The Independent Woman in Australian literature

The Independent Woman in Australian literature is epitomised for me by Miles Franklin’s Sybyllas (My Brilliant Career, My Career Goes Bung), by Miles Franklin herself, by Eve Langley’s Steve (The Pea Pickers, White Topee) and by the amazing Daisy Bates. However, there are very many other writers and women and characters who have contributed to the paradigm over time, from Elizabeth McArthur, to Mary McKillop, to author and activist Catherine Helen Spence, to Kylie Tennant’s Shannon (Ride on Stranger), right through to the television series McLeod’s Daughters.

As I go on I intend inter alia to review many of the often neglected books which have led me to expound this paradigm, to look at how the paradigm is reflected in modern literature, film and television (to the limited extent that I consume much modern culture!), and of course to seek comments and criticism of my thesis as I lay it out.

To begin, I think I can summarise my ‘ideal’ Independent Woman, as defined by Australian writing up to the 1950s, as follows:
1. The Independent Woman is independent. Firstly, as much as she loves men she finds the idea of marriage constraining; and secondly, she works, she is self-supporting (and therefore often poor).
2. The Independent Woman is a woman (not a man!). She works co-operatively not competitively; she often works to benefit society rather than herself.
3. The Independent Woman is rooted in the bush. The early women writers are as much influenced by the ‘Lone Hand’ paradigm, and the romance of the Bush, as the men.
4. The Independent Woman remembers the Aborigines, they are not ‘absent’ (ie. ignored), as they are in the ‘Lone Hand’ legend; their absence is remarked upon (by the end of the 19th Century Aborigines on the east coast were confined to a few ‘missions’ or reservations) and the reasons for it discussed.
5. The Independent Woman is chaste. Firstly because sex leads to pregnancy, and hence to dependence; and secondly, according to Jill Roe, because the paradigm arises from the New Woman movement in fiction (1880-1914) but still retains elements of Victorian morality (2008, p.157).

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