Christina Stead, How to Write a Novel

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Christina Stead (1902-1983) is one of our greatest writers, so her thoughts on the process of writing a novel are of some significance. Neither I, in my review of Chris Williams’ A Life of Letters, nor Lisa (ANZLL) in her review of Hazel Rowley’s Christina Stead, A Biography, picked up that in her time in New York in the 1940s Stead taught an extramural course called ‘Workshop in the Novel’ at NYU, in ’43/44 and again in ’46.

I discovered this, in an essay by Dr Susan Lever: Christina Stead’s Workshop in the Novel: How to Write a “Novel of Strife”, and some other stuff which I have provided links to below, while waiting for a load in Sydney, and idly looking around for references to Stead’s (adverse) review of Boris Pasternak’s Dr Zhivago (1957) published in Friendship, the journal of the Australia-Soviet Friendship Society (from what I can gather from Trove, it is yet to be digitised).

The title references Stead’s speech to the American Writers’ Congress in June 1939, entitled “Uses of the Many-Charactered Novel”, ‘where she argues for a “novel of strife” that offers multiple viewpoints rather than a thesis, leaving readers to make their own conclusions.’

These two instances, the workshops and the speech, are just one indicator of how much we lost by Stead’s decision to live overseas and our failure to embrace her as an Australian writer until well into the 1960s.

From what I could gather in preparation for this post, Hazel Rowley characterizes Stead as grumpy, alienated from friends and acquaintances after using them in novels, and as communist only in deference to her husband, Bill Blake. Yet my reading, both of Williams’ biography and of Stead’s novels, is that Stead was a lively, sexy woman, thoughtful about communism and able to transcend the limitations of socialist realism in her writing as Katharine Sussanah Prichard for instance was not.

Stead did not write many reviews and in those she did, she was mostly interested in the craft of writing. In a letter to a friend, she writes of Patrick White’s A Fringe of Leaves that “He is a devoted noble soul, etc. but he is trying to spread altar-juice all over Australia’s dark and bloody history”. Rowley writes that this is just the sort of approach that maddened all Stead’s friends, but Lever points out, “it is surely more interesting as an indication of Stead’s way of reading… . We can see it as evidence of Stead’s continued interest in history as shifting forces of power, so that, even in such a throwaway comment, Stead, the Marxist, sought a political reading of the historical background to White’s novel.”

Lever in her essay, with ‘several ring-bound notebooks’ of course notes at her disposal, is able to discuss in detail how Stead relied on real life for her material, and how her genuine commitment to communism came out in her writing.

Stead’s course consisted of 12 classes with headings as you’d expect: Choice of Subject; Making a Start; Kinds of Novels; Characters; Composition …. Unfortunately her notes for the tenth class, Novel of Social Criticism, Political Novel… are missing. Stead bases her teaching on her own by then considerable experience, and on books by communists Ralph Fox (her former lover who died in Spain) and Mike Gold.

In the first class Stead planned to talk to her students about the impulse to write, suggesting that “to express something” was not enough, but that writing needed “to combat something”, as well as “to shape something” and “to express self and others.”

Stead adds that the combination of revolt and the writer’s “interpretation of life” “always end in creation – but first is necessary an analysis of the problem that first attracted attention, of your own small society, and even of yourself in relation to that society.”

For her second class, Stead compiled a list of novels that she thought her students should have read. It is firmly based on the European naturalist tradition of the nineteenth century, including Zola, Flaubert, Tolstoy, Proust and Hardy… While she does not include Jake Home, a novel she admired by Ruth McKenny (the model for Emily Wilkes in I’m Dying Laughing) she does reference it in the course notes as an example of the powerful use of direct political material. A second list of books about the problems of women’s lives – possibly added because several students as well as the teacher were writing on this topic – shows how European Stead’s literary reading (often in the original French) had been … Ibsen, Chekhov, Strindberg, Marie Bashkirtseff and the Goncourt brothers.

Last quote, this time from Stead herself:

A writer will perhaps wish to use his talent to put forward in acceptable form his social or religious beliefs. This is also good form or organization for he he has then only to go to his own people to get his characters …

No, I have to go on. With the next couple of quotes we get to the crux of Stead drawing from life:

A golden rule: always draw from a model: keep sketches, keep notes mental or otherwise of people who will serve as models. Do not be ashamed to ring up a model, you can tell him (or not) as you please … If you are “haunted” by a certain person, use that person [Stead, notes for class on Character]

Stead’s consistent use of her friends as the source of her characters meant that she lost some of them, and she has been portrayed as an angry and even vindictive person in biographies. Yet this kind of advice suggests that she might be better seen as an artist who worked from life as a conscious method, even though that might mean the sacrifice of life for art. [Lever]

There’s much more in the essay, about Stead’s nuanced position on the ‘proletarian novel’ of the 1930s; about her position on women and how she addressed it around this time in For Love Alone and Letty Fox; about how she used her novels to critique individual communists; and her characters and who they were modelled on.

There you are – we can all be marxist writers now. How I wish I could have attended the course. Or that Stead had returned to Australia earlier and taken up a teaching position here as any number of writers do today.

 

Susan Lever, Christina Stead’s Workshop in the Novel: How to Write a “Novel of Strife” (not dated that I could see) here

For links to all reviews, start at ANZLitLovers ‘Christina Stead’ page, here

A Sydney Morning Herald article (3 Sept 2002) a new trove of Stead letters, here

Hilary McPhee, Introduction to Talking into the Typewriter (vol. 2 of Stead’s letters), Melbourne University Press, 1992, here

Mike Gold, Why I am a Communist, New Masses, Sept 1932, here

 

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AWW Gen 2 Week

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Frederick McCubbin, The Pioneer, 1904, NGV

The second generation of Australian writing, as I see it, covers the period 1890 to 1918. HM Green, who as I discussed earlier, divides my Gen 1 into two periods, 1788-1850 and 1850-1890, heads his account of this period Third Period 1890-1923, “Self-conscious Nationalism”.

In Australia the spirit of the nineties and early nineteen-hundreds… took the form, in the literary as in the social and political worlds, of a fervent democratic nationalism: it was based upon a broad social consciousness, a feeling of mutual relationship, that found its most characteristic expression in Lawson’s doctrine of mateship.

The writing, dominated by the influence of the Sydney Bulletin, could be called Bush Realism, an intense effort to portray Bush life in all its details, paralleled in the art world by Australia’s contribution to Impressionism, the Heidelberg School.

AWW Gen 2 Week, 13-19 Jan. 2019, will be an opportunity to discuss women’s writing, representations of women, and the role of the Bulletin, in the ’90s and up to and including the Great War. This is a very fertile period for discussion with women’s suffrage, Federation, the anti-conscription movement, the war itself. But perhaps, except in general terms we might leave those to another time.

Although the ‘AWW’ in the title is of course Australian Women Writers I think we should also discuss the outbreak of men’s nationalistic writing, led by the Bulletin, which gave rise to the dominant myths of Australianness, and which formed the baseline for all subsequent discussions of Australian writing. Men on their own in and against the Bush is the generally accepted theme of this period, but we have already seen that bush-women were equally alone, facing the extra hardships of childbearing and child rearing, not to mention predatory men. There is also a further myth that began in this period, although it wasn’t generally recognized until the 1930s, and that was the myth of the Pioneers, men and women working together to carve out a space for themselves from virgin country (and it is only recently that we have begun contesting that “virgin”). Miles Franklin believed that she (under her own name and as Brent of Bin Bin) and Steele Rudd were the founding writers of this myth.

In the subsequent, post WWI period, women writers focused on social realism, often in an urban setting, and I have used this to distinguish Gen 2 writers from Gen 3. In particular, I place Miles Franklin (1879-1954) in Gen 2 and Katharine Susannah Prichard (1883-1969) in Gen 3. As a sort of aside, and a follow-up to last week’s post on bush-women, I found this in the Bulletin Vol 57 No. 2946 (29 July 1936), on the release of All That Swagger:

Miles Franklin (a note on one point of criticism) –

“I am grateful to one reader of this MS who complained that too much prominence is given to childbearing. This shows that the effect of real life has been achieved. No doubt every old pioneer mother would have cordially agreed as each year found her in heaviness and weariness enlarging her brood until it reached a dozen, or seventeen, or a score; but in those days there was no redress. In a land sans serfs the women not only bore but had to rear and clothe, and frequently to educate, their children. There was some drinking in bars, and belligerence and roystering in mining camps, with carnal indulgence with a few trulls to enliven the unattached men and make livelier tales, but pioneering in this empty land was largely and respectably carried forward by women and children. It was a slow, unspectacular process, demanding stoicism, patience, heroism, fatigue, sheer passivity, pain and childbearing, childbearing, childbearing – above all, childbearing.”

I think we can see why Miles chose to stay unmarried!

The principal texts on this period are:

Nettie Palmer, Modern Australian Literature (1924)
Vance Palmer, The Legend of the Nineties (1954)
Russel Ward, The Australian Legend (1958)
Frank Moorhouse (ed.), The Drover’s Wife (2017)
Colin Roderick was probably the most influential commentator for most of the C20th, but he is shockingly contemptuous of women.
Feminists who contested the men-centred (men-only, really) myths of the Australian Bush include Kay Schaffer, Marilyn Lake, Gail Reekie, Anne Summers. The Pioneer myth was developed by John Hirst, Judith Godden, Jemima Mowbray (and others, I suppose).

The main male writers were: Henry Lawson, Steele Rudd, Joseph Furphy, AB Paterson, Paul Wenz and poets Henry Kendall, Adam Lindsay Gordon, Maurice Furnley.

Gen 2 women writers:

Agnes Hay (1837-1909) Trove
Louisa Lawson (1848-1920) ADB
Barbara Baynton (1857-1929) ADB
Alice Henry (1857-1929) ADB
Mary Gilmore (1865-1962) ADB
Marion Knowles (1865-1949) ADB
Lilian Turner (1867-1956) Wiki
Mary Fullerton (1868-1946) ADB
Vida Goldstein (1869-1949) ADB
Ethel Turner (1870-1958) ADB
Beatrice Grimshaw (1870-1953) ADB
Mrs Aeneas Gunn (1870-1961) ADB
Henry Handel Richardson (1870-1946) ADB
Elinor Mordaunt (1872-1942) ADB
May Gibbs (1877-1969) ADB
Mary Grant Bruce (1878-1958) ADB
Miles Franklin (1879-1954) Miles Franklin page
Louise Mack (1879-1935) ADB
Nettie Palmer (1885-1964) ADB

In and amongst all of the above are the Billabong novels, which I know one of you collects; an Australian grazier writing in French (Paul Wenz, Sous la Croix du Sud (1910)); opportunities to discover the Bulletin and Louisa Lawson’s newspaper Dawn on Trove; two of our greatest novels, Such is Life and Maurice Guest; and more besides, not to mention writers like Baynton and Franklin on whom we have already done a lot of work. Then, though I hesitate to put any extra burden on Nathan Hobby, who has two children under 3, a PhD and a major biography to finish, KSP’s first (I think) novel The Pioneers (1915) seems to fit Gen 2 rather than Gen 3.

Author Jessica White, whose “work of creative nonfiction on Maud Praed, the deaf daughter of 19th Century Queensland novelist Rosa Praed” will be out next year, has already promised a review of Praed’s second last work Sister Sorrow (1916). Two other authors I considered in Gen 1, Mary Gaunt and Catherine Martin, were definitely on the cusp of Gen 2, and we should consider Praed’s later work in this context too.

I guess I’ve run out of excuses not to review The Australian Legend. I should also do Miles Franklin’s biography of Joseph Furphy and finish reading Frank Moorhouse’s The Drover’s Wife. I’ve had it in my mind too to review Verna Coleman’s Her Unknown Brilliant Career about Miles Franklin in America (1906-1915). Then I could always knock off a novel as well. (I wish!)

See what’s available online here in the AWWC database. And you know the drill, let me know in Comments if you have a post in mind, or if you have already done posts in this area (I’ll make up a list of my, Sue (WG) and Lisa’s (ANZLL) existing posts in the next couple of months).

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)

Prior Prize Winners, All That Swagger

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Samuel Henry Prior (1869-1933) was a financial journalist and editor with The Bulletin from 1903. He purchased founder, JF Archibald’s shares in 1914, and by 1927 all the remaining shares. While responsible for the strong emphasis on finance which was to sustain The Bulletin into the 1970s, he was also conscious of its early role in promoting Australian literature, and in 1928 inaugurated The Bulletin Novel Competition which was renamed after his death the S. H. Prior Memorial Prize. The prize was for a work of Australian literature, presumably unpublished, as the winner would receive a cash prize (initially £100), publication, and serialization in The Bulletin. The first Prior was won by Kylie Tennant with Tiburon in 1935, and the second, the following year, from 230 entries, by Miles Franklin with All That Swagger.

The first Bulletin prize, in 1929, was won jointly by M Barnard Eldershaw, A House is Built and KS Prichard, Coonardoo. I couldn’t find any lists of prize winners on the net, the Oxford Companion gave me The Battlers (Kylie Tennant) and Joseph Furphy: The Legend and the Man (Miles Franklin) for 1941 and 44, Annals of Aust.Lit., nothing. Searching on Trove I found Eve Langley’s The Pea Pickers (“its literary merits are of a somewhat mediocre description.” West Australian, 30/05/42) for 1940 (with two others, not named in Langley’s recreated memoir Wilde Eve). And in another story, that Dymphna Cusack’s Jungfrau was the runner up to All That Swagger. After a couple of pages, ‘prior’ and ‘bulletin’ and even ‘prize’ being so common in war-time dispatches, I gave up searching for more. Do you guys know any others?

Searching Trove for reaction at the time of publication of All That Swagger, I came across this in the Wilcannia Western Grazier of Sat 19 Sep 1936:

XJl-EBAltY l’BIZtt WINNjSB.
Wotoao Wiiter’a SacooW.
A Sp’«ndid Auirfttlion Bloty.

I Alt Thnt Swagger, tho oor …

I’ve corrected it (if you’re not aware, Trove is a database of all Australia’s newspapers digitised and awaiting amateur proof-readers), and the full copy reads as follows:

Literary Prize Winner
Woman Writer’s Success.
A Splendid Australian Story.
All That Swagger, the novel that has won this year’s Prior Memorial Prize and which will appear as a serial in The Bulletin in ten page installments, commencing September 16, is all Aus-tralian, in every word and line.Though it spans four generations and a hundred of time, it is true to period and takes no liberties with history. Only an Australia could have written it, and there has been nothing written like it except the Brent of Bin bin novels, the style and writing of which it resembles.
The writer, Stella Miles Franklin, was born at Talbingo, at the foot of the steep descent from the hills of Monaro into the Tumut Valley.
She was still a girl when she found herself on a holding near Goulburn, and, departing from the traditions of her forebears, she wrote a novel. The manuscript was sent to THE BULLETIN in Archibald’s time, and was returned with some kindly comment and en-couraging advice. She revised her story and sent it to Henry Lawson.
The novel had the ironical title My Brilliant Career, and created quite a literary sensation when it arrived in Australia, and its publication definitely determined Miss Franklin to pursue a literary career.
Her second book, Some Everyday Folk – and Dawn, had been published in 1909. Then came Old Blastus [of] Bandicoot, a full-bodied portrayal of a roaring old bull of a settler whose voice would split the granite in the Monaro ranges and send the wallabies scam-pering up the gorges for the risk of their lives.
Other books have been written by Stella Miles Franklin, but of her writings All That Swagger is easily her greatest effort, and is probably the finest Australian story ever written. That is, of course, saying a great deal, but those people privileged to have read the novel unanimously agree that it is remarkably Australian and is a cavalcade of progress over 100 years in this great continent, for the story covers a century, ending in 1933, and is espe-cially strong in characters: one at least of its people— Danny Delacy—seems certain to take a leading place in Australian literary tradition, Other characters— notably Danny’s “brave Johanna”— are admirably projected people that readers will enjoy.
All That Swagger is such a great story that THE BULLETIN has decided to publish it in large instalments of 10 pages, making each a miniature novel. In these generous instalments the reader will appreciate the continuity of the story and the true significance of All That Swagger.

Wilcannia was then and is now a very small desert town on the Darling in far western NSW so it’s unlikely the Western Grazier had a dedicated book reviewer. Further, some of the lines used in the article are those of the judges, so I’m guessing the story was provided by The Bulletin (though it sounds very Colin Roderick).

All That Swagger is not “the greatest Australian story ever written” though it may have been at the pinnacle of novels in the Bulletin (Gen II) school of pioneer realism still favoured by conservatives today. By 1936, better contenders for Great Australian Novel would have included For the Term of His Natural Life (Marcus Clarke), Such is Life (Joseph Furphy), The Fortunes of Richard Mahoney (HH Richardson) and Seven Poor Men of Sydney (Christina Stead).

I couldn’t see how long the Prior Prize ran on for, only a few years probably, as in 1946 the Sydney Morning Herald began its own prize, £2,000 for an unpublished novel, won by Ruth Park with The Harp in the South. And did you notice that all the prize winners I mentioned, which was all the prize winners I could find, were women. That was a great generation, from WWI to the 1950s.

All this is by way of saying that as soon as I finish reading All That Swagger I will publish a review. And after all this, I’ll try and keep it short!

 

Miles Franklin, All That Swagger, first published (slightly abridged) in serial form in The Bulletin, Sydney, 1936 and then in book form.

I’m pretty sure both Tiburon in the previous year and All That Swagger were published by Angus & Robertson so they must have had an arrangement with The Bulletin, which had published books in the past – Steele Rudd for example – and had its own imprint, Endeavour Press.

For all Miles Franklin reviews and other posts on her see my Miles Franklin page.


Apology. As usual, importing newspaper text has destroyed all my formatting. I could (and did) try deleting some of the HTML, but any un-pairing of instructions just makes things worse.

Border Districts, Gerald Murnane

Murnane Border Districts

Border Districts (2017) is a meditation on remembering by an imaginary author clearly representing Murnane himself who has moved from the capital city where he grew up to a little town which he has long imagined, out on the western plains of the state in which he has always lived, so that one of the meanings of ‘border districts’ is this area of his home state which borders an adjacent state.

It is possible that Murnane intends at least partly an homage to Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Times Lost (1871-1922) which he mentions and which I haven’t read. He repeatedly brings up as memories not things he has seen but memories of the images retained from seeing these things and further, memories of images, scenes, transactions he in his childhood and youth imagined.

This work is a fiction, but a fiction which the fictional protagonist insists is factual, an accurate account of his real memories of both real and imagined landscapes and events. I am reminded that in the only other of his works that I have read, Landscape with Landscape (review), Murnane describes his personal ‘landscape’ as “the space between myself and the nearest woman or man who seemed real to me”. Here, 30 years later, ‘real’ has almost disappeared, leaving only a landscape of retained images of past realities and past imaginings, both equally valid, imperfectly recalled.

For a geography minded reader like me the book is interesting not least for its complete absence of place names. So, the fictional author grew up in the outer suburbs of the capital city (Melbourne) of a state in the southern part of the country, lived as a child for a while in a provincial city (Bendigo), and now lives in a little country town out on the plains of the Western District, which he moved to because he had imagined it.

(Whenever I recall, here in this quiet district near the border, my mostly aimless activity during my fifty and more years in the capital city, I begin to envy the sort of man who might have been paid a modest wage during most of his adult life in return for feeding and watering and grooming and exercising a half-dozen thoroughbred horses in a certain few sheds and paddocks behind a plantation of cypresses on the far side of an assortment of outbuildings in the vicinity of an immense garden surrounding a sprawling homestead out of sight of the nearest road, which would have appeared as one of the faintly coloured least of roads if ever I had seen it on some or another map of some or another of the mostly level grassy landscapes that seem often to lie in some or another far western district of my mind.)

He mentions a number of times a “place-name I have never been able to find in any gazeteer of the British Isles” a place name which he notices on his rare long journeys across the largely treeless plain to the capital city, and which I think is a name I too have seen and indeed look out for along the Melbourne-Adelaide highway, Ercildoun, a ‘Mt’ (prominent hill) north of Trawalla, and with an ‘e’ one of the large (tens of thousands of acres) grazing properties into which Victoria was first divided, and also, though he does not say, a fine old bank building in Footscray. “I learned from my reading that the place name is a much earlier version of the present-day name of a small town in the border district of Scotland”.

If Border Districts has a theme it is stained glass, or to be more accurate, the fictional author’s memory of the quality of light filtered through stained glass, the description of which he constantly refines. The book begins with the fictional author visiting a small church in the town in which he now lives, belonging “to one of the Protestant denominations I pitied as a schoolboy for the drabness of their services”, and which have windows with stained glass representations of leaves and stems and petals.

He remembers (Catholic) churches he attended as a boy and as a trainee priest and their representations in stained glass of Jesus, of Mary, and of the ‘Sacrament’. And an older house in the capital city in which he sometimes stays has stained glass in some of the windows which he photographs to study more closely at home.

This older house which I mentioned in the previous paragraph (which is a phrase Murnane, or his fictional author, uses a lot) is the family home of a friend from his schooldays where the friend grew up, after his mother’s death, in the care of his father and his father’s maiden cousin whom he, the friend, calls Aunt. And the fictional author imagines for the Aunt a life in which she marries the man who wrote to her before his death at Gallipoli, a life in which the man comes home from the War and lives the life mentioned in an earlier paragraph, as a groom on one of the great Western District estates, and they late in life have a daughter and that daughter is of an age with the fictional author and they become friends.

There is much more: coloured glass marbles; a kaleidoscope which works by rotating a marble at the end of a short tube; school Readers (which Victorians of a certain age will remember) which both he and the Aunt’s imaginary daughter read right through at the beginning of the school year and then must suffer through the remainder of the year readings out loud by their less progressed classmates; race meetings followed mostly on the radio and the owners who have the old estates in Western Victoria and their racing colours; an interview on the radio with a woman author who catches his attention when she states that she has imagined a house which is situated in that part of the adjacent state nearest the home of the fictional author, and that she will locate and buy this house, which she is certain exists, and turn it into a retreat for authors of fiction, but not for poets or biographers. The fictional author writes to this woman author but she does not reply.

Murnane’s concerns are the border between mind and brain, the border between object and perception, the border which separates the past and our memory of the past. But ‘border’ also denotes a place away from the centre, a place on the outer –

As a young man, I was often driven to search … not only for writers but for painters sculptors and composers of music who lived in isolation from their kind, far from the putative centres of culture. Even in my youth, I seem to have been seeking evidence that the mind is a place best viewed from the borderlands.

Border Districts is one of those works, and probably one of those few great works, where the writing is more important than the subject matter. Where we are carried along, bemused, in a great writer’s train of thought.

 

Gerald Murnane, Border Districts, Giramondo, Melbourne, 2017

see also:
Lisa at ANZLL’s review of Border Districts (here)
Lisa’s other Murnane reviews (here)
My review of Murnane’s Landscape with Landscape (here)
Emma at Book Around the Corner’s “Reading Proust” page (here)

Elizabeth Jolley, Tony Hughes-d’Aeth

ANZLitLovers Elizabeth Jolley Week June 4-11 2018

Image result for Elizabeth jolley images
Wikipedia: date, photographer not stated

Elizabeth Jolley (1923-2007) gets a chapter in Hughes-d’Aeth’s account of Western Australian Wheatbelt writers, Like Nothing on this Earth (2017) mostly on the strength of her most famous novel, The Well (1986). I wrote an essay on The Well for my degree, maybe 12 years ago, but it has been lost in moving house and at least two computer upgrades. Disappointing. I like to reuse my material and I had spent a season carting grain in the area where the book is set just a few years earlier.

Jolley, who had grown up in “the Black Country of the English Midlands”, moved to Western Australia with her husband and three small children in 1959. Hughes-d’Aeth says that although she had been working on stories and novels all her adult life, her formal career as a writer dates from the late 1960s – her mid 40s – when she began to have stories published in Westerly and Quadrant. Her first novel came out in 1980, her second, The Newspaper of Claremont Street – which draws on the author’s own life in Claremont and her search for a patch of land in the country to call her own – in 1981. The Well, 5 years later, was her seventh.

The Jolleys purchased their 5 acre hobby farm in 1970, at Wooroloo, 60 kms out of Perth in the Darling ranges. Hilly and well treed country in the main, on the Great Eastern Highway out of town, and still 50 km short of Wheatbelt country. Her account of the purchase and her feelings for the land are in Diary of a Weekend Farmer (1993).

Jolley first became acquainted with the Wheatbelt in the 1970s when she was roped into supporting an initiative for the Fremantle Arts Centre where she was giving classes in creative writing, which involved her in sending out books and supporting material to discussion groups in the country then in meeting with the groups as a travelling tutor. Jolley was obviously fascinated by her long, lonely drives

All the miles of wheat in all directions, folded and mended in places, are pulled together as if seamed, by little dark lines of trees, as if they are embroidered with rich green wool or silk on a golden background. In the design of the embroidery are some silent houses and sheds. Narrow places, fenced off and watered sparingly, produce a little more of the dark green effect. At the intervals, there are unsupervised windmills, turning and clicking with a kind of solemn and honest obedience. [Jolley, A Small Fragment of the Earth]

Jolley referenced her little farm in her first collection of (linked) short stories, Five Acre Virgin (1976). The first story to have a recognisable Wheatbelt setting was “The Long Distance Lecture” which appeared in 1979 in her second collection.

The road is well made and the wheat is standing in that golden stillness just before the harvest

contrasts with

… the township at dusk seemed to be a desolate scattered poverty; a shabbiness of blistered little houses, stacks of poles and empty drums gathered near a closed petrol station, and a wheat silo alongside a deserted overgrown railway line.

The paddocks and the townships it seems standing respectively for life and death. Jolley always seemed to see the Wheatbelt in gothic terms, beauty underlain by isolation and death, and overtly models this story on Jack London’s “To Build a Fire” (1907) in which a man travelling in arctic wilderness waits too long to stop and build the fire which might save his life.

She expanded on the literary lecturer in the Wheatbelt theme in the novel Foxybaby (1985) but it is in The Well that she brings the Wheatbelt to life.

Hester Harper has grown old on her father’s wheat sheep farm outside an unnamed town which is probably based on Brookton on the edge of the Wheatbelt closest to Perth. The Harper property is one of the larger farms in the district and Hester has proved a competent manager. But when she takes on a young woman, Katherine, as a servant/companion and her father dies, she abandons her roles as farm manger and pillar of local society in her infatuation for Katherine, gives up her homestead to the Bordens and their brood of sons, and takes up a little cottage on the edge of the property.

Coming home late from a dance, Kathy driving, they hit a shape in the dark, a man, a man who has broken into the cottage and stolen it later turns out Hester’s wad of cash. Hester dumps his body in the disused well they use for rubbish and from there it gets very gothic indeed.

For Jolley the endless fields of wheat are both isolating and lawless, providing a space, as in many of her works, in which women may operate free of men, free of authority. Veronic Brady, nun, writer, and ABC Commissioner points out “the tension in [Jolley’s] characters between the wish to exclude masculine agency from their lives, on the one hand, and a need, on the other, to find something of themselves in this masculine agency.” [Brady, Elizabeth Jolley, New Critical Essays]

Let me finish with a quote from Jolley, who despite drawing so heavily on her own experience insists, like Miles Franklin after My Brilliant Career, and countless others, that her work is fiction:

My fiction is not autobiographical but, like all fiction, it springs from moments of truth and awareness, from observation and experience. I try to develop the moment of truth with the magic of the imagination. I try to be loyal to this moment of truth and to the landscape of my own region or the specific region in which the novel or story is set. I have always felt that the best fiction is regional. [Jolley, Learning to Dance]

I know not everyone agrees with me, but “loyal to this moment of truth and to the landscape” (and good writing!) is what I most look for in a novel and it is what Jolley delivers in spades.

 

Tony Hughes-d’Aeth, Like Nothing on this Earth, UWA Press, Perth, 2017

see also:
Hughes-d’Aeth on the Wheatbelt (here)
Hughes-d’Aeth on Jack Davis (here)
my review of The Newspaper of Claremont Street (here)
ANZLitLovers Elizabeth Jolley page (here)