The Voyage Out, Virginia Woolf

The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf: Harcourt Brace & Company ...

Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) was an important early English modernist and first wave feminist, and The Voyage Out (1915) is her first novel. I have said before this is not a period I have studied, though I am well enough read in a general sense. My general intention is to make my way through all the best books, and my particular intention here is to achieve a better understanding of Australian women’s works of the same period, ie. Gen 3. The Australian modernists we have looked at to date, Christina Stead, Eleanor Dark, Dymphna Cusack with Jungfrau are all a bit later than Woolf and no doubt influenced by her (after 1922 all modernists are influenced by James Joyce, but it is harder – for a layman – to tell who was influenced by Woolf or DH Lawrence, let alone lesser figures like Vita Sackville-West). Interestingly one important Australian modernist work predates The Voyage Out and that is HH Richardson’s Maurice Guest (1908) which I am interested now to go back and read in this context.

The Voyage Out tells the story of Rachel Vinrace, 24 and never been kissed, set during a holiday of just a few months, undated but in one of those last few years before the Great War, on Rachel’s father’s steamship from London, and then in a grand hotel and nearby villa in an unnamed French possession in South America.

Rachel is travelling with the Ambroses, her Aunt Helen, beautiful, 40, her children left behind, and her uncle, an academic. She has no formal education but is a brilliant pianist, and is forthright and intelligent. It quickly becomes clear to Helen that Rachel, brought up by maiden aunts after the death of her mother, knows absolutely nothing about relations between the sexes, and she determines to take her in hand.

For a while on the voyage out Rachel spends time with the MP Richard Dalloway being (willingly) lectured to about politics and foreign affairs. Eventually he gets her alone in her cabin and of course kisses her. Which she finds interesting and not particularly disagreeable. But the Dalloways are put off at an earlier stop and disappear into another novel altogether.

Rather than travel on to the Amazon with her father, Rachel is persuaded to stay with her aunt, and so the second phase of the novel begins, in some ways a very familiar story, a dozen or so upper middle class English people, with a wide range of ages, say 20 to 80, bound in one place for a fixed period.

Two of the younger set, Susan and Ambrose, are soon engaged and are then set aside to be used from time to time by the author as an example of stock-standard unreflective coupledom. Another young woman, Evelyn, is much more interesting, maybe even standing in for the author herself. She wishes there was a Garibaldi she might attach herself to; there are always things to do, places to see; later she exclaims, “I’d give all I have in the world to help on a revolution against the Russian government, and it’s bound to come.” She is open about having been born out of wedlock, has an undeserved reputation for looseness, is for ever being proposed to, but is never sure that she wants to be married.

Two young men, friends in their late twenties, Hewet and Hirst attach themselves to Rachel and Helen, Mr Ambrose being locked away in his study translating a Greek poet. Hirst is ugly and hugely intelligent, on his way to being one of the great men of his generation. Hewet is a budding novelist. Hirst attempts to forward Rachel’s education, but without much success. He is interested more in Helen and you keep expecting something to come of it though it never does.

Slowly, through a sea of talk and philosophising, Hewet and Rachel find themselves in love.

Evelyn had not spoken, but she had been looking from Susan to Rachel. Well – they had both made up their minds very easily, they had done in a very few weeks what it sometimes seemed to her that she would never be able to do. Although they were so different, she thought that she could see in each the same look of satisfaction and completion, the same calmness of manner, and the same slowness of movement. It was that slowness, that confidence, that content which she hated, she thought to herself. They moved so slowly because they were not single but double … Love was all very well, and those snug domestic houses with the kitchen below and the nursery above, which were so secluded and self-contained, like little islands in the torrents of the world; but the real things were surely the things that happened, the causes, the wars, the ideals, that happened in the great world outside, and went on independently of these women, turning so quietly and beautifully towards the men.

See how Woolf jumps from outside Evelyn to ‘inside’. Without, yet, being stream of consciousness, her writing follows the trains of thought of each of her protagonists, and is elsewhere wonderfully descriptive of the people, the scenery, the weather. The author’s feminism is quietly evident, in Evelyn for instance, but more often, as I discussed with Sackville-West (here), in putting up the conventional view and allowing us space to form our own criticisms. One of the women in the hotel, Miss Allan is employed, a teacher, writing an Eng Lit textbook, but generally all the characters would be at home in Jane Austen, independently well-off, at leisure for months at a time to work through their relationships. It is only after the War, I think, that young middle class women more or less automatically went into jobs – a fact obscured by the mythologizing around ‘homemakers’ in the 1950s.

The last 50 pages – of 380 – are shocking. Beautifully written, as is the whole novel, but completely unexpected. I can’t say why Woolf chose the ending she did, you will have to see for yourselves.



Virginia Woolf, The Voyage Out, first pub. The Hogarth Press, London, 1915. Edition pictured, Harcourt Brace, 1948. My edition Granada, 1981

Sisters, Ada Cambridge


I have written before that I began “following” early Australian women’s fiction around 1990 when my local library (Nunawading, now Whitehorse, Vic) began carrying, and not just carrying but set up a separate display for, the titles then being revived almost singlehandedly by the efforts of Dale Spender, and I discovered some wonderful works in the tradition of Jane Austen and Elizabeth Gaskell, say, but with a distinctly Australian twist.

The one that sticks in my goldfish mind concerned a woman down from the Riverina, living on the edge of the Melbourne CBD, walking up to the Royal Exhibition Building for afternoon teas during the  Melbourne International Exhibition, 1880. I’m sure this was an Ada Cambridge but sadly am yet to come across it again, though the Exhibition also features in The Three Miss Kings.

Ada Cambridge wrote around 25 novels over quite a long period, 1865-1914, while at the same time carrying out the duties of mother, and wife of a country C of E vicar in rural Victoria. Sisters (1904) is one of her later works, written in the vicarage of her husband’s last posting, Williamstown which was the original port for the settlement of Melbourne. I have no reason to imagine her marriage was unhappy – Lisa/ANZLitLovers has a comprehensive review of her autobiography (here) – but her theme in this book is that marriage is a decidedly dodgy business, for women anyway.

The story begins – and I had two or three goes at reading the first chapter before giving up and starting at the second – with a wedding and a funeral:

Guthrie Carey began life young. He was not a week over twenty-one when, between two voyages, he married Lily Harrison, simply because she was a poor, pretty, homeless little girl … a lady-help in hard situations, and never had a holiday.

A few weeks of wedded bliss, Carey’s off, returning twelve months later to find himself a father. He sets up a little cottage in Williamstown, collects his young wife from Sandridge (Port Melbourne), 15 minutes across the bay and the mouth of the Yarra (3.8 km. I know because I swam it in a race once. The jellyfish were horrendous and we were greeted with methylated spirits and showers to ease the stings). The wind comes up, the cutter is overturned, the little wife is lost, and the baby saved.

The baby is farmed out, Carey, first mate on a ship trading up the coast and to England, returns to sea. So far, no sisters. He meets a squatter’s son, Jim, in Melbourne and is invited to stay on Jim’s father’s property in the Western District. On a neighbouring station, Redford, are the Pennycuiks, who regard themselves as upper class. This seems to be not so much to do with Victoria’s budding squattocracy as with their antecedents in England, where as it happens, The Pennycuiks of Redford in _____shire were neighbours with the Careys at Wellwood of whom Guthrie was a poor relation.

Carey is worried that the woman caring for the baby is trying to lure him into marriage; he discusses this with Jim’s sister who agrees to take over the baby. In order to lure him into marriage. He escapes on a visit to Redford, where we at last meet the sisters, aged from mid twenties down to teens: Mary, red-faced, plain, competent; Deb, drop-dead gorgeous and very conscious of her status; Rose, your standard middle child; and Frances, still in the school room but about to bloom into a beauty to rival Deb.

Carey falls in love with Deb. Along with Jim, Deb’s godfather Thornycroft, and the dashing, supercilious Claud Dalziell. Carey of course agrees that his baby should be brought up on Redford, where it is greatly doted on but eventually dies of typhoid while the father is at sea.

This is a complicated story and not Cambridge’s best, though Brona (here) enjoyed it greatly. I’ll summarize it quickly.

Mary, who has never had a suitor, sympathizes with Carey about the death of his baby, he kisses her, heads off for foreign parts, is eventually believed to be dead, and Mary lets it be understood that they had “an arrangement”.

Carey returns, is reviled, Mary is forced to admit the truth, throws herself in the dam, is rescued by the local vicar, Goldsworthy, who is both grasping and a little declassé, and who takes this opportunity to become heir to part of the Pennycuik estate by marrying her himself. We are meant to understand that this means for Mary a life of unremitting misery.

Deb is engaged to the playboy Dalziell.

Mr Pennycuik dies, is found to be heavily in debt, the estate is sold to Thornycroft. The three remaining girls take a house in suburban Melbourne. Dalziell, not happy anyway about having Goldsworthy as brother in law causes Deb to break the engagement.

Rose thwarts her sisters to marry Peter, the boy next door (in Melbourne) who is the son of a wealthy draper. In trade! Deb and Frances will have nothing to do with her. You get the impression that the author is as astonished as the sisters that Rose goes on to live a loving, happy and productive life, despite sometimes wearing silk in the morning.

Frances, eighteen and no longer invited to parties, inveigles their rich elderly landlord into marrying her and heads for Europe. She briefly reappears, the subject of rumours concerning Guthrie Carey – who too has mostly disappeared from the story – not confirmed till many chapters later when her husband dies and Carey refuses to marry her because she is demonstrably a loose woman.

Thornycroft dies and leaves his fortune to his god-daughter who after years of poverty is now a millionairess. She too heads for Europe where she and Dalziell, though careful to avoid each other, move and grow middle-aged in the same wealthy, titled circles. Frances, who has married an Italian count, is beneath their notice.

There’s other stuff, nearly all of it based on snobbery about which I am terribly disappointed. Carey ends up squire of Wellwood. Mary’s husband dies and she is happy for the first time in her life. Deb comes home to Redford married at last. Jim ends the book still a bachelor, and now Deb’s farm manager, out in the garden in the night looking in the window at Deb playing the piano for her husband.


Ada Cambridge, Sisters, first pub. 1904, Penguin Australian Women’s Library, Melbourne, 1989. Introduction by Nancy Cato. Cover painting: Self Portrait, Dora Serle, 1900.

see also:
Australian Women Writers, Gen 1 Page (here)

Jungfrau, Dymphna Cusack


By coincidence I’m reading Jungfrau straight after All Passion Spent. Both are modernist works by women authors, both pose the question, Should intelligent women marry or pursue careers? (and both see the question as either one or the other), APS came out in 1931, Jungfrau in 1936, both writers were in their thirties, but…

Sackville-West was at the height of her powers, living not just England but in Bloomsbury, and with a number of novels over the previous decade under her belt; Cusack (1902-1981) so ten years VSW’s junior, was in Australia, a school teacher, first out west in Broken Hill then in Sydney, with limited exposure to the modernist movement sweeping England, Europe and the US. And this was her first novel. And then there’s class – Sackville-West was the daughter of a baron and the wife of an MP; Cusack was the daughter of store keeper, Catholic, and though employed, was much closer to the Depression which amongst other things, depressed wages and limited the distribution of new books.

Sackville-West’s writing is sublime, Cusack’s is awkward. Lady Slane in APS finds herself married at 18, steamrolled by her parents and her husband, but as she comes to love Henry she willingly subsumes her self for the sake of their children and his career. Only after their long marriage ends with his death does she allow her real self to emerge. I think by presenting the story in this way Sackville-West is asking: Is this what you would do? It’s certainly not what she did herself. Cusack’s three women are already in their mid to late twenties, in careers, unmarried, none of them Vicereine of India surrounded by servants, but living small, comfortable lives in bed-sits in inner Sydney. Their question is: How do I deal with love?

The three women are Thea, a dreamy, pretty teacher, Eve, a doctor and devout Catholic, and ‘Marc’ (short for Marchesa) a red-headed, bohemian, psych student/social worker. Thea is friends with Terry who wants to marry her, but she is in love with a 49 year old English professor. Eve is friends with another doctor, John. Marc, may be ‘loose’, or maybe she just flirts a lot; Eve is angry that she doesn’t wear a bra. Cusack adopts the point of view of whichever protagonist she is dealing with at the time.

Eve is actually quite a sympathetic character and her rigid Catholicism creeps up on us. Thea is the ‘jungfrau’ of the title, virginal and childish (Cusack makes too much of the Swiss mountain of the same name, having Eve come up with a clumsy metaphor about a lover taking the trouble to ‘climb’ Marc only to find other men had been up before him on the funicular railway).

A lot of the early part of the book is setting up discussions about relationships. Each of the women take their job seriously but what they are talking about and thinking about here is their relationships with men. Eve, who works in a maternity ward, has opinions very similar to Miles Franklin’s (and Cusack’s next novel was written jointly with Franklin) – that chastity is to be valued and that the consequence of marriage is endless child bearing.

Thea has chaste little meetings with her professor in the grounds of the uni and is consumed by her growing infatuation. Marc meets an Antarctic explorer at a party, becomes close to him, and says she will sleep with him before his upcoming two year expedition, but, only if he has complete faith in his ability to trust her –

“There’s only one worthwhile relationship as far as I’m concerned, and that’s the chosen companionship of two perfectly free people. We’d never have that till you had faith – in both of us.”

Eve goes from an exhausting shift on the wards to mass and reflects on chastity (to contrast with what follows). Thea has one perfect night with the professor. Marc has dinner with her explorer. We’re at the halfway point, and the novel is about to change direction.

Thea drops round to Eve’s to ask for help, she’s pregnant. Eve is devastated, spends a sleepless 24 hours crying at Thea’s loss, and planning how to help her have the baby. They meet. Thea is incredulous. The help she wants is an abortion, which Eve is morally unable to perform.

Thea drifts, for weeks it seems, then goes to Marc who arranges for her to see an abortionist, but she loses her nerve at the last minute and runs out of his office. Jungfrau is apparently “the first psychological exploration of women’s sexuality and aspirations” in Australian fiction, and the remainder of the novel deals mostly with Thea’s internal monologue.

A decade later Cusack gave up modernism for social realism, writing with Florence James the gritty war-time (WWII) story of women working and quite actively sleeping with one or more men, Come in Spinner. In that novel, and in a number of others of that time, there is a “backyard” abortion which ends in the death of the pregnant woman.

So does Cusack answer the question I ascribed to her at the beginning? I think she does, partly anyway. Single women clearly should work. But. They also are driven to pair bond, and that means marriage, eventually.


Dymphna Cusack, Jungfrau, first pub. 1936 (in the Bulletin), Penguin Australian Women’s Library, Melbourne 1989. Introduction by Florence James. The cover painting is by Grace Cossington-Smith, “Interior with Blue Painting”, 1956.

see also:
Australian Women Writers, Gen 3 Page (here)

All Passion Spent, Vita Sackville-West

All Passion Spent

I have eight or 10 Viragos I bought in a job lot years ago and never got round to reading, well not until this week when one of you, Karen (Booker Talk) talked me into making a start. As you can tell from the excerpt I put up this morning (as I write)  this is wonderful writing, the very epitome of English modernism.

Twentieth century English Lit. is not my area of expertise, so I’ve been looking stuff up. One article (locked unfortunately) has modernism beginning with Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899) ” … experiments with linguistic ambiguity opening the door for many interpretations… explores the corruption of imperialism”. Though the big break with the past was World War I, followed by James Joyce’s masterpiece Ulysses (1922).

Victoria (Vita) Sackville-West (1892-1962) began writing, and began taking women as lovers, while still at school. In 1913 she married diplomat and politician Harold Nicholson, though both continued to take (same-sex) lovers. They had two children and she followed him to some overseas postings, most notably Persia (Iran) which was the scene for the excerpt. I can’t help adding that Sackville-West had a passionate affair with another married woman and the two husbands felt obliged to hire a light plane to pursue them to France.

In 1922 Sackville-West began a long relationship with Virginia Woolf, documented by VSW’s son Nigel Nicholson in Portrait of a Marriage (1973), during which time it is felt both women did their best work, surrounded by the artists and thinkers of the Bloomsbury Set. Woolf reportedly based Orlando (which I have read but don’t remember) on her friend. Sackville-West had a considerable output in fiction, poetry and non-fiction – I should have remembered she wrote The Incomparable Astrea (1927) about Aphra Benn, who pops up as well in Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own (1929). All Passion Spent (1931) is the eighth of Sackville-West’s sixteen or so novels.

After 6 decades of marriage and a long and storied career in English politics and diplomacy, Henry Holland first Earl of Slane has died. Freed at last of the constraints of being a political wife, Lady Slane allows her mind to wander. Lady Slane – and only late in the novel do we learn her given name – is in her late eighties, her six surviving children are in their sixties, her grandchildren are grown up and so are her oldest great-grandchildren. For nearly 70 years she has shut down her mind, resisted all thoughts of her early ambition of being a painter, stood by her ambitious husband, and has been the calm if occasionally vague centre of a large and pushy family most of whom she finds she mildly dislikes.

This is not a feminist novel. Sackville-West said so. This is an investigation of how an intelligent and artistic woman was willingly subsumed into the straight-jacket of political wife, written by a woman of the same class but half her age who married a diplomat/politician and wasn’t (subsumed), in fact who married ‘badly’ so she wouldn’t be. Nevertheless, by allowing Lady Slane to reflect on how her life had got her to where she was, Sackville-West intentionally gives us enough information to draw our own conclusions.

The book doesn’t have any chapters but is divided into three sections. In the first, Lady Slane comes downstairs from viewing for the last time the body of her husband to find her four horrible older children have determined that mother is too vague to live on her own and that they will do their duty, and they may need to be recompensed, by letting her live with each of them a few months at a time. For a short while we view this scene through the eyes of Edith, the youngest, who may have been an interesting character in her own right, but this is almost the last we see of her.

Lady Slane however has already been in touch with an agent – in fact the elderly owner, Mr Bucktrout – of a house in Hampstead (which feels separate from London and a bit rural, but which I understand is quite close to the City) in which she will see out her days with her servant Genoux, who was 16 when she married at 18 Slane, then plain Mr Holland (though probably an Hon.). It is telling that it is only in these last days that Lady Slane learns that Genoux was a farm girl with seven siblings, who had been sent from Paris by an agent, to never seen them again.

In Part Two Lady Slane reflects on her married life:

Sitting there in the sun at Hampstead, in the late summer, under the south wall and the ripened peaches, doing nothing with her hands, she remembered the day she had become engaged to Henry. She had plenty of leisure now, day in, day out, to survey her life as a tract of country traversed, and at last become a landscape instead of separate fields or separate years and days …

Henry had treated her well and given her a fine life, she had been Vicereine of India and the wife of the Prime Minister of Great Britain, but every time she had expressed an idea he had paused to listen then passed on, unmoved – “Henry need make no bones about his creed, she must protect hers from shame and ridicule”.

Part Three, the last hundred pages (of 295), contains what little there is of plot. An old millionaire miser, FitzGeorge, a man entirely without family, calls on her, and callers, including her family are discouraged, makes enough of an impression to continue calling; he was one of the hundreds she had met in India; he had remembered and she had not. They talk and take little walks together. When he dies he leaves her his fortune, and she is able to discommode her family once again.

Right at the end, and it’s a bit neat, her great grand-daughter Deborah, engaged to a Duke, bursts in, lays her head on Lady Slane’s knee and sobs that she has broken the engagement and is going to be a pianist.



Vita Sackville-West, All Passion Spent, first pub. 1931. Virago Modern Classics, London, 1983

For another perspective see Karen/BookerTalk (here)

All Passion Spent (excerpt), Vita Sackville-West

Portrait of VSW by William Strang

After 6 decades of marriage and a long and storied career in English politics and diplomacy, Henry Holland first Earl of Slane has died. Freed at last of the constraints of  being a political wife, Lady Slane allows her mind to wander. Read on …

She remembered how, crossing the Persian desert with Henry, their cart had been escorted by flocks of butterflies, white and yellow, which danced on either side and overhead and all around them, now flying ahead in a concerted movement, now returning to accompany them, amused as it were to restrain their swift frivolity to a flitting round this lumbering conveyance, but still unable to suit their pace to such sobriety, so, to relieve their impatience, soaring up into the air or dipping between the very axles, coming out on the other side before the horses had had time to put down another hoof; making, all the while, little smuts of shadow on the sand, like little black anchors dropped, tethering them by invisible cables to the earth, but dragged about with the same capricious swiftness, obliged to follow; and she remembered thinking, lulled by the monotonous progression that trailled after the sun from dawn to dusk, like a plough that should pursue the sun in one straight slow furrow round and round the world – she remembered thinking that this was something like her own life, following Henry Holland like the sun, but every now and then moving into a cloud of butterflies which were her own irreverent, irrelevant thoughts, darting and dancing, but altering the pace of the progression by not one tittle; never brushing the carriage with their wings; flickering always, and evading; sometimes rushing on ahead, but returning again to tease and to show off, darting between the axles; having an independent and a lovely life; a flock of ragamuffins skimming aove the surface of the desert and around the trundling waggon; but Henry, who was travelling on a tour of investigation, could only say, “Terrible, the opthalmia among these people – I must really do something about it,” and knowing that he was right and  would speak to the missionaries, she had withdrawn her attention from the butterflies and had transferred it to her duty, determining that when they reached Yezd or Shiraz, or wherever it might be, she would also take the missionaries to task about the opthalmia in the villages and would make arrangements for a further supply of boracic to be sent out from England.

One sentence! I’m half-way through and a review will follow shortly.


Vita Sackville-West, All Passion Spent, first pub. 1931. Virago Modern Classics, London, 1983


Tom Jones, Henry Fielding

The more I read, the more confused I become about the novel pre-Jane Austen. Fielding’s Tom Jones (The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling) was published in 1749, and is of course “among the earliest English prose works to be classified as a novel” (Yardley, Washington Post). Or here: “Tom Jones was Henry Fielding’s greatest work. The first piece of English prose to be considered a novel, Samuel Taylor Coleridge praised it as ‘one of …'” (blurb for John Osborne’s Tom Jones screenplay). And yet Fielding complains in Tom Jones about the prevalence of novel reading, citing in particular the works of Aphra Benn (1640-1689), and Defoe said much the same in Moll Flanders (1722).

Wikipedia (here) provides a definition which I like:

A novel is a long, fictional narrative which describes intimate human experiences. The novel in the modern era usually makes use of a literary prose style. The development of the prose novel at this time was encouraged by innovations in printing, and the introduction of cheap paper in the 15th century.

The reference to paper and printing, three centuries prior to Fielding and Defoe makes a lot of sense, and given that schooling for the children of the poor (in Great Britain) was provided as far back as the 1600s, ‘light’ reading was probably quite widespread, and before there were (many) novels there were probably ‘popular’ biographies and histories. Aphra Benn’s novels arose out of her work as a playwright, and the same is true of Fielding. Though he calls this work a ‘history’ – and it is the history of one character – I’m sure the use of melodrama, farce and dialogue reflect his work for the stage.

Of course, I discussed all this stuff just a month or two ago in my preamble to Moll Flanders, for which I apologize, but I’m just trying to get sorted in my own head how the novel ‘suddenly’ came into being.

Part of our discussion around Moll was that although Defoe ostensibly set her in the C17th, the background to her adventures is clearly Defoe’s own lifetime 50 or 100 years later. There is not a lot of historical background in Tom Jones, especially early on, but Fielding makes clear that the story is contemporary. The Hanovers are on the English throne (George I (1714-27), George II (1727-60)) and by the time Tom is 20 the rebels (Jacobites) are marching south from Scotland (1745) to meet up with the French Army (which is rumoured, incorrectly as it happens, during the course of the novel to have landed) – the same march which forms the latter part of Scott’s Waverley.

The novel is broken into 18 ‘books’ – covering about 30 hours of reading – each book with a prefaratory first chapter which Fielding kindly gives us leave not to read, and then a number of chapters carrying forward the story. Even without these first chapters, which would make an interesting work of literary theory on their own, the author’s voice is pervasive, as was seemingly often the case at the time. In line with the conceit that this is a ‘history’, the author comments on his characters’ behaviour and speculates on what might happen next while admitting that he doesn’t know for sure.

So, once more the wadholloway synopsis without recourse to the actual written word (though I’d better use Wikipedia to make sure I get the names right). Wealthy bachelor landowner Allworthy comes home to his estate in Somerset to find an infant boy in his bed. The servant – self educated in Greek and Latin, though that doesn’t appear to play any part in the plot – of the local teacher admits to being the mother and is quietly packed off while Allworthy agrees to raise the boy child, Tom Jones, as his own.

It is characteristic of Fielding’s antecedents as a dramatist that characters whom we see heading off stage are soon back in another guise, and this is true of both the servant and the teacher (who loses his school and is the most likely candidate for Tom’s father, though there are plenty who suspect Allworthy).

Allworthy’s spinster sister marries, has a child – master Blifil – is widowed, and eventually dies herself, so the two boys, Tom, handsome, manly and impetuous, and Blifil, virtuous and sly, are brought up together under the tutelage of the violent pastor Thwackum and the ineffectual philosopher Square, who stay on as companions to Allworthy after the boys are grown up.

Tom falls under the influence of Allworthy’s neighbour Weston, your standard boisterous, hard drinking, fox-hunting squire (and it’s a pain putting up with his constant shouting), a widower with a beautiful daughter, Sophia whom Tom for a long time barely notices. Not until he has knocked up the gamekeeper’s 16 year old daughter – on whom Fielding puts most of the blame, which is a bit distasteful. I’m not sure what happens to the baby.

The remainder of the novel concerns Sophia’s love for Tom; Tom’s propensity for jumping into bed with someone else each time it looks as though it’s going somewhere; Tom’s growing awareness of his love for Sophia; Sophia’s absolute despisal of Blifil whom Allworthy and Weston decide she should marry to unite the properties; and Blifil’s conniving, with Thwackum, to put Tom in the worst possible light with his foster father.

Tom is banished from home, loses all the money, £500, which Allworthy has given him (it’s picked up by the gamekeeper, Black George, who makes other appearances throughout the story, mostly as Tom’s friend and beneficiary), adopts the surgeon/barber of a neighbouring village, Partridge – who we know is the school teacher, above – as his servant/companion, and heads off on a series of adventures. He briefly joins up with the soldiers on their way to fight the rebels; rescues a lady, sleeps with her, is discovered by Sophia who has run away from home to avoid marrying Blifil; gets in a fight with an officer whose wife has run away, and whose wife turns out to be Sophia’s cousin; is constantly imperilled by Partridge (mis-)telling all his secrets in the kitchen.

They all end up in London. Tom is adopted as a gigolo by a wealthy single lady. Sophia finds out and is disgusted. The fathers turn up with Blifil and Thwackum (and Black George) in tow. Somewhere in there Tom discovers Square in bed with Molly the gamekeeper’s daughter, I think to impress on us that Tom has no obligations to her.

As it all comes to a head, Partridge recognises the lady Tom slept with at the beginning of their flight, as Tom’s mother!

Finally, it is notable throughout that the servants and workers get as much of a voice as the gentry, something which the much more conservative Jane Austen, who followed on 60 years later, is often criticised for not attempting. And I was struck by the anti-marriage sentiment of both Fielding and Defoe, a theme I have documented in early Australian women but from which we have been largely insulated by a century of Victorian-era writing which tends to be over-influential on how we see our literary history.

Melanie, if your mate is ready for another C18th bedtime story, then this is it, but skip the Chapter Ones.


Henry Fielding, The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, first pub. 1749. Audible edition read by Bill Homewood. (There is also a reading on Librivox)

Pink Mountain on Locust Island, Jamie Marina Lau


A while ago I wrote a post about not keeping up with new releases (New Oz Lit Fic) where I said that looking through the posts of other bloggers the book that intrigued me most was Pink Mountain etc., though I then went on to review Krissy Kneen’s Wintering because no one else had and because I had really liked An Uncertain Grace.

Just recently Milly and I had tea – what else could you call it, we eat between 5.00 and 6.00 – at the Balmoral and wandered across the road to our local Indie, Crow Books, at the southern end of the Victoria Park/Albany Hwy restaurant strip which is coming along nicely although broken in the middle by the remaining used car lots, so we don’t often feel the need or have the energy to go further abroad. Though this long weekend just past we had all day and crossed to the other side of the city to Leederville, home to the Luna art house cinemas, lots of students, a big pub and some very good restaurants, had a very long tapas lunch followed by the latest Little Women movie, which seemed to me to follow My Brilliant Career in being mainly about the writing of the book rather than the lives of the young women.

So Crow Books. I was pleased to see they had Wild Sheep Chase at last, and beside it, alphabetically by author, Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata, both of which I bought and have read, and I also and at last bought PMoLI, which in between paperwork for my new trailer (two lots for the state, one lot for the national regulator), my annual physical, end of quarter company accounts and end of year tax, I have now also read. And enjoyed.

By her various bios and interviews Lau is a Melbourne art student and to be honest this, her first novel, reads like a talented young art student’s first novel, experimental, biographical, YA. If she’s serious, she’ll get better and hopefully edgier – though it’s notable the number of authors who have gone the other way, ie become more conventional: Helen Garner, Andrew McGahan, Chris Tsialkos. Justine Ettler and to a lesser extent, Nikki Gemmell, stand out for sticking to their guns, and maybe I should add Jane Rawson, whom I was happy to see commenting on Michelle Scott Tucker’s most recent post that she was writing, hopefully another novel.

Somewhere there in the press releases there was an announcement that Lau’s publisher Brow Books, had secured her next two novels. So I’m expecting to read soon the adventures of Monk – the 15 year old protagonist of PMoLI – grown up to be an art student and writer of experimental fiction.

Kimbofo and Kate W were bemused by the way Lau uses words. I was thinking about their reviews when I came on this

I get to the door when Honey’s locking up and she shudders when I tap her on the shoulder. Her whitened face is a frisson and she picks up her bags from the ground again. She says that she didn’t see me here. Her voice is a kind of breathiness, the kind they have in black and white movies with crowded lips.

Pink Mountain on Locust Island is some months in the life of a 15 year old Chinese-Australian girl living in a flat in Chinatown with her ex-art school teacher father. The mother has left. If this is Melbourne Lau doesn’t say so and a short road trip ends up at a resort that feel Queenslandish, so the location is non-specific (though there’s trams).

Monk shows us spurts of her fifteen year old, year 10 life in ‘chapters’ of a few lines or a few pages. Her father’s sister Linda who lives nearby and takes her in when her father is worn out; her own sister, married to a western guy; her girlfriend Yuya; Yuya’s mother Honey; the guy she meets, Santa Coy, a year 12 graduate, and so 18,19, and a painter. She takes Santa Coy home, he impresses her father who snaps out of his depression and organizes showings and sales for Santa Coy, they mass-produce, make lots of money. Some of what they sell is in Ziploc bags. She has a very 15 year old sex life, lying on the bed with Santa Coy, kissing, his hand up her tank top.

Santa Coy goes away, a Bahamas holiday with his family; Monk at a loose end walks the city streets till late, comes home to find her father unconscious on the floor, beaten up, calls an ambulance. Obviously it’s voodoo, she goes to Honey for advice. Santa Coy comes home. There’s parties. Santa Coy kisses a boy. The father stays in hospital. Honey persuades Monk to revenge her father by passing the curse on to Sadie who turns out to be Yuya’s boyfriend’s mother. It doesn’t go well. The unregarded Aunty Linda is the rock when all else are crumbling.

I don’t look down on YA, but nor does it express adult emotions. I suspect this novel was written in year 11 or 12, was revised at uni, even while the next instalment, a portrait of the young woman as an art student (I’m guessing), was well underway.

Jamie Marina Lau is up there with Elizabeth Tan, authors whose second books I am very much looking forward to.


Jamie Marina Lau, Pink Mountain on Locust Island, Brow Books, Melbourne, 2018 (and printed at McPherson’s in Maryborough, Vic. so buy lots of copies)