Independent Woman and Pioneer Women as ‘myths’ in their own right, most recently of course our own MST’s Elizabeth Macarthur.

Schaffer manages to dispute The Drover’s Wife, in which Henry Lawson essentially restates his mother’s thesis as a short story, by claiming that the wife is a surrogate man – “That is, she becomes part of man’s battle against the land as a masculine subject”.

So Schaffer claims that there is no myth of independent women in the bush because those women who are portrayed as independent are just standing in for men:

In most of [Lawson’s] stories the characters who struggle against the hostile and alien bush are men, but this is not necessarily the case. The position of ‘native son’ could, in exceptional circumstances, be filled by a woman. That is, the bushwoman can stand in place of her husband, lover, or brother and take on masculine attributes of strength, fortitude, courage and the like in her battle with the environment (as long as she also maintains her disguise of femininity). She could also be called and have the status of a pioneering hero. This is the position of the drover’s wife.

For a few pages she discusses The Drover’s Wife and its ongoing iconic status, variously interpreted. But still she comes back to –

She stands in place of her absent husband. The drover’s wife is a woman. But heroic status is conferred upon her through her assumption of masculine identity.

Schaffer can only support her thesis of men vs the Bush by claiming that independent bush-women are token men. Tell that to Louisa Lawson and Barbara Baynton, child bearing and child rearing on their own in the Bush while still working the properties of their absent husbands.

Kay Schaffer is an Emerita Professor in Gender Studies and Social Inquiry in the Faculty of Arts, University of Adelaide.

Postscript

In January, 2019 I’ll hold an AWW Gen II week – I don’t expect the tremendous response we got to Gen 1 week this year, but I guess I’ll have some time off work, and I think it would be worthwhile to discuss women writers who came of age in the period 1890-1918 and the background against which they were writing, ie. the Bulletin and the Legend of the Nineties. More anon.

 

Frank Moorhouse (ed.), The Drover’s Wife, Knopf, Sydney, 2017

Australia Post – celebrating the sesquicentenary of Lawson’s birth (here)
WAD Holloway, The Independent Woman in Australian Literature (here)
Brian Matthews, Louisa (review)
Bertha Lawson, My Henry Lawson (review)
Penne Hackforth-Jones, Barbara Baynton: Between Two Worlds (review)
Barbara Baynton, Squeaker’s Mate (review)
Barbara Baynton, Human Toll (review)

Odds & Sods

Journal: 017

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Sail & Anchor, Fremantle (wiki)

I’m having (will have had by the time this is posted) a week off. The truck has had a leaking radiator for a few weeks now and on Saturday Sam used it as an excuse not to give me the load he promised me on Friday. I guess one of his own trucks didn’t have work. So I’ve put it in to have the radiator replaced. Apparently modern radiators are too fragile to be repaired.

Hence a journal of odds & sods. My mother used to say “you sod” meaning I think, you duffer. Wrong consonants! My family, all of whom read I’m Making a Mistake, were quick to capitalize on my unexpected availability and I was allocated the task of picking up nearly 15 year old granddaughter from a party in Freo. at 10.30 pm (negotiated down from 11.30). I was already at Milly’s doing some carpentering – she’s never slow to capitalize – so we got changed and went down to Freo for dinner and a movie.

Dinner was ok, we wandered through the markets and ended up at the multi-outlet place next to the Sail & Anchor. I had Malaysian, rice and fish curry, and a glass of cheap white. Outside, in the busking space, a 9 or 10 year old girl was dancing furiously with a hula hoop. I put a few dollars in her hat. The movie was The Insult. Earlier in the week I’d been discussing an Israeli view of the Palestinian ‘problem’ with Sue (Whispering Gums) and this was the same problem from a different viewpoint, that of right wing Christian Lebanese forced to share their country with Palestinian refugees. It was a good movie, until I got a phone call from nearly 15’s father (at home with 6 and 8).

Nearly 15 is in with a bad crowd as they say and it’s impacting on her schooling and her home life and I was a bit anxious about what state she’d be in by 10.30. So when her dad said (Yes, I went outside to return the call) granddaughter and her friend were waiting to be picked up nearby two hours early, I walked straight there, and Milly caught us up a few minutes later. Two more fifteenish 15 year olds you wouldn’t want to meet. They were bored, they were hungry. Their phones didn’t work, or were lost, or the chargers were lost. We fed them, took them home. I think the other girl hadn’t told her mother everything she might as she (the mother) and Milly had a long talk when Milly rang her in the morning. A happy ending. I just need to borrow the movie to see how it ends.


Westerly, our local bookish magazine, has an essay by Claire G Coleman (my review of Terra Nullius) on the perils of being Indigenous and speaking at Writers Festivals – The Risks of Question Time (here). It seems there will always be at least one old white person to tell the Indigenous how to be Indigenous.

I am speaking to whitey now; you made us. You took our land, you raped our ancestors and made our people feel so unwanted, so hated, that they felt it necessary to capitulate by marrying and bonking our oppressors. When our children were born mixed-race, you decided we were inferior even to our own people and tried to breed us whiter, breed out the black and took kids from their families to ensure you had power over them. You told us our culture was worthless and forced your ‘education’ on us. Some of us excelled at your education and those of us who do well within your system are now, in your minds, ‘not really Aboriginal’.

Leaving aside that I don’t go to Writers Festivals and I find it very difficult to speak in public, I hope I am not such a person. I think we have reached a place in black/white relations in Australia where Indigenous people can speak for themselves. Our duty is to choose the right people to speak for us, to negotiate fairly to achieve a situation where Indigenous people can live both with and alongside mainstream society as they choose.


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Weds. I had big plans for this week, all the things I’d put off doing for lack of time (vacuuming for instance!) but instead I seem to be relaxing. Delivered the truck to the repairer, Monday, and Millie’s dog to the kennels. Took Millie to the airport Tues. Had tea with Gee and the kids last night. They all said “Where’ve you been, Poppy?”. I stayed long enough to read two Anh Dos. This morning I did nothing except finish Georgette Heyer’s The Foundling, which I bought at the Addison Road Markets in Sydney last week. I’ve written a couple of posts, had lots of fun with the comments on The Dry. Ok, I’ll stop there and bring my business accounts up to date.


Thurs. Work says their should be work today. Gee gave me a lift – getting her thesis completed is proving a struggle, so she was happy to skive off uni for an hour – so I could pick up the truck and run it back to the depot. Dropped in at Crow Books, got myself a Magbala book, Blackwork by Alison Whittaker (poetry!), and Jane Eyre and a Perth YA, Before You Forget by Julia Lawrinson for Ms Nearly 15. Sept/Oct is birthday season in my family so there’ll be more business for Crow when I get back.

No work yet. Maybe tomorrow (Fri.)

Recent audiobooks

Reginald Hill (M, Eng), A Pinch of Snuff (1978)
Jane Harper (F, Vic/Aust), The Dry (2016)
George Eliot (F, Eng), Silas Marner (1861) – Project Gutenberg

Currently reading

Dale Spender, Mothers of the Novel
Georgette Heyer, The Foundling
Frank Moorhouse (ed.),The Drover’s Wife
Yelena Moskovich, The Natashas

 

The Dry, Jane Harper

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In the summer of 1994 the national Scout jamboree was in Perth and for those scouts unable to make the trip Victorian scouts held a smaller “jamborette” at Green Lake in the Mallee, coincidentally, adjacent to one of the three blocks farmed by my grandfather and after him by my uncle, only four years my senior, Les.

The Mallee is sandy country on a limestone base, flat except for low sandhills lightly bound by eucalypt scrub and wheat stubble. In bad years the cleared soil blows in the wind. During the Depression and again in 1984 the prevailing hot summer northerlies created huge dust storms blanketing Melbourne 400 km away with red Mallee dust.

Green Lake is (was) not natural, just a shallow depression in low eucalypt and acacia bushland, fed by the channel system which brought water up from the Grampians. Gone now I hear, converted to pipes. We had huge family picnics there every summer, all Granddad’s brothers and sisters and all their children, and us four boys, the first of the grandchildren.

On the Friday before the jamborette I drove Gee, an enthusiastic scout, and two of her friends up from Melbourne, to stay overnight at Les’s before going on to the camp. Up the Calder Highway through Bendigo, through Charlton, Culgoa where Grandma’s brother, Uncle George  (Cox) bred champion clydesdales and you could sometimes see huge colts gambolling clumsily by the highway, to Berriwillock. Turn left, past the little weatherboard Anglican church, where mum’s younger sister was married while we boys sat outside in the car being fed sausage rolls by the church ladies, out the Woomelang road, turn right at Uncle Bert’s – ‘Wheatlands’, my great grandmother’s home farm – then left again before the bush block with scrubby native pines and bulokes where we’d get our Christmas trees, past the Austerberry’s. Dirt roads now, hard packed sand, graded smooth, pulling up at Les’s side gate, padlocked, round to the front, up the half mile drive to the old familiar farmhouse surrounded by peppercorns, from Brazil I think, not native but endemic throughout all of Australia’s wheat farming country, and a few sugar gums.

The first time I had made this trip for 30 years, the first (and last) time ever as a driver, but ingrained indelibly in my mind by 15 years of school holiday after school holiday, sitting behind my father, 3 boys across the back seat of the Prefect, the FJ, the EK, our first new car, baby B4 in the front between mum and dad. Granddad and Grandma did their shopping in Sea Lake but went to church in Berriwillock, my uncles played football in the green and gold, and once memorably we went to a gymkhana there where Grandma and all the other ladies chased a greased pig.

Three of Dad’s dozen or so schools were in the Mallee, the first, Sea Lake as I wrote recently, but then Underbool west of Ouyen where B2 was born and from 1961-63, Murrayville, further west again and so we would drive, in hundred degree heat in summer, 68 miles across to Ouyen then 80 miles down the Calder Highway to Sea Lake. Just mallee scrub, paddocks of wheat and oats, paddy melons and tumbleweeds. Identifying and counting cars to pass the endless hours – weren’t all hours endless back then.

Oh, the book review. You really should stop now or jump over to Emma at Book Around the Corner (here). Emma enjoys Harper’s crime fiction and writes a sensible review, which is more than you will get from me.

The setting of The Dry (2016) is a fictitious small sheep farming community, Kiewarra, though not so small it doesn’t have a high school, “five hours from Melbourne”. The number of towns in Victoria that fit this definition is just two, Robinvale and Ouyen in the north-west, the Mallee. Five hours in any other direction takes you into NSW or SA.

Robinvale is on the Murray and has a twin town, Euston across the river. Farming is irrigation dependent – grapes and citrus. Which leaves Ouyen, to the west, semi-desert, mallee scrub country, wheat farming mostly but some sheep. Dry and flat, salt lakes, no rivers. Kiewarra on the other hand has a wide river which normally burbles and rushes along, a lookout hill with a 100m high cliff, and late in the story the bare “fields” which surround Kiewarra become dense bush, tinder dry, threatening to engulf the town with bushfire. Any descriptions are plain vanilla generic – houses, fields, trees, river (and yes “fields” really annoys me).

Even the title is annoying, “the Dry” in Australia is actually winter in the tropics. “The Drought” or “The Long Dry” would have been more accurate given that that is what Harper (or the marketing people who came up with the title) meant, but who am I to argue when sales have been so good.

As a crime fiction novel The Dry is not bad, though in a genre renowned for meticulous technical accuracy her ‘police procedural’ errors are probably unacceptable. But the story is well told and the characters engaging. I especially enjoyed the back and forth between twenty years ago and now, flagged by italic script in the book, but not of course in the reading. It’s the geography that makes me mad. You’d have to think that the closest Jane Harper has been to the Bush is the observation deck of the Rialto with a telescope and the only experience she has of drought and farming is the stories she’s read in the Melbourne Murdoch tabloid, the Herald-Sun.

When the Mallee was divided up for settlement one block was one square mile, 640 acres. These days mechanisation means that an average farm is at least five times that, yet a big farm in Kiewarra is 200 acres. No wonder the farmers are desperate. The basis of the novel is that the ongoing drought has led one farmer to a murder/suicide which his parents ask his Melbourne-based former school mate and Federal policeman to investigate. The school-mate, Falk, around whom Harper is building a series, was blamed for the death 20 years earlier of his friend Ellie who was found at the bottom of the river with stones in her pocket, and he and his father were run out of town.

By the end of the book both Ellie’s death and the deaths of the farming family are explained, with a few unexpected twists along the way, the tension builds nicely, and yes the treatment of Falk by his former townsfolk has a “Deliverance” feel to it. But. The title makes the claim that this is Australian writing in the long tradition of Bush Realism dating from before the Bulletin, Steele Rudd, Henry Lawson and Joseph Furphy, back to the mid-1800s and the women we discussed in Gen 1 Week. And it is a spurious claim. Harper has appropriated the tropes of Australian bush fiction to make a setting for her crime fiction and she has done it really, really badly.

 

Jane Harper, The Dry, Macmillan Audiobook, 2016. Read by Steve Shannahan

I knew someone else as well as Emma had reviewed it. Kim at Reading Matters writes: “Quite frankly, The Dry, is an astonishing debut. It’s an exceptional crime novel, one of the best I’ve read in years.”

 

My Father was Busy

Journal: 015

Wm & Mum 1951
Photo 1951, DC Holloway (Box Brownie)

My father was busy and I’m still angry. Tedious I know, Milly and the kids make that clear! And let’s not discuss how busy I was for them. Busy, Busy.

Mum was a 17 year old farm girl, a pupil teacher when Dad came to town, tall, ex-Melbourne High, ex-Navy, city boy, confident (and competent) teacher but pathologically un-social. His mother, a Luya from Brisbane, had pretensions of class. Her son spent his life in her shadow. He needed a wife he could train up, no challenges, a farm girl.

Granddad, mum’s dad, made him get his truck licence so he could help with the harvest, driving the old ex-Army 7 ton Inter, overloaded with wheat to the top of the bin, to Boigbeat silo. He could never in his life call Granddad ‘Dad’ or even ‘Fred’. I heard Granddad tell him off about it and he skulked back to his room, his books while his sons crammed into the ute, the cab of the truck, drove tractors, chased sheep, sewed up bagged wheat, grew into hybrid farm boys town boys that he only ever imperfectly understood.

In May the year after they met, Mum barely 18, they were in Healesville 250 miles from Sea Lake, waiting apparently for permission to marry. It’s never discussed, would never have come up except Mum’s younger brother, then still a baby, told me over a beer years later that guys in the Berriwillock pub still asked him why Mum and Dad ran away together. Dad said he was offered a married position at a school at the other end of the state. Mum says nothing.

I came along 10 months later.

It wouldn’t be fair to say Dad wasn’t involved. We always went for Sunday drives, often quite long ones, Wilsons Prom from Leongatha and a few years later when we still had the FJ, from Murrayville to Nhill after church, 80 miles of sand through the Big Desert. We got bogged 3 times and it took till after midnight to get home, the long way through Ouyen.

Dad and Mum were both strict and handy with a stick. I cried at the time but being belted never did me any harm. Dad took to me with a piece of dowell once for saying ‘pooh’ when Mum told me to do something and I went to school (his school) with blue stripes across the back of my legs. He said he wouldn’t hit me after I started high school, but once when I was 12 or 13 his parents were staying and I woke them up fighting with B2 whose room I had been forced to share. He was furious, dragged me to his office – our house was in the school grounds – and began laying into me with the strap, hands and legs until he was worn out.

The big problem was I was bright, brighter than he was, and he didn’t know how to deal with it, thought the solution, the least amount of effort for him, would be discipline and an average education. He taught me chess and I beat him, and his father, in primary school. That was the end of chess.

I had sport, I had scouts, I had books. I had a bike. We lived in country towns so as long as I was home for tea, out of sight, out of mind. In 1966 Mr Fast-Track needed to complete his BA to become an Inspector so we bought a 3 br brick house in a new development in Blackburn South (Melbourne). I fought to maintain my country freedoms, he was too preoccupied to fight back. But nights were out of the question. Even at 17 bedtime school nights was 9.00.

He got his promotion, we moved to Mudsville. My english teacher at Blackie South High – you notice that selective Melbourne High, his alma mater, was never considered, nor even mentioned – offered to board me but Mudsville High was good enough and I spent the last year and a half of my schooling with the mud-minds.

Dad was a shocking 1950s husband, made all the rules, was very Mr Bennet with Mum, and yes that rubbed off on me, would shrug off any attempt at affection. I thought after he retired, began doing housework and making speeches about how lucky he was to meet Mum etc, etc. that Mum, who like many fiftyish women grew into mature self-confidence, might have given him an ultimatum, but she says not.

I don’t forget Dad dinking me to school on his bike when Mum was in Leongatha hospital having B3 and B4, or piggybacking me home at Murrayville when I was crook. B2 who had him in grade 6 says that when he played up Dad would take him into the office next door and give the desk a resounding 6 cuts with the strap. I don’t forget the driving lessons he gave me in the bush when I was barely a teenager, or that when I came home drunk from a Saturday night dance in 6th form he just sent me to bed with some newspaper (he always waited up and would sometimes drive into town to search for me if I wasn’t home by midnight), nor do I forget the huge financial strain of giving me a year, and potentially four years, in Trinity College.

I don’t forget that I got my high school girlfriend pregnant, that I failed first year Engineering.

And no,  I’m not bitter about his opposition to my politics, to the Moratorium, to my non-compliance with the Draft Laws. A bit annoyed that he advised the Federal Police who had warrants for my arrest where they could find me in Brisbane  but Mum let me know and the Young Bride and I moved on to Nambour.

He always came across when I asked for money. His first thought when I told him and Mum that I was leaving Milly was for the kids, particularly Psyche who was in a more difficult position than the younger two. In later years, even before his retirement, he tried very hard but it was never enough.


(If you noticed the Journal No., I wrote this some time ago but held off publishing it, so it’s out of sequence. Earlier Journal posts may be accessed from the Journals page above.)

Photo: Dad’s car appears to be a 1930s (so, older than Mum) Chevrolet Series AD Universal (wiki)

 

Evelina, Fanny Burney

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Frances “Fanny” Burney (1752-1840) can be regarded as Jane Austen’s immediate predecessor as a novelist, and she in turn cites as a major influence Eliza Haywood (1693-1756) and in particular her The History of Miss Betsy Thoughtless (1751):

… a sophisticated, multi-plot novel that has been deemed the first novel of female development in English. Betsy leaves her emotionally and financially abusive husband … and experiences independence for a time before she decides to marry again (Wiki).

Dale Spender has established that Austen was in fact preceded by 100 women novelists commencing with Lady Mary Wroth in the C16th (though all the credit is given to five men) so I have plenty more reading to do, not least Spender’s Mothers of the Novel.

Evelina (1778) was the first of Burney’s four novels, the others being Cecilia (1782), Camilla (1796) and The Wanderer (1814). She also wrote a number of plays but for a long time was best known for her letters and journals under her married name Madame D’Arblay. By comparison, Jane Austen began writing around 1790 when she was 15 and all her six novels were published in the years 1811-1815. Austen admired Burney and was a ‘subscriber’ to Camilla.

Burney was English, from Kings Lynne in Norfolk, but her mother who died when Fanny was 10, was French. This feeds into Evelina – and I admit I had to look this up to get it right: Evelina’s guardian, Mr Villars, a country clergyman, had been tutor/guardian to Evelina’s mother Caroline and, before her, to Caroline’s father, Mr Evelyn who married a French barmaid, Madame Duval. On his death two years later Mme Duval took charge of Evelyn’s fortune but relinquished Caroline to Villars. Caroline at 18 married Sir John Belmont, who on learning that she had no access to her father’s fortune abandoned her and burnt their marriage certificate. Caroline died in childbirth and Evelina was raised by Villars. So both the author and her heroine are motherless and with a French background.

The novel begins with Evelina aged 17. Mme Duval has written that she is coming over from Paris to take charge of her and to force Belmont to acknowledge that Evelina is his child, and therefore his heir. A Lady Howard and her daughter Mrs Mirvan are involved somehow and Villars reluctantly allows Evelina to stay with Lady Howard and then to accompany the Mirvans, including their daughter Maria who is Evelina’s age, to London.

As were Austen’s unpublished (till much later) earlier works, this is a story told in letters, initially between Mr Villars and Lady Howard, but subsequently mostly from Evelina to Villars and Maria describing her experiences. The tension in the novel – and I should be clear that I found it immensely enjoyable – arises firstly from Evelina’s beauty and demure deportment which men find irresistible, and secondly from the vulgar Mme Duval’s arrival in England and her ability to assert her authority as Evelina’s proper guardian over Evelina’s preference to remain in the country with Mr Villars.

Burney uses Evelina not just to tell a coming of age story, and to describe in some detail the entertainments available in London at the end of the C18th, but also to discuss in a more frank way than Austen (due to her greater personal experience?) the various levels of middle class society: “To draw characters from nature, though not from life, and to mark the manners of the times”.

We attend concerts, operas, plays, fireworks displays, displays of mechanical curiosities and walk in various gardens. Mme Duval’s nearest relations are wealthy silversmiths, but still vulgar, when they meet a Lord they tout for business. The men Evelina meets are quite often literally rapacious and must be restrained from dragging her off into the undergrowth. Whether this is intended as a cautionary tale for unprotected females or is an accurate description of London life after dark (and not always after dark) I cannot tell. Of course she also meets one very courteous young Lord, and inevitably falls in love. By the 75% mark they are getting along handsomely at a country retreat near Bristol. I’ll read on but say no more.

I find I am becoming decided in my preference for reading over reviewing, for which as a reviewer I apologise, but the taking of notes interferes with my enjoyment of the work. Nevertheless, I paused at this point long enough to record this exchange between Evelina’s current companion Mrs Selwyn and a young nobleman:

“But, did you study politics at school, and at the university?”

“At the university!” repeated he, with an embarrassed look; “why as to that, Ma’am, no, I can’t say I did; but then with riding, -and -and so forth, really, one has not much time, even at the university, for mere reading.”

“But, to be sure, Sir, you have read the classics?”

“O dear, yes, Ma’am!, but not very -not very lately.” (Loc. 4339)

Sounds like my sort of university!

Evelina, although her fortune is uncertain has been brought up as a gentlewoman: educated, moral and thoughtful – a very recognisable type for at least another century, in the novels of Austen, Mrs Gaskell, or in Australia, Catherine Martin and Ada Cambridge for instance.

What is striking though is the environment in which the author places her, amongst distant relatives a number of social levels below her, and in situations where a single woman without fortune or family is openly treated as prey. One “well bred” young knight spends nearly the whole course of the novel, wooing her, dragging her into corners, blocking her way, talking over her protests and generally pawing her in a vain attempt to make her his mistress. And at night in the streets and in entertainment precincts she is followed and in one case surrounded by young men who believe they can rape her with impunity.

By the time we came near the end [of the poorly lit walk], a large party of gentlemen, apparently very riotous, and who were hallooing, leaning on one another, and laughing immoderately, seemed to rush suddenly from behind some trees, and meeting us face to face, put their arms at their sides, and formed a kind of circle, which first stopped our proceeding, and then our retreating, for we were presently entirely enclosed. The Miss Brangtons screamed aloud, and I was frightened exceedingly; our screams were answered with bursts of laughter, and for some minutes we were kept prisoners, till at last one of them, rudely seizing hold of me, said I was a pretty little creature. (loc. 2951)

Her grandmother treats her protests with scorn and her friend, Maria’s father, a sea captain, speaks and behaves coarsely and commits assaults on Mme Duval and later, on a young nobleman, in the pretence that they are practical jokes. Of course this may just be a clumsy attempt at slapstick or the author poking fun at French women and sea captains. From this distance it is impossible to tell.

Burney’s writing is not as precise as Austen’s but it is nevertheless very good, and the story immensely entertaining without ever resorting to any of the “robbers, smugglers, bailiffs, caverns, dungeons, and mad-houses” said by Walter Scott to characterise the earliest novels. It both improved my understanding of Austen and was worth reading in its own right.

 

Fanny Burney, Evelina, First pub. 1778. My version, Project Guthenberg (for Kindle) here
Audiobook available from Audible (cover above) or free from Librivox

I’m Making a Mistake

Journal: 016

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I’m making a mistake. I’m driving 15 kms of dirt road back into Terry Hie Hie in preparation for contacting the owner of the other half of my load of (commercial not charity) hay from WA when he phones to say he is not “near Narrabri” as I had been instructed but some other place which turns out to be back behind me. I turn around, re-drive the 15 kms, down to walking pace through the herds of angus and herefords lining the road – calves never know which side to stand, crossing backwards and forwards at the last moment, before one of them inevitably trots down the road ahead of me – and another 10 not much more than a track really through heavily wooded hills, the western slopes of the Great Divide in northern NSW, along some bitumen, then up another dirt road in light rain now, between farms, turning and dropping into narrow creek crossings until Rick phones again to say he can see me coming over the hill and all I have to is turn hard right through the next narrow gate and cattle grid and come down the track to his hay shed.

All through this trip, the late call on Monday, loading in the northern wheatbelt on Tues, it has been assumed, Sam has demanded, that I be in Sydney to load Tolls parcel freight on Friday night. Notwithstanding that they left it too late Monday for me to load; that the destination was always Moree and not Tamworth as Sam was still claiming when he called to shout at me on Wednesday and Thursday; that I had two separate deliveries to farms in the backblocks, not one to a shed on the highway. Until late Friday, yesterday, the truck and trailer filthy with mud and straw, the operations manager and I agreed that I would load Saturday morning, take my 24 hour break, come home. I asked Rick, checked the map, headed for Tamworth and the New England Highway (map).

I’m making a mistake. Rick’s ‘most direct’ route through Upper Horton to the Bingara – Tamworth road has turned to gravel, the drizzle has turned to rain, the sun has set, and I am doing some serious hill climbing. I wish it was daylight, I’m sure the scenery is spectacular, my spotties are good but there is oncoming traffic and then where are the cows, the kangaroos, the next corner, the trees? I’m flat out at 60 (that’s 40 in American). After Upper Horton – whoever knew there was an Upper Horton? – a few houses and an RSL club in a river valley, at least the road is bitumen, though wet and unlined. Still, I’m in Tamworth more or less on schedule, though no idea where I am. A friendly taxi driver leads me round an impossible roundabout to avoid the city mall and out onto the highway.

Three hours later, at 9.30 western time (11.30pm local) I pull into the Wyong service centre for my 7 hour break, 90 minutes driving left, I’ll be at Tolls, Eastern Creek 8.00am on the dot. The phone beeps. The load is cancelled. I sleep.

I’m making a mistake. Not a big one, not becoming an owner driver, or buying this particular truck. I’m making (some) money, the truck is comfortable, powerful, reliable (it’s a Volvo!). Not even working for Sam, well not in the beginning, taking up Dragan’s offer got me started, but after the previous journal, when I was stuck in Brisbane for the weekend, I was stuck another 7 days as Sam loaded his own trucks ahead of me, then at the last minute, 7.30pm the following Friday, after I had told him I was planning to return to Perth empty and find new work, he came up with a load to Sydney and the ‘promise’ of an immediate load (Monday night) Sydney – Perth. I took it, dropped my trailers at Tolls, spent a pleasant weekend with friends in Bathurst. They fed me, took me to the movies (Spike Lee’s Blackkklansman) and I gave them MST’s Elizabeth Macarthur – second printing! – and McKinnon’s Storyland.

No, the real mistake I’m making, and taking three weeks just to do one Perth – Brisbane brings it home, is spending too long away from home, too long away from Ludmilla Agnes, from my children and grandchildren. If I was a single man, I would sell up, take loads as they came up, spending as much time as possible in FNQ, the NT, the north-west, a jobbing carrier, my home on my back. But I’m not a single man, I’m a family man, missing both the pleasures and responsibilities of family life. When I took this job I thought I would run mostly Perth-FNQ, for a year anyway until after Milly’s big trip to South America, as I did for Sam 16 years ago, but that’s not turning out, the work is different and so am I.

In the next couple of years Gee will have finished her PhD, accepted a job (in refugee welfare not geology) anywhere in the world, and I will have missed an opportunity, one I regret even now, every time Milly has the kids for the weekend, pancakes for Sunday breakfast, though I spend all my time there those infrequent times I’m home.

I’ve been offered new work out of Perth, to central South Australia and northern WA, perhaps half as far as I’m doing now, requiring I lease or buy my own trailers which was my plan eventually anyway. Sounds good on paper, the rates quoted are excellent, the only problem is I’m yet to determine the contractor’s ability to pay. We’ll see. I still have to drive, but I need to spend my breaks at home, to be more in charge of when and how I work.

This morning I’ve taken my truck to the truck wash. Not cheap! All the mud and road grime is gone, though the trailer, tautliner, still needs to be properly swept out before it’s usable again, Monday’s job. Right now I’m off to B2’s – public servant (ret.), chef, world traveller.

The Dinner - Herman Koch

Reviews by Emma/Book Around the Corner (here) and Kim/Reading Matters (here) reminded me that I had already listened to Koch’s The Dinner, in January, but completely forgotten it. On relistening this week, I didn’t think it as good as Dear Mr M (here) but I still think Koch is an interesting writer and admire him for trying different things with each work. The Dinner takes the form of one man’s (Paul Lohman) stream of consciousness during a restaurant meal with his wife, Claire, and his brother and his wife, Serge and Babette, to discuss what they are to do after their 15 year old sons have committed a crime which they may get away with.

I found Paul mostly boring and his descent into seeming madness unconvincing. My sympathies were with Serge, likely next Prime Minister of Holland, and the only one of the four to take a reasonable moral position. But no doubt it made for interesting discussions at book clubs.

For the trip home I have Garry Discher’s The Heat, after you let me know he is a crime fiction writer (after my review of his WWII internment novel) and The Dry by Jane Harper.

Recent audiobooks

Kim Harrison (F, USA), The Drafter (2015)
Herman Koch (M, Netherlands), The Dinner (2009)
Georgette Heyer (F, Eng), The Unkown Ajax (1959)
Tami Hoag (F, USA), Dust to Dust (2014)

Currently reading

Fanny Burney, Evelina (done and written up)

I have with me but am still undecided which to start/resume –
Mike McCormack, Solar Bones
Anita Heiss, Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia
Elizabeth Jenkins, Jane Austen
Daniel Cohn-Bendit, Obsolete Communism, The Left-Wing Alternative
Dale Spender, Mothers of the Novel