AWW Gen 3 Week

Australian Women Writers Gen 3 Week 12-18 Jan. 2020

Grace Cossington Smith
Artist: Grace Cossington Smith

Lisa (ANZLitLovers) wrote to me this week to enquire which writers we would be covering in Gen 3 Week, so she could get started with her reading. I was on my way home from a quick trip to Melbourne (for a change!) – I left Sat lunchtime and got home Fri night – so I thought it might be simplest, and I would have the time, to knock up a post giving the dates and a simple outline.

Gen 3 – and you know these are ‘my’ generations, though HM Green is in broad agreement – covers the period from the end of WWI to the beginning of the sixties.

Gen 1, from the beginnings of white settlement to 1890, began with letter writing and memoirs and graduated to ‘colour’ novels for the home (English) market. Women’s novels, for the best part of a century dismissed as “romances” by the literary establishment, displayed both a marked spirit of independence and a growing love for the Australian landscape (here).

Gen 2, 1890-1918, covers peak Bulletin – Federation, nationalism, and the birth of the Australian Legend, the anti-hero in the Bush and at War (here). For many Australian writers Gen 2 never ended. Women writers responded by making it clear that it wasn’t just men doing it hard, and so a Pioneer Legend was born as well, and it too lives on in popular fiction, coming to the fore from time to time when politicians are not trying to distract us and glorify themselves, with pointless wars.

Gen 3, 1919-1960, is the story of White Australians clustered in a few cities on the arable fringes of a hostile continent. We sent out explorers – Ion Idriess, Frank Clune, Ernestine Hill – to remind us just how hostile, how other, the Dead Centre really was, and their writing was tremendously popular, but the Literary writers of this generation, and the best of them were women, began to write the stories of ordinary men and women in the cities. Aboriginal Australians had their own myth, or rather we had a myth about them, that they were out there in the desert and that they were dying out. This comes up in Idriess and Hill and most particularly of course in Daisy Bates’ The Passing of the Aborigines (1938). But for the first time Aboriginals are pictured sympathetically and at length in fiction, most notably by Eleanor Dark, KS Prichard and Xavier Herbert.

There are two strands to Gen 3, ‘Social Realism’ and ‘Modernism’, though a third strand, Bush/Pioneering from Gen 2 never really goes away.

Realism began in France in the middle of the C19th as a reaction to Romanticism. The idea was to picture life ‘warts and all’, eg. Zola. This led to Social Realism, in the first half of the C20th, which depicts the harshness of working life in order to critique the forces giving rise to it, ” Social Realism aims to reveal tensions between an oppressive, hegemonic force, and its victims” (wiki). By contrast Socialist Realism, which was the mandated style for Communists around the same time, idealizes the (post-Revolution) Worker.

Modernism. Quotes are from The Literature Network (here):

The Modernist Period in English Literature occupied the years from shortly after the beginning of the twentieth century through roughly 1965. In broad terms, the period was marked by sudden and unexpected breaks with traditional ways of viewing and interacting with the world. Experimentation and individualism became virtues, where in the past they were often heartily discouraged. Modernism was set in motion, in one sense, through a series of cultural shocks. The first of these great shocks was the Great War … [A] central preoccupation of Modernism is with the inner self and consciousness. In contrast to the Romantic world view, the Modernist cares rather little for Nature, Being, or the overarching structures of history. Instead of progress and growth, the Modernist intelligentsia sees decay and a growing alienation of the individual. The machinery of modern society is perceived as impersonal, capitalist, and antagonistic to the artistic impulse.

I have left it till this point to consult HM Green A History of Australian Literature (1960, revised 1985). His Fourth Period (and remember he treats my Gen 1 as two Periods), 1923-1950, is titled ‘World Consciousness and Disillusion’. He writes that notwithstanding the Depression and WWII this “current” period – current when he was writing – is marked by the gradual accumulation of individual wealth. Ahhh remember when one working man could by the honest labour of a forty hour week purchase a modest house and support a wife and children.

The bible of this period is Drusilla Modjeska’s Exiles at Home: Australian Women Writers 1925-1945 (1981) and I must review it in time for the beginning of the Week. She writes,

Within a decade the novel had broken the orientation towards poetry and short fiction that had dominated Australian literature since the 1890s… The ten years between 1917 and 1927 saw the publication of only 27 novels as against 87 volumes of verse, whereas for the years 1928-1939, there were 106 novels and only 57 volumes of verse.

Modjeska goes on to note the pre-eminence of women writers during Gen 3, and quotes Nettie Palmer (1934):

A few years ago it would have been impossible to open a bookshop in Melbourne devoted to Australian books; this has now been done.

 I’m struggling to place the women whose writing is mostly within this period in their proper strands, but I’ll have a go and hope that incites you all to argue.


Henry Handel Richardson (for Maurice Guest)
Christina Stead, see the Christina Stead page on ANZLL (here)
Eleanor Dark, my recent review of Waterway (here)
Eve Langley, The Pea Pickers and White Topee (here)
Elizabeth Harrower and Thea Astley began writing in the 1950s but if we consider them at all in Gen 3 let’s leave them till Gen 3 (part 2)

Social Realism

Katharine Susannah Prichard (Nathan Hobby)
Jean Devanny
Cusack & James, Come in Spinner (here)
Dymphna Cusack, Jungfrau (Whispering Gums)
Florence James
Catherine Edmonds, Caddie (here)
Kylie Tennant, Ride on Stranger (here)
Ruth Park, The Drums go Bang (here)
Mena Calthorpe, The Dye House (Whispering Gums)(ANZLitLovers)

Bush/Pioneering (and others)

Nettie Palmer, as friend and critic
Hilda Esson
M Barnard Eldershaw
Marjorie Barnard
Flora Eldershaw
Mary Durack
Henrietta Drake Brockman
Ernestine Hill (an unsatisfactory biog. here)
Jean Campbell
Velia Ercole
Helen Simpson
Gwen Harwood (I have her book of letters, Blessed City)
Charmian Clift

Ok. I hope that gives you enough to get on with. Apart from Modjeska, Nettie Palmer wrote a volume of criticism that covers this period, and Dale Spender’s Writing a New World does too.

Let me know who I’ve missed and who I’ve misclassified. I’ll publish reminders closer to the date. Now start reading!

38 thoughts on “AWW Gen 3 Week

  1. Thanks for this Bill. I’ll certainly aim to take part again. So many writers here that I’ve read a bit of – some before blogging but some that you can add to your list of reviews when you get going. I do want to read Drums go bang, which I know you’ve done, but I have it physically on my pile, so I’ll probably do that. After that I might aim for Barnard and or Barnard Eldershaw. And/or I might do some more from the Stead Ocean of story collection. So much to think about!

    Are you suggesting we do Gen 3 in 2020 and 2021? If so, I’d do Thea Astley in 2021.


    • Yes, I am suggesting we do Gen 3 over two years. I had hoped to make an easy division but flubbed it, except for Astley and Harrower, so we’ll just see how it works out. At this stage I’m considering reading Cusack – Jungfrau, and Dark – Timeless Land. But there’s also Stead. If you read Ocean of Story I might read The Little Hotel seeing as one is on top of the other on the shelf behind me.

      Completely off topic but check Brona on facebook for an excellent Guardian article on JA/Sanditon.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh thanks Bill, will do.

        I read a section of Ocean of Story for Lisa’s Stead week, so would probably just do the next section – that’s probably a realistic goal, particularly if I do Drums go bang too.

        I’d be happy to do Harrower and/or Astley for the second round.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Ah, this is just what I wanted, though I didn’t realise how much I was asking for!
    Anyway, the book that prompted my Q was A House if Built by (Marjorie) Barnard (and) (Flora) Eldershaw, published in 1929, so (yay!) that’s definitely early AWW Gen 3. I also have KSP’s Coonardoo from 1929 which I have been meaning to read forever, plus her Intimate Strangers from 1937. If I get time, I can add Dymphna Cusack’s Jungfrau and Jean Devenney’s Sugar Heaven both from 1936.
    But the one I really should read, because there is no better motivation to tackle all 800-odd pages of it, is House of All Nations by Christina Stead, except that it’s not set in Australia, it’s set in1930 in a European bank critiquing money-hungry Paris. But then, The Little Hotel isn’t set in Australia either. it’s set in Europe too (and I loved it. I love hotel novels in the hands of a deft, perceptive author, which Stead certainly was.)


    • I was happy to do it, I didn’t have a book review ready anyway. Stead is interesting because she is a major modernist (she is the very model of a modern …) but she was until well after the war international rather than Australian, for readers anyway. Even Patrick White says, in 1966, that he only discovered her “late in the day”. (Marr, p.461). But I guess, whatever reviews we do will contribute to your project as well as mine. I think if I write a critical essay this time round it will be about the Social Realist aspect and I’ll deal with Modernism in part 2


      • I’ve been meaning to read it for ages but I will read something else if you’re going to read yours, to extend the breadth of the AWW week.


      • I have too Lisa, but please don’t not read it on my account. I will be deciding on the fly what I can manage, and most, this time, will be books already covered by Bill or you, but they are ones I physically own and really want to read. It never hurts to have depth as well as breadth, and chances are you’ll read it and I won’t.

        For example, you named Jungfrau also, which I reviewed a couple of years ago, and that I’ll be telling Bill about when he gets his page up. I’ve read Coonardoo before, but way before blogging. My first one this time will probably be Drums go bang, which Bill has reviewed! So, can’t win I say – just do your priority read/s.


  3. Sue, I knew you’d read Jungfrau but like you, it’s one I own. But we’ll get the ‘breadth’ sorted out I’m sure. (I think I gave MST a Jean Devanny, I wonder if I can persuade her to review it).


  4. What do you think about The Battlers by Kylie Tennant? Published 1941, about depression era men on the road, so social realism, but which period would you place it in?

    When you do come to do your list, you can look up mine year-by-year from my categories box in the RHS menu. Scroll right down to the bottom to 20th Century/Year of publication (Aust Lit) and start at whatever year fits your purposes. Most of the posts for the period 1920-1950 are women writers, including Park, Stead, Tennant and Prichard. When the page with the links opens, you can simply copy and paste direct from that, taking title and URL at the same time, it should save a bit of work for you.


    • Thanks Lisa. And The Battlers is squarely Gen 3/Social Realism. My Gen 4 involves hippies, the anti-war movement (have to think about CND – not sure that really made it to Aust.) and of course Women’s Lib.


      • Gosh, I can’t think of a single Gen 4 book about those topics that I’ve read… there must have been some, but the seventies was my era of motherhood and study so I may have a bit to catch up on.


      • I responded to your comment by turning to scan my shelves. The seventies saw guys come to the fore again – Peter Carey, David Malouf, Morris Lurie, along with older guys -Patrick White, Thos Keneally, David Ireland. I mentioned Harrower and Astley as late Gen 3 in my post. I guess the first Gen 4 woman was Helen Garner, and of course Germaine Greer. More research needed!


      • Jessica Anderson is a possibility too – she was a late bloomer so not really about hippies, but she was concerned about women. The sixties and seventies were not a good time over all for women’s writing. Astley and Anderson in particular laid the ground for Garner, Jolley, Masters, and all the rest who followed in the 80s on – I think?


      • Sue, sorry for the delay in answering. While I was ‘thinking’ you slipped down the inbox a bit. But yesterday I was working on the Gen 3 page (yesterday arvo. Yesterday morning I had coffee with Kimbofo and partner and she inveigled me into the pub. Again.) Anderson’s first novel came out in 63, so on the cusp, but she was born in 1916. Probably better to consider her as late Gen 3 with Harrower and Astley – those 3 are pretty meaty anyway so won’t hurt to have a week (in Jan 2021) focussing just on them.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Just going through my TBR shelves – what won’t I ever read and need to pass on NOW – and I came across a book I’ve wanted to read for a long time. It’s Trooper to the Southern Cross, by Angela Thirkell, published in 1934. She was English, married an Australian, but only lived here for about 9 years. She wrote Trooper back in Egland but. to quote Wikipedia, it “is concerned with the experiences of a number of English and Australian passengers aboard a troop-ship, the Rudolstadt, on their way back to Australia immediately after World War I. It is particularly interesting for its depiction of the Australian ‘digger’; his anti-authoritarianism, larrikinism, and, at the same time, his loyalty to those whom he respects.” I’m not sure what you think about this, but I’d rather like to read it for Gen 3 – an outlier perhaps??

    BTW Wikipedia also tells us she has a very interesting family tree – Edward Burne-Jones was her grandfather; Rudyard Kipling and Stanley Baldwin were first cousins once removed; and her godfather was JM Barrie.


  6. Rethinking this, is (are) M Barnard Eldershaw truly bush/pioneering?

    I’d love to review Marjorie Barnard’s short story collection A persimmon tree and other stories on my blog – I’ve read it twice – but probably won’t get it done this week and I’d need to read it again.


    • I probably intended MBE to be ‘Other’, because I’m not a fan of Historical Fiction and anyway I thought A House is Built when I read it years ago was stodgy. My opinion now is that they got more confident with time and by novels 3 and 4 were definitely socially engaged and were probably conscious of the modernist stream in literature. Eldershaw was a literary critic so it would be interesting to see if her short stories reflected current thought.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, I think they were. I’ve read a lot about this pair. They were political, and heavily involved in intellectual discussions of the day. The stories, as I recollect, do reflect current thought but I’m reaching a bit.


  7. Does anyone have any books or know of books that mention lenord Willi Mann. Stockanm and pioneer
    On the my and kimberlies. Thanks dave


  8. Leonard William Mann. Any one know where to read about him.? Thanks. He was a contract cattle musterer. And managed wave hill station. 0428 669090


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