Rosa Praed (1851-1935) was born into ‘comfortable’ circumstances on one of her father, Thomas Murray-Prior’s Queensland cattle stations, the third of eleven children (ADB). She was educated at home, by her mother and tutors. Her mother was the niece of poet Charles Harpur and the family had its own magazine to which Rosa contributed stories.
In 1872 Rosa was married from Government House, Brisbane to Arthur Campbell Bulkley Praed, younger son of an English banking and brewing family, and in 1876 they returned to England, to the family business in Northamptonshire. A few years later Rosa, having achieved some literary success, began living in London. By 1897 she was separated from her husband and from that time onwards she lived with Nancy Hayward, a ‘psychic medium’, until Hayward’s death in 1927.
Praed, Ada Cambridge (1844-1926) and Tasma (Jessie Couvreur (1848-97)) are often bracketed as romance writers and dismissed as extraneous to the nationalist tradition of the 1890s, thus not only ignoring the importance of marriage and its organization for colonial women (and men too, for that matter!) but also dismissing their accurate and often satirical depictions of colonial life. In her seminal Damned Whores and God’s Police: The Colonization of Women in Australia (1975) Anne Summers compares Praed with Cambridge:
Ada Cambridge became a perspicacious observer of the manners of Melbourne [post gold rush] middle-class society and applied a gentle wit and a mild irony to its pretensions and hypocrisies. Rosa Campbell-Praed discarded any pretensions to critical accolades and created superb if implausible heroines… A revealing feature of her writings was her proclivity for having her female characters dispense with weak, cowardly or uninteresting men and take up, legally or otherwise, with more exciting characters.
The Bond of Wedlock (1887) is the eleventh of Praed’s 45 novels. Re-written as the play Ariane it ran for 100 performances in the West End in 1888. Unlike many of her other works, it is a drawing room drama, set totally in London and does not draw on her experience of life in Australia. Its relevance today is that it is an important example of the attacks Australian women writers were making on the institution of marriage well before Miles Franklin’s famously anti-marriage My Brilliant Career (1901).
In The Bond of Wedlock Ariana, a beautiful young woman has been forced by the loss of her father’s fortunes (or rather, by her father’s dissipation of his father’s “great tallow business”) to forgo her expectations of marrying into the minor aristocracy and instead has married Harvey Lomax, “the junior partner in a house of business in the City”. After nine years of ongoing ‘financial crises’ caused by overspending they have one child of 7 or 8 years and Ariana has learnt that “if my marriage has been a mistake, I ought to have learnt in nine years that the only thing I can do is make the best of it.” But is that “the only thing”? She has a rich friend, Sir Leopold D’Acosta, who visits her frequently, sends her gifts and even makes ‘loans’ to her father. Lomax, constantly irritated by Ariana’s indifference to him, and infuriated because she will not ask D’Acosta for a loan to help him out, strikes her one night in a drunken rage. Her father and D’Acosta see the bruises and arrange with D’Acosta’s mistress for Lomax to be caught out in adultery. Lomax agrees not to contest a divorce and Ariana marries D’Acosta. Praed does not argue that Ariana might have remained single but neither is marriage, even to a millionaire, an unalloyed pleasure:
[Ariana] did a certain amount of languid shopping. She drove a certain number of times up and down the Ladies’ Mile. She talked all her conventional society talk. She had her admirers, whom she treated in somewhat haughty fashion… She dined out in the smartest houses, and she went to the smartest balls and receptions. She sometimes thought with a shudder of [her previous] little house in Elizabeth Street.
Ariana genuinely loves D’Acosta but begins to suspect that he no longer loves her in return. When she confronts him he replies,“You are a little unreasonable aren’t you? … One doesn’t suppose that a honeymoon lasts forever. I had an idea that we were a fairly affectionate couple, as couples go. I congratulated myself upon having married a woman of sense and experience.”
Shortly after, her father lets slip the details of Lomax’s entrapment and all love is fled. Ariana conveys to D’Acosta that they will forthwith maintain only the appearance of marriage, “‘We can be very good friends on the outside. We need never be anything more.’ ‘I think you are wise,’ he answered, and not another word was spoken …”
One of the advantages of reissues is that they often come with an interesting introductory essay, in this case by Lynne Spender, sister of Pandora Australian Women Writers, The Literary Heritage series editor Dale Spender. Her conclusion is that:
Obviously, Praed saw women of her time as damned if they did conform to society’s standards and damned if they did not. In neither case could they exist as free and independent beings…
Rosa Praed’s observations still have a ring of truth. To readers of the 1980s, Ariana’s dilemma is credible and, for many, familiar. Although ‘the bond of wedlock’ has loosened somewhat in the intervening 100 years, women who have faced violent men and who have contemplated divorce can readily understand Ariana’s ambivalence and the intensity of her feelings.
As I said, by the 1880s Australian women were already writing (and therefore reading and thinking) about ways to break out of the conventional domestic stereotypes; about how to circumvent men’s expectations of their behaviour. In addition to Praed, there were Catherine Helen Spence (1825-1910) whose ‘utopian’ novel Handfasted – A Romance (not published until 1984) was submitted to the Sydney Mail in about 1880 for a competition, but was rejected as ‘calculated to loosen the marriage tie … too socialistic and therefore dangerous’; and Catherine Martin (1848-1937) and Mary Gaunt (1861-1942) whose work I have reviewed in earlier posts (here and here). And in the 1890s we might add Louisa Lawson, Rosa Scott, Vida Goldstein and so on.
Rosa Praed came up in an earlier post on depictions of Aborigines, for which her upbringing on an outback cattle station left her well qualified. I still intend to review one of her novels with an outback setting, probably Lady Bridget which I have on my laptop but which continues to be gazumped by books which I have to hand.
Rosa Praed, The Bond of Wedlock, 1887. Reissued by Pandora, Sydney, 1987
Two items of housekeeping:
- I’ve started a Facebook account to match this blog. I want to experiment with it to see what extra material I can carry. More photos of course and maybe some stories shared from other parts of the web. I’m not sure how to access it from here, but the account name is Wad Holloway (and the profile picture is a sketch of Miles Franklin) if you want to search for it.
- And that takes me to the second thing. Melanie at Grab the Lapels is running an excellent weekly series of tips to improve your WordPress experience (here) and she has promised to show me/everyone how to add a button so you can jump from WordPress to Facebook.- which she did overnight and I think I have my facebook button up and running, thankyou Melanie
- Lisa, I’m reading Morris Lurie’s Flying High and I’ll post a review for you in a couple of weeks.