Australian Women Writers Gen 3 Week 12-18 Jan. 2020
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)
Katharine Susannah Prichard (Nathan Hobby)
Cusack & James, Come in Spinner (here)
Dymphna Cusack, Jungfrau (Whispering Gums)
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
M Barnard Eldershaw
Henrietta Drake Brockman
Ernestine Hill (an unsatisfactory biog. here)
Gwen Harwood (I have her book of letters, Blessed City)
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!