Australian Women Writers Gen 1 Week, contributors

Australian Women Writers Gen 1 Week 15-21 Jan. 2018

Still no review!

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.

(Emma’s review).

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.


14 thoughts on “Australian Women Writers Gen 1 Week, contributors

  1. Gosh, Bill, if this is how you write when you ‘haven’t time to think it over’ – you put the rest of us to shame!
    Thank you for what has been a most enjoyable week: I’ve finally read Catherine Helen Spence, I’ve ‘discovered’ AWW writing I didn’t know I had on my shelves, and I’m enjoying reading the not-so-respectable-as-she-makes-out Ellen Clacy (and will share my review in the next day or two).
    But I’ve also enjoyed the reviews and commentary from everyone else, and would like to thank them too for the contribution they’ve made to a new resource for readers of Australian literature. What was once probably only accessible to scholars of the AWW Gen 1 period is now here on the web, free for anyone who’s interested.
    so congratulations on hosting your first ‘week’ – may there be many more!


    • Thank you Lisa, for your kind words and enthusiastic participation. I’m amazed at how much I’ve learnt from this week and I guess from reading and writing about it from so many angles some of it is starting to stick.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for organizing this event, it pushed me to read Ada Cambridge and I had a great reading time.

    Reading her and Miles Franklin sure shook the myths I had about women in the 19thC. I never thought that Australia (and maybe Canada) being new countries where everything was possible, it also meant more freedom for women.

    Now I understand why New Zealand was the first country to grant the right to vote to women.

    PS: Thank you for mentioning my billet.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Emma, I’m glad you took part. Australia right up until the 1960s regarded itself as British but what we are slowly discovering is that suppression of C19th women’s writing by the literary establishment served to hide a great deal of discontent. I’m interested to trace this back in time. JS Mill On the Subjection of Woman is one starting point, and also the New Woman movement. But another is George Sand, whose writing looks like a precursor for Australia’s Catherine Helen Spence. So, lots of work ahead!


  3. I really enjoyed how you added more about yourself in this post. Have you considered doing update posts every once in a while in which you write a bit about yourself, what you’ve been reading, anything bookish, etc?


    • Well it’s nice of you to ask, and I know it’s something you are going to try more of this year yourself. I guess my view is that I don’t keep myself out of the blog completely. You know I’m a road train driver in WA, that I go out to dinner, not to mention to Europe, with my ex-wife, that I’m an old white guy and a lefty. My intention with this blog is to keep circling back to the myths (archetypes) that underlie depictions of Australianness and most of the middle of the road/genre fiction I listen to at work doesn’t contribute to that.

      But. If you’re wondering, it’s 10pm in Kalgoorlie, hot and humid. I finished unloading about an hour ago and now I’m sitting in the truck with the aircon making a racket and am about to finish writing tomorrow morning’s post.


      • I do wonder! ☺️ I feel like your sense of the road and where you are must influence the way you read. I know many bloggers mention that what is going on in their lives affects the way they think about a book. Little things like that. Not too long ago I wrote to another Australian blogger that it was -15F here, and she couldn’t believe it! When it’s especially freezing, roads are closed and many of us end up reading more!


      • Sometimes roads get closed in WA: because a river has flooded, or there’s bushfire straddling the road and sometimes because a truck has rolled over, but not very often. I’ve mentioned off and on when I’ve been stuck on a minesite for one or two days because they have no room for the product they’ve ordered, but anyway, I’ll keep your comments in mind and let you know from time to time what I’m doing.


  4. After a hectic start to the new year, I’m catching up on posts today & now feeling terribly sad that I missed your gen 1 week.

    I had planned to read another Cambridge (its even sitting at home by my bed!) but behind the ball & chasing my tail & catching up seem to be my theme songs lately!

    Thank you for highlighting my earlier Cambridge post – I hope it inspires others to try her as I thought she was brilliant – certainly she shouldn’t be out of print or forgotten.

    This is such a fabulous idea Bill & I look forward to catching up on the reviews & posts from the rest of the week.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Read/review The Three Miss Kings whenever it fits in with your schedule (chasing your tail and catching up makes me think of those tigers who turned to butter) and I’ll put a link on the AWW Gen 1 page and give it a mention. Ada Cambridge is a lovely writer and we should be very angry with the Colin Rodericks of the Aust.Lit establishment who kept her from us for so long – a hundred years in the case of some of her books.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I don’t know enough about what happened with the Roderick’s & Aus Lit est to comment. All I know is that I’m so glad we can still read her despite the attitude of snobby old men in the long ago! And delighted to have a modern man helping to lead the charge in the right direction again 😊

        Liked by 1 person

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