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.
and provides a link (here) to Ada’s web page.
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.
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.