Exiles at Home, Drusilla Modjeska

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

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The 1930s were remarkable years in Australian cultural history. Women were producing the best fiction of the period and they were, for the first and indeed only time, a dominant influence in Australian literature. (Modjeska, opening lines)

My own opinion is that women dominated Australian literature from the end of WWI till the rise of the baby boomers, ie. throughout Gen 3. Though I guess from 1939 on we should factor Patrick White in there somewhere.

Exiles at Home: Australian Women Writers 1925-1945 (1981) is probably the single most important work on this period, certainly as an overview, though Nettie Palmer’s contemporaneous writings are also enormously valuable. HM Green devotes 550pp to ‘Fourth period 1923-1950’ but he is so discursive that it is difficult to use him for anything but referencing (History of Australian Literature, Vol.II).

Modjeska regards the 1920s as a bit of a desert for Aust.Lit, a hiatus between the glory days of Bulletin nationalism and the blossoming of women’s writing in the 1930s. I don’t totally agree with her though it is certainly true that the best women writers of the 1920s were overseas. Miles Franklin was in London and began her Brent of Bin Bin series in 1928; Henry Handel Richardson, also in London, was at the height of her career and had published five novels, including all of The Fortunes of Richard Mahoney, by 1929; Christina Stead, the best writer of this generation left Sydney for London in 1928, with A&R refusing to publish the stories that became The Salzburg Tales. But by March 1930 Miles Franklin was able to write to Alice Henry, “Australia seems to be throwing up writers like mushrooms.”

For the women of the thirties writing and publishing were in some respects easier, if only because there were enough of them to offer each other a network of intellectual and emotional support …

mostly through letter writing, most famously to and from Nettie and Vance Palmer, but also through organisations such as the Fellowship of Australian Writers around Marjorie Barnard, Miles Franklin (back in Sydney in 1935) and Frank Dalby Davidson.

Until the FAW, women had been deliberately excluded from writers’ societies and salons.

The major literary group of the twenties was clustered around Norman Lindsay and the magazine Vision which was edited by Frank Johnson, Kenneth Slessor, and Norman’s son Jack. These writers were part of Sydney’s bohemian group and their lifestyle left very little room for women.

The saddest case was Anne Brennan, daughter of the (alcoholic) poet Christopher Brennan. She apparently had an unnatural relationship with her father, fell into prostitution, hung around the Lindsay push for grog and sex, was derided by Jack Lindsay when she told him she wished to write, though one or two published pieces showed great promise, and was dead at 32 of consumption (TB).

Zora Cross was another. Her sensual poems published in 1917 and 1919 created a sensation. The push were all excited that a woman might write about sex but otherwise treated her as a joke, and she retreated into timidity (The Resident Judge has a promised posted a review of her life, which I’ll repost tomorrow).

Christina Stead as a young women was drawn by Vision and the idea of bohemian life, but luckily was too driven by the idea of getting to London to attempt to join in. In For Love Alone (1945) she calls the magazine ‘the Quarterly’ with “drawings of voluptuous, fat-faced naked women …”. But by then she is able to recognise its misogyny for what it was.

A woman writer involved with the Sydney Bohemians who appears to have been relatively unscathed, is Dora Birtles, not mentioned by Modjeska, who with her boyfriend was suspended from Sydney Uni in 1923 for the love poetry they wrote about each other. Her father forced them to marry, she went adventuring, they met up again in Greece and lived happily as writers/journalists ever after (ADB)

Modjeska says middle class women writers stayed home. But especially outside Sydney – and this seems a very Sydney-focussed book – they mixed in more serious circles, with workers and socialists. One who did though (stay home), was Marjorie Barnard, who took a history degree with honours in 1919, but was not permitted by her father to take up a scholarship to Oxford. She became a librarian, writing with her friend, teacher Flora Eldershaw. As M.Barnard Eldershaw they won the inaugural 1928 Bulletin Prize with A House is Built, jointly with Katharine Susannah Prichard’s Coonardoo.

At the centre of this generation of women is Nettie Palmer, who gave up her own career as a poet to support her husband, novelist Vance Palmer (or not to overshadow him, he already had feelings of inadequacy about Nettie’s monied and influential family). She was seemingly friend and correspondent with them all, and over the course of the 20s and 30s she became one of Australia’s principal literary critics. Her prize-winning essay Modern Australian Literature (1924) was “the first critical essay and survey of twentieth century Australian literature.” Both she and Vance worked to express a specifically Australian aesthetic.

Unlike her husband, unlike many of her writer friends, and of course most particularly communists like Stead and Prichard, Nettie Palmer rejected socialism in favour of a liberal humanism. She was blind, as many well-meaning upper middle class people are, to the constraints of class, “she avoided the avant-garde; beneath her rhetoric of a national culture, she was advocating the acceptance of a bourgeois cultural form.”

Nettie’s list of correspondents was extensive and many, particularly writers remote from the centres of Australian literature, like Richardson in London and Prichard in Perth, gave her credit for holding the Australian writing community together. But it is also telling whom she left out. She did not correspond with HM Green who had his own circle of correspondents, nor with Dulcie Deamer, “Queen of Bohemia”, nor with any of the Lindsay set. She wrote to writers, and particularly younger writers, she thought she could bring round to her own way of thinking.

In her letters Nettie Palmer made it clear that she expected progressive writers to present a public front that was united. It is in this respect that her bossiness is most evident.

One of Nettie’s ‘friends’ (it took them from 1930 to 1935 to get to first names) was Marjorie Barnard who was shy and for a long time had no other contact with writers outside her M.Barnard Eldershaw collaboration . It was Nettie who persuaded her to take up writing full time, Nettie who introduced her to politics, but also Nettie who came over all head prefect when Barnard turned to Pacifism at the beginning of WWII.

MBE’s third novel, The Glasshouse (1936) is their first set in the present, and it discusses both feminism and class, as well as the difficulties of being female and a writer. The later Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow (1941 ) goes on to discuss the duty of the writer to society.

Eleanor Dark, more confident than Barnard and with intellectual, supportive husband and parents, was another Palmer correspondent who “reveals a similar pattern of moving towards a self-conscious exploration of the social situation of the writer and of the social function of literature.”

Although she has earlier discussed Stead’s move to Europe as motivated by her desire to be at the heart of Modernism, which in Paris in the 30s she was, Modjeska fails to mention Dark’s importance in the introduction of Modernism into Australia.

By this time I am at p.100, out of 257, and you are worn out. Because of its importance to this week’s theme, I have attempted to summarize rather than review. Exiles at Home is a very dense work, full of information and analysis. If you are at all interested in this period, find a copy and read it.

 

Drusilla Modjeska, Exiles at Home: Australian Women Writers 1925 – 1945, Sirius, Sydney, 1981


Australian Women Writers Gen 3 Week

I hope you are all well into your Gen 3 reads. Let me know when you’ve done a review, particularly if you think I might not otherwise see it, and I’ll share it or at least make sure it’s included in the end of week wrap and that it’s linked from the AWW Gen 3 page.

Reviews to date –
Eleanor Dark, The Little Company, ANZLitLovers
Ruth Park, A Fence Around the Cuckoo, Travellin Penguin
Dora Birtles, The Overlanders, Luvvie’s Musings
Monday Musings on Dymphna Cusak, Whispering Gums
Monday Musings on Christina Stead, Whispering Gums
Mary Durack Poem, Whispering Gums
Brenda Niall, True North: The story of Mary and Elizabeth Durack, Whispering Gums
M Barnard Eldershaw, Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow, ANZLitLovers
Kylie Tennant, The Battlers, ANZLitLovers

New Oz Lit Fic

Journal: 031

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Eltham Bookshop

New Oz Lit Fic: I can’t say I haven’t read any, but I haven’t read much. A situation I’ve ‘undertaken’ to Lisa (ANZLL) to do something about. My preferences can be covered by the words edgy, grunge, experimental, and leaving aside Gerald Murnane, I would say my favourite recent Australian was Elizabeth Tan’s Rubik, and before that The Natural Way of Things, Charlotte Wood and everything by Jane Rawson (here, here and here).

For the second weekend in a row I’m stuck in Melbourne and overnighting at Mum’s (during the week I wasn’t completely idle, though some of Dragan’s drivers were, I did a load of mining equipment to Roxby Downs (map) – a round trip of 2,800 kms according to my run sheet). So, using as my starting point a couple of Lisa’s lists of prize-winners (here, here), the Stella Longlist, and your reviews, I am making up a wish list of my own, which I will take down to my local indie bookshop.

Ok, this is what I came up with:

Jamie Marina Lau, Pink Mountain on Locust Island (Reading Matters)

Ruby Murray, The Biographer’s Lover (Nathan Hobby)

Pip Adam (NZ), The New Animals (ANZLitLovers)

Kristina Olsson, Shell (ANZLitLovers)

Krissy Kneen, Wintering (Readings)

Melissa Lucashenko, Too Much Lip (ANZLitLovers)

Trent Dalton, Boy Swallows Universe (Whispering Gums)

And a couple of extras, in case I run into them in the shop:

Anything by Charlotte Wood before TNWoT

Salman Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories, which WG (I think) recommended, for my grandson’s approaching birthday

What do you guys think? What have I missed (that fits my criteria)?

None of you has reviewed the Krissy Kneen. I enjoyed her earlier An Uncertain Grace and am tempted to put Wintering at the top of my list. Lisa I’m pretty sure would put Shell and numerous judges have put Boy Swallows Universe about which I am doubtful (on the basis of course of zero evidence).

Kate W where are you? I’d better check your Stella posts too. No, I’m afraid you didn’t persuade me on Little Gods.

I think I will make Pink Mountain on Locust Island my #2. Interestingly Kate (Booksaremyfavouriteandbest) and Kim (Reading Matters) make the same complaint about “nonsensical” similes, but Kate got me at:

I understand why readers are excited by Lau – her writing is expressive and commanding, with bizarre descriptions that have you re-reading and imagining –

Like many of you I follow Kim who covers English, Irish and Canadian Lit as well as Australian, Emma (Book Around the Corner) French and European, and Naomi (Consumed by Ink) Canadian. I am tempted by nearly every new book they review but #solittletime! And of course when I do run into these books as audiobooks, which are anyway mostly mainstream, I don’t connect back to the review. Case in point Herman Koch’s The Dinner. However I will add one US title reviewed by Melanie at Grab the Lapels because I am absolutely determined to read it ‘one day soon’.

fat assassins

And it’s only $1.00 on A*#@*# if I ever open an account.

Has weekend off, takes Mum shopping. How’d it turn out? I wrote most of the above Sat night. Today, Sunday I tried Eltham Bookshop which honestly I didn’t think was as good as its reviews. I looked at but bought neither Too Much Lip nor the prominently displayed Boy Swallows Universe.  Bought a book for Gee because, well she’ll have a birthday eventually, and one for Mum. Then we went round to Warrandyte and had a much more fruitful time in the second hand shop there, not to mention a very nice lunch at Next/Door.

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Warrandyte

What I Actually Bought

Kath Engebretson, Red Dirt Odyssey (2016) for Mum
Nam Le, The Boat (2008)
Gerald Murnane, A Season on Earth (2019)
Gee’s present

David Ireland, City of Women (hardback, dustjacket, 1st ed.)
Another present (One author. Stories from 1910-1920)
Christina Stead, The Little Hotel (hardback, dustjacket, 1st ed.)
Christina Stead, Ocean of Story
Elizabeth Jolley, An Accommodating Spouse
Elizabeth Jolley, Milk and Honey
Kim Mahood, Craft for a Dry Lake (memoir)
Bill Wannan ed., A Marcus Clarke Reader
William Burroughs, Junky

Recent audiobooks 

Judith Saxton (F, Eng), A Merry Mistress (2003) fictionalized life of Nell Gwynne
Jaqueline Winspear (F, Eng), Maisie Dobbs (2003)
Kurt Vonnegut (M, USA), Cat’s Cradle (1963)
John Steinbeck (M, USA), The Grapes of Wrath (1939)
Debra Webb (F, USA), Revenge (2013)
Amy Tan (F, USA), The Bonesetter’s Daughter (2003)
F. Paul Wilson (M, USA), The Dark at the End (2011)
Anne McCaffrey (F, Ire), Freedom’s Landing (1995)
Charles Willeford (M, USA), Miami Blues (1984)

Currently reading

Rob Shackleford, Traveller Inceptio (Australian new release ebook)
Haruki Murakami, What I Talk about when I Talk about Running
Thea Astley, Collected Stories (sitting neglected in the bottom of my backpack)

Currently reading on the net

Palmer Report (here).  If you want to follow the inevitable collapse of the Trump presidency day by day, minute by minute, this is for you (and its slightly hysterical tone is part of its charm).

Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, 1792 (Project Gutenberg). No, I’m not really reading it but Brona has and discusses it in a must-read post (here) and she in turn references the ‘Vindication’ read-along on A Great Book Study (Intro, Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4 (Ruth @ AGBS doesn’t seem to provide links between her own posts)).

This is all deserving of a full post but in the meanwhile let me make a couple of notes so they don’t get lost:
1. Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) was the mother of author Mary Shelley (Wiki).
2. I’ve always thought the major text first wave feminists like Catherine Helen Spence looked back to was JS Mills, The Subjection of Women, 1869 (Project Gutenberg). ” … the principle which regulates the existing social relations between the two sexes—the legal subordination of one sex to the other—is wrong in itself, and now one of the chief hindrances to human improvement …”

 

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Roxby Downs: Unloading drill rig from my (red) trailer to low loader for transport into mine.

My Brilliant Career, Miles Franklin

Australian Women Writers Gen 2 Week 13-19 Jan. 2019

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My masters was built around My Brilliant Career, my truck is named after it, I have done innumerable (well, 23) posts about Franklin, but I have never posted a review of this her first and most famous novel. Luckily however, Emma of Book Around the Corner, last year, and now Karen of Booker Talk – who coincidentally, being respectively French and Welsh, bring an ‘outsider’s’ perspective to the task – have stepped up to the plate for me.


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Every time I picked up my copy of My Brilliant Career, instead of delving straight into the narrative, I found myself simply staring at the cover image.  That girl haunted me. At times it felt as if she was glaring at me, almost daring me to judge her behaviour and her attitudes.  Other times it seemed more that she was asking me a question, inviting a response.

Maybe I’m making far too much of this but I certainly found the image mesmerising. The boldness of the girl’s look combined with her wild, unkempt appearance also perfectly matched the character of the protagonist created by Miles Franklin, Sybylla Melvyn. Read on …

Who Does the Dishes?

Journal: 022

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Katherine Mansfield

Following on from my last, I got out of Sydney ok on Wednesday morning and dropped my trailers at Tolls, Perth late Friday, hopefully to be unloaded overnight. I’ve been asked to turn straight around, which I’ve agreed to, Milly’s away working on site till some time next week, but as I write, on Saturday morning, I’m yet to hear from work. Still, I can take today as a 24 hour break and leave this evening.

Despite what I wrote, I did pick up Mothers of the Novel for a while. The next authors after Aphra Benn are Delarivière Manley (1663-1724) and Eliza Haywood (1693-1756). Spender is furious that Manley worked with Jonathon Swift on the Examiner and succeeded him as editor, yet Swift is a celebrated satirist and Manley a forgotten ‘gossip-monger’. Alexander Pope describes her “as one of those shameless scribblers who, in libellous memoirs and novels reveal the faults and misfortunes of both sexes, to the ruin of public fame or disturbance of private happiness.” High, if unintended,  praise! Spender writes:

The entry I would like to see for Delarivière Manley in the history of letters would be as follows: A prolific and innovative writer who helped to develop the genre of fiction by her use of the epistolary form and her introduction of political satire.

I have Haywood’s The History of Miss Betsy Thoughtless (1751) which I had better not read until next year, until I have some Australian reading out of the way. So I will put off dealing with Haywood until then. But Spender, in lamenting that Manley and Haywood had family duties which made it difficult for them to earn an income from writing, includes by way of illustration this extract from a letter from Katherine Mansfield in 1913 to her lover, John Middleton Murry.

… the house seems to take up so much time if it isn’t looked after with some sort f method. I mean … when I have to clear up twice over or wash up unnecessary things I get frightfully impatient and want to be working. So often this week, I’ve heard you and Gordon talking while I washed dishes. Well, someone’s got to wash dishes and get food, otherwise – ‘There’s nothing in the house but eggs to eat”. Yes, I hate, hate, hate doing these things that you accept just as all men accept of their women. I can only play the servant with a very bad grace indeed. It’s all very well for females who have nothing else to do … and then you say I am a tyrant, and wonder because I get tired at night! The trouble with women like me is – they can’t keep their nerves out of the job in hand – and Monday after you and Gordon and Lesley have gone I walk about with a mind full of ghosts of saucepans and primus stoves and ‘Will there be enough to go round?’ …. and you calling (whatever I am doing) ‘Tig, isn’t there going to be tea? It’s five o’clock’ as though I were a dilatory housemaid.

I loathe myself today. I detest this woman who ‘superintends’ you and rushes about, slamming doors and slopping water – all untidy with her blouse out and her nails grimed. I am disgusted and repelled by the creature who shouts at you. ‘You might at least empty the pail and wash out the tea leaves!’ Yes, no wonder you ‘come over silent’.

Well that all sounds very familiar. I didn’t go down the pub, or gamble, and I cared for and cooked for the kids when Milly was at her (part-time, manual) work. But I had satisfying full-time employment and on-going education, doing degrees part-time throughout our marriage, and Milly had neither, and I made no effort to back off, or take over housework, to give her space to do either of those things. Milly is not one who “rushes about, slamming doors” but she did try to talk and I couldn’t or wouldn’t hear.

Nine am. Still haven’t heard. My washing’s done, I’d better pay some bills, I’d better go and check my PO box! There’s not much left to do except the library for more audiobooks. Food I can get at IGAs along the way, got some very sweet mandarines from a roadside stand a couple of days ago near Mildura.

Spender has made some remarks about the influence of the middle classes on eighteenth century writing, and when I have time that is what I will be following up next.

 

 

Recent audiobooks

Jeff Abbott (M, USA), Panic (2005)
Gillian Flynn (F,USA), Dark Places (2009)
Camille di Maio (F, USA), The Memory of Us (2016)

Currently reading

Dale Spender, Mothers of the Novel. 

Aphra Behn

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For some reason the writers of my childhood, all British of course, all regarded being ruled by Kings as natural, desirable and romantic and being ruled by themselves as unthinkable, and this was particularly the case in relation to the English Civil War (1642-1651). I’m thinking of Children of the New Forest, all those Bonnie Prince Charlie stories, and the execrable Scarlet Pimpernel, which we were expected to read (uncritically!) in high school. I’m proud to say that I was an unnatural child and took the side of Cromwell and Robespierre, and of even more obscure figures like Gerrard Winstanley and the Diggers.

Which is by way of coming to Aphra Behn (1640-1689) who was a novelist, a feminist and, sadly, a royalist.

I am of course slowly(!) making my way through Dale Spender’s Mothers of the Novel. At this rate WG will be able to start her reading some time next year and still beat me to the end. Spender writes that when she started Mothers she thought she would find that Behn was the first woman writer, but as we saw in an earlier post she was able to push that honour back another half century, to Mary Wroth and Margaret Cavendish. Spender still claims that Behn was the first woman to earn her living by writing, but she also makes that claim for Wroth.

Excesses of all kinds were forbidden during the Commonwealth, but the opposite was true under Charles II following the Restoration in 1660. Theatre flourished –

The popularity of the stage and the revitalisation of drama – and ‘immoral’ and bawdy drama at that – reflected the shift in interest and taste, and suggested new realms of literary possibility.

Aphra Behn’s writing reflects these times and mores, but Spender argues that ‘immorality’ also gave the male literary establishment the fig leaf it needed to ignore her. So, despite her 13 novels (and reams of plays and poetry), Daniel Defoe who wrote Robinson Crusoe 30 years later, is generally credited with the invention of the novel. Behn was also accused of having no Latin or Greek, but as she herself pointed out, neither did Shakespeare.

Behn’s early life is unknown but it seems she sailed to Suriname in the West Indies – the setting for her most famous work, Oroonoko – in the late 1650s or early 1660s; returned to London in 1664; married Mr Behn, a merchant who died or departed soon after; was a spy for Charles in the Netherlands in 1666; incurred debts for which she was briefly imprisoned; began writing poetry and then comic verse plays, the first of which, Forc’d Marriage was produced in 1670.

She turned to writing novels after wearing out her welcome in the theatre – her plays often attacked prominent Whigs (politicians seeking to impose limits on the power of the King). Spender says this was a natural progression as there were only two playhouses in London, so limited opportunities for production, and dramas were often circulated as scripts.

This meant that Aphra Behn was quite used to thinking of the presentation of her dramatic stories in printed form. It also meant that the reading public had been prepared for prose stories in print through their familiarity with published plays.

Behn was a successful professional writer who both anticipated the desire of her public for bawdy romantic comedies and was still able to present the issues that interested her – the abolition of slavery, the lives of ordinary people, and a woman’s perspective on relationships rather than deeds.

 With her representation of the world which is distinctly not that of the dominant sex, Aphra Behn symbolises the nature and extent of the omissions while women are excluded from the literary canon. In her choice of subject matter, her commentary, and her style, she illustrates some of the differences in outlook between women and men; even her sense of humour – which frequently makes men the butt of the joke – contrasts markedly to the forms to which we are accustomed, and in which it is the humour of men that prevails.

Spender gets angry a lot. Justifiably I know, but wearing.

… when Aphra Behn became the first woman to seek commercial publication, she plunged right into the problem that has plagued women writers ever since. The problem of having to obtain the approval of men.

Behn believed and wrote “that justice called for a single moral standard for both sexes”, but remained aware that men’s occupation was obtaining a paid place in the world, while women’s was obtaining a man who could support them. Spender does not say “Behn’s first novel was …” but provides a list of works by and about her which goes on for two and a half pages. From it I gleaned that her novels were –

The Adventures of the Black Lady (1684)
Oroonoko, or The Royal Slave, a True History (1688)
Agnes de Castro, or The Force of Generous Love (1688)
The Fair Jilt, or The History of Prince Tarquin and Miranda (1688)
The Unfortunate Bride, or The Blind Lady a Beauty (1688)
The Lucky Mistake (1689)

The Novels of Aphra Behn (1905) includes all the above plus –

The Nun
The Lover’s Watch
The Case for the Watch
The Lady’s Looking Glass to Dress Herself By
The Lucky Mistake
The Court of the King of Bantam

That’s twelve novels, Britannica adds –

Love Letters Between a Nobleman and his Sister (1683) an epistolary novel of which Spender writes “Attributed to Aphra Behn, but not included in her ‘Works'”.

The first Collected Novels (with a Life) came out in 1696 and others subsequently in 1771, 1886 and 1905, so I’m not sure how Behn managed to be omitted from the canon. Wilful blindness probably, as in Australia with Spence, Praed, Cambridge, Martin. Vita Sackville West wrote a biography in 1927 – Aphra Behn, The Incomparable Astrea – and Virginia Woolf wrote glowingly of Behn in A Room of Ones Own (1928).

The Nun may in fact be two novels – The Nun, or The Perjured Beauty and The Nun, or The Fair Vow-breaker – they, along with The Fair Jilt, portray convents as little more than brothels and are, according to Spender, laugh out loud funny.

Oroonoko, a short novel which was also made into a popular play, draws on Behn’s experience of Suriname (sometimes disputed but almost certainly genuine) with detailed descriptions of flora, fauna and scenery. Oroonoko had been a prince in Africa, he and his wife are enslaved and transported. He escapes, kills his wife rather than allow her to be tortured, is captured and hacked to death (So no happy ending, then!). Sackville-West suggested, “Oroonoko resembles those seventeenth century paintings of negroes in plumes and satins, rather than an actual slave on a practical plantation.” But,” Spender writes, “nonetheless we are provided with a horrific portrayal of slavery. There is no doubt we are intended to deplore its practices.”

Project Gutenberg (here) has the works of Aphra Benn in six volumes plus Love Letters. Looking on Goodreads, Penguin Classics has published at least Oroonoko and Love Letters.

 

Dale Spender, Mothers of the Novel, Pandora, London, 1986

Mothers of the Novel, Dale Spender

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My understanding, prior to today, of the history of English Lit. goes like this:

Greeks & Romans
The Bible in Greek, Latin and Hebrew
The Dark Ages
Beowulf (975-1025)
Piers Ploughman (1370), William Langland
The Canterbury Tales (1387), Geoffrey Chaucer
Gutenberg’s moveable type printing press (1440)
The Bible in English
Shakespeare (1564-1616)
Jane Austen (1775-1817)

Walter Allen in The English Novel: a Short Critical History (1951) writes “The comparatively sudden appearance at the turn of the seventeenth century of the novel as we know it was a manifestation of a marked change in men’s interests.” Dale Spender is nothing if not a feminist and you can imagine how this gets up her nose!

The subtitle of Spender’s Mothers of the Novel (1986) is ‘100 good women writers before Jane Austen’ and Spender’s intention is to demonstrate the influence on the early development of the novel of women, who were then and I am sure are often now, completely ignored by the literary establishment, not least of course by Allen. I have in previous posts discussed male writers and essayists (here) who influenced Jane Austen, and I have also started working backwards, with a review of Austen’s immediate predecessor, Fanny Burney’s Evelina (here).

I won’t say much about the list above. Beowulf, which begins, “Hwæt. We Gardena in geardagum,/þeodcyninga, þrym gefrunon,/hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon”, I know only from seeing in Campus Lit that real lit. students had to study it. Piers Ploughman and The Canterbury Tales I owned and read in my (Engineering) student days. English translations of the Bible were mandated by Henry VIII in 1539 (see for instance my review of The Taming of the Queen, Phillipa Gregory (here)).

Shakespeare is credited by Allen with the introduction into literature of fiction, by which he means the telling of made-up stories in current settings.

Then there is Jane Austen from whom the modern novel sprung fully formed.

On reflection I might add John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678) and Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe (1719) which Allen regards as the modern novel’s immediate predecessors. Alongside Shakespeare there were poet/dramatists Ben Jonson (1572-1637) and Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593). Samuel Pepys was a bit later and his Diary (1660-1669) wasn’t published until the C19th.

Spender begins her account of the rise of the novel with Sir Philip Sidney’s pastoral romance Arcadia (1590). Sidney was another contemporary of Shakespeare’s and Shakespeare drew on Arcadia for the Gloucester subplot of King Lear (wiki). This brings up two issues, firstly that ‘pastoral romances’ were fictions carefully avoiding any connection with current times (longer definition below); and secondly that writers routinely used each other’s plots, writing variations on a theme so to speak, which is why there is so much material for the ‘who wrote Shakespeare?’ crowd.

The first of Spender’s 100 is Sidney’s niece, Lady Mary Wroath (1587-1652) who wrote Urania (1621), a variation on Arcadia with significantly stronger female figures. Also, for the first time –

Realism intrudes: and it is not just the realism of content. Wroath also introduces dialogue … and it is impressive and realistic dialogue… One of the responses to Urania … was widespread discussion among writers and readers about who these realistic characters really were.

Lady Mary Wroath (or Wroth) was clearly the first woman to write with the intention of being published, and the first to write for money, her husband having died in 1614  leaving her destitute. She was also a notable poet. See for yourself, Latrobe Uni have published transcribed and modernized versions of her poetry side by side (here).

Spender goes on to discuss – and I’m only talking about Spender’s first three chapters for the time being, there’s already too much to write about – Anne Weamys who wrote A Continuation of Sir Philip Sidney’s Arcadia (1651); Katherine Philips, one of a number of women who wrote poetry privately but was published posthumously; Anne Clifford, Lucy Hutchison and Anne Fanshawe who wrote biographies of their husbands, to assert claims arising out of the disruption of the Civil War or just for family information; and Margaret Cavendish.

… if there is to be one woman singled out to represent the starting point of women’s entry to the world of letters, it must be Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle (1624-1674). She wrote and she wrote; she wrote poetry, prose, philosophy; she wrote about people and she wrote about science…

She wanted to be a writer, a serious writer, and a recognised writer, and because she did not shrink from public view, because she unashamedly sought publication and wasted not one whit of her time in trying to preserve or protect her reputation, she encountered the most savage and sneering response that society could devise. She was called ‘Mad Madge’ for her literary efforts and was publicly mocked and ridiculed.

Margaret Cavendish was a feminist who reflected at length on the position of women and the power of men.

She had, writes Spender, to invent many of the genres of writing (including SF!) which are today taken for granted, and was as well or better known as a writer in her own time than all the men cited by Allen.

The exclusion of women from the literary heritage has not been confined to efforts to keep them out of print but has extended to keep them out of consideration even when they are in print.

Spender is a fierce feminist, and Mothers of the Novel is a polemic, well argued and bursting with the stories of previously unacknowledged women writers.


Spender writes of the literature Mary Wroath would have grown up with –

Any reading for leisure or pleasure would have consisted of versions of the classics with their heroes (and occasional heroines) of antiquity, or pastoral romances, based on conventions of courtly love, and which were unrealistic, highly extravagant and affected affairs, such as those written by Marie de France in the twelfth century …

Apart from the more imaginative offerings (some would say fantastical offerings) of the pastoral romance – where romantically named shepherds and shepherdesses [who mostly proved to be princes and princesses in disguise] gambolled in exotic surrounds and obeyed the ritualistic dictates of love, compounded by mistaken identities – there were also … sermons, tracts and ‘philosophies’ which were associated with education.


Venturing down yet another rabbit hole: Marie de France who is not otherwise mentioned by Spender was a poet of the C12th whose life is completely unknown except from her surviving work. She may have been French, but then so was the whole English court (of Henry II). She was a “creator of verse narratives on romantic and magical themes that perhaps inspired the musical lais of the later trouvères, and author of Aesopic and other fables, called Ysopets. Her works, of considerable charm and talent, were probably written in England” (Britannica).


 

Dale Spender, Mothers of the Novel, Pandora, London, 1986

Further reading:

Mary Wroth, The Countess of Montgomery’s Urania (Abridged with modern spelling), 2016  (buy it here)
Margaret Cavendish, [her ‘science fiction’ classic] The Blazing World, 1668. Project Gutenberg, 2016 (here)
Myra Reynolds, The Learned Lady in England, 1650-1760, Project Gutenberg, 2015 (here)
Aurélie Griffin, Mary Wroth’s Urania and the Editorial Debate over Philip Sidney’s Arcadia, Études Épistémè [Online], 22 | 2012 (here)

Louisa Lawson v Kaye Schaffer

The Drovers Wife Stamp

Henry Lawson’s The Drover’s Wife (1896) is clearly the seminal short story of Australian Lit. against which all other accounts of life in the Bush must be measured. Frank Moorhouse’s The Drover’s Wife (2017) is a collection of essays on ways The Drover’s Wife has influenced and been reflected in Australian writing and painting. I won’t review the book here, not least because I’ve only just started reading it (and thank you B.i.L who gave it to me for my birthday) but what I do wish to explore are two essays within it which go to the heart of my thesis – that there is an Independent Woman in Australian Literature who is a counterpoint to the myth of the Lone Hand/Bushman/larrikin soldier which most Australians see as the only true symbol of Australianness.

Louisa Lawson, The Australian Bush-Woman (1889)

Louisa Lawson (1848-1920) was of course Henry Lawson’s mother. But she was also a story teller, a writer, a poet, a suffragist, a newspaper publisher, and for many years, a drover’s wife. By 1889 when this essay was commissioned by the Boston Woman’s Journal she had been publishing and writing in her newspaper Dawn and its predecessor for more than a year.

… for hasty purposes, my colonial sisters may be roughly sorted into three heaps – city women, country women and bush-women, and it is of the last I will write; for it is of their grim, lonely, patient lives I know, their honest, hard-worked, silent, almost masculine lives.

Bush-women she says may be all day in the saddle alongside the men, then doing “what little had to be done in the house on her return… It would not anyhow be much more than making a ‘damper’ in a tin dish and putting it in the ashes.”

For by bush-women I mean … the wives of boundary-riders, shepherds, ‘cockatoo’ settlers in the far ‘back country’; women who share almost on equal terms with men the rough life and the isolation which belong to civilization’s utmost fringe.

The bush-woman is thin, wiry, flat-chested and sunburned. She could be nothing else, living as she does.

… she will tramp five miles with a heavy child on her hip, do a day’s washing, and tramp back again at night. She works harder than a man. You may see her with her sons putting up a fence, or with the shearers, whistling and working as well as any.

There is one thing the bush-woman hates – it is discipline. The word sounds to her like ‘jail’.

In those remote and isolated spots, man is king and force is ruler. There is no law, no public opinion to interfere. The wife is at the man’s mercy. She must bear what ills he chooses to put upon her and her helplessness in his hands only seems to educe the beast in him.

Louisa concludes that all of the bush-woman’s hopes reside in her daughters – “now wherever a dozen children can be got together there is a school.” The girls surpass the boys, besides, the men always “have the drink washing away their prospects.” These girls, “quick, capable and active … will give us a race of splendid women, fit to obtain what their mothers never dreamed of – women’s rights.”

Louisa’s vision is remarkably similar, no doubt because of its inherent truth, to that of Barbara Baynton (1857-1929), another woman who spent her early married years imprisoned on an isolated back-block.

Kay Schaffer, Henry Lawson, The Drover’s Wife and the Critics (1993)

I went straight to Kay Schaffer’s essay because countering her arguments had been an important motivator for my Masters dissertation, The Independent Woman in Australian Literature (2011). Basically, Schaffer argues that “Women have been considered to be absent in the bush and the nationalistic bush tradition” and that the Bush stands in for the feminine, abused and conquered by men.

Yes, the tradition excludes them, but women are only “absent in the Bush” because Schaffer, and Marilyn Lake, and Gail Reekie and Anne Summers don’t look for them. I argued in my dissertation and I think I have demonstrated over a number of years on this blog that there is a considerable body of work supporting both the Independent Woman and Pioneer Women as ‘myths’ in their own right, most recently of course our own MST’s Elizabeth Macarthur.

Schaffer manages to dispute The Drover’s Wife, in which Henry Lawson essentially restates his mother’s thesis as a short story, by claiming that the wife is a surrogate man – “That is, she becomes part of man’s battle against the land as a masculine subject”.

So Schaffer claims that there is no myth of independent women in the bush because those women who are portrayed as independent are just standing in for men:

In most of [Lawson’s] stories the characters who struggle against the hostile and alien bush are men, but this is not necessarily the case. The position of ‘native son’ could, in exceptional circumstances, be filled by a woman. That is, the bushwoman can stand in place of her husband, lover, or brother and take on masculine attributes of strength, fortitude, courage and the like in her battle with the environment (as long as she also maintains her disguise of femininity). She could also be called and have the status of a pioneering hero. This is the position of the drover’s wife.

For a few pages she discusses The Drover’s Wife and its ongoing iconic status, variously interpreted. But still she comes back to –

She stands in place of her absent husband. The drover’s wife is a woman. But heroic status is conferred upon her through her assumption of masculine identity.

Schaffer can only support her thesis of men vs the Bush by claiming that independent bush-women are token men. Tell that to Louisa Lawson and Barbara Baynton, child bearing and child rearing on their own in the Bush while still working the properties of their absent husbands.

Kay Schaffer is an Emerita Professor in Gender Studies and Social Inquiry in the Faculty of Arts, University of Adelaide.

Postscript

In January, 2019 I’ll hold an AWW Gen II week – I don’t expect the tremendous response we got to Gen 1 week this year, but I guess I’ll have some time off work, and I think it would be worthwhile to discuss women writers who came of age in the period 1890-1918 and the background against which they were writing, ie. the Bulletin and the Legend of the Nineties. More anon.

 

Frank Moorhouse (ed.), The Drover’s Wife, Knopf, Sydney, 2017

Australia Post – celebrating the sesquicentenary of Lawson’s birth (here)
WAD Holloway, The Independent Woman in Australian Literature (here)
Brian Matthews, Louisa (review)
Bertha Lawson, My Henry Lawson (review)
Penne Hackforth-Jones, Barbara Baynton: Between Two Worlds (review)
Barbara Baynton, Squeaker’s Mate (review)
Barbara Baynton, Human Toll (review)