Thinking in a Regional Accent

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Thinking in a Regional Accent: New Ways of Contemplating Australian Writers is a recent essay by WA academic, Tony Hughes-d’Aeth in the ABR which I no longer get, but a copy of which was sent by a friend. HdA was the editor of Like Nothing on this Earth, a compilation of WA Wheatbelt writing which I reviewed a few years ago, so he is an advocate for investigating ‘regional difference’ when analyzing Australian writing.

But what is regional difference? Certainly, one feels that regional
difference is at most a weak factor when compared to the forms of
difference that most occupy us today: race, gender, class, ethnicity, and, increasingly, sectarian political affiliations.

Yet regional difference is one of the first things I look for in a novel, and the failure or success of the author in delineating it is often where I begin my criticism. I like my novels to be grounded in a particular location, for the author and the reader, to know where they stand.

For [Marxist critic Raymond Williams], what emerged under the name of ‘regions’ in nineteenth-century Britain was essentially a geographical spatialisation of class. Regions were economically subservient peripheries of production. This meant that, for Williams, regional consciousness was a form of class consciousness. With this in mind, it is interesting to go back to how accents work in Australia, where they follow class rather than regional lines.

Is this true in Australia, about class and regions? Not really. Not that I don’t think class is important for understanding Australian writing. The different perspectives of Lawson and Paterson for instance are not just urban and rural; they are the polar opposites of working poor and landed gentry.

So what are Australia’s literary regions? HdA speaks as a Western Australian and the regions he cites are within WA, but I think the first important divide is urban – Melbourne and Sydney really, but if you like, that sliver of coast from Adelaide to Brisbane to which clings 80% of our population – and the rest, the Outback which occupies so much of our imagination. And a close second of course comes Melbourne and Sydney, as in Melbourne v Sydney.

After those two, it is clear the states themselves are regions. Much of our literature is state based. I imagine that Gerald Murnane could have written in Perth, or Thea Astley could have in South Australia (but maybe not that Patrick White could have written outside of Sydney) but the point is they didn’t. Their novels are firmly situated in the places they knew. And if regionalism has any meaning then the bodies of writing around those places is different from the writing around other places.

Probably different cities, different regions have a different feel and that permeates the writing (Lisa yesterday wrote about the imporatance of cylcones in Queensland). But also writers work together and influence each other; and increasingly writers pass through the universities and so are influenced by the writers they find there – Elizabeth Jolley, Kim Scott, John Kinsella in WA (though not all at the same uni) – how could they not be?

The WA Wheatbelt is not really my home region, though I live on the edge of it, and work there, and drive backwards and forwards through it, and so experience a sense of familiarity when I read works which are not just plonked down there but which explore what it means to be in that place – from the memoir A Fortunate Life, to Dorothy Hewett’s fictional Muckinupin, to Arthur Upfield’s spell at Burracoppin, to The Fringe Dwellers, to Jolley’s The Well, to the poetry of Kinsella and Charmaine Papertalk-Green.

Hughes-d’Aeth also discusses regional literature in a slightly different sense

.. it has been inspiring to watch the Wirlomin Noongar grouping (Kim Scott, Clint Bracknell, Claire G. Coleman, and others), who trace their belonging to the south coast of Western Australia, become a nodal point of Noongar cultural and language renaissance, and seriously influence the national imaginary.

Noongar country and the Wheatbelt are more or less the same geographically (the former includes Perth and the latter extends north a little way into Yamaji country and excludes the heavily forested south-west corner), but ‘Wheatbelt’ is such a White concept that I have trouble treating them as one. Do Indigenous Lit and White Lit belong in the same region? Same space, opposite perspectives.

Cutting back across the emergence of bio-regionalist sensibilities in literature and criticism has been the advent of second-wave Indigenous authors like Alexis Wright, Kim Scott, and Tony Birch and of the powerful insinuation of the concept of ‘Country’ into wider Australian discourse

I hadn’t thought of these writers as ‘second-wave’. I guess the implication is that Jack Davis (1917-2000), Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Kath Walker) (1920-1993) and Mudrooroo (Colin Johnson) (1938 – 2019) were the first wave. Davis and Johnson were from WA, were there others over east?

“.. literary regionalism is a critical stance that I find myself adopting,
whether I want to or not” is not Hughes-d’Aeth’s conclusion, but I think it makes a good one.

.

Tony Hughes-d’Aeth, Thinking in a Regional Accent: New Ways of Contemplating Australian Writers, Australian Book Review, Nov. 2020, no. 426.

Lisa/ANZLL – Cyclone Country: The Language of Place and Disaster in Australian Literature (here)

Brona’s AusReading Month 2020

November 2020, which is to say now, is Brona of BronasBooks eighth annual AusReading Month. Hopefully it will also be remembered as the month the USA stepped back from the brink of Fascism and, more cheerfully, it marks 20 years of international cooperation in space with the continuous occupation over that time of the Space Station. (And don’t you think Brona’s map is ‘brave’. Taswegians are vowing vengeance as I write.)

Celebration: What Australian books have I read over the past year? After filling last year’s bingo card. I started the new AusReading year with Banjo Patterson’s An Outback Marriage – “It was as if he gathered up all his knowledge of bush life and carpentered it up into a longer tale than those in his bush verses… The novel is cynical and shallow.” Miles Franklin didn’t like it! Despite the fact that she had been asked for advice during the writing.

During 2019 I featured the work of David Ireland and in December I read his The Flesheaters. Then it was time for wrapping up (Best Reads 2019) and on to Australian Women Writers Gen 3, with one extremely important Australian work in between, Chris Owen’s Every Mother’s Son is Guilty on Aboriginal massacres by police and settlers in northern WA.

The AWW Gen 3 Week summary, with all your contributions, is here. I personally read Exiles at Home, Drusilla Modjeska; and No Roads Go By, Myrtle Rose White. Then back to undirected, all over the place general reading. First, Melbourne arts student Jamie Marina Lau’s Pink Mountain on Locust Island which I greatly enjoyed; my own notes on Daisy Bates, followed by her The Passing of the Aborigines; another Gen 3, Jungfrau by Dymphna Cusack; then right back to Gen 1 with Sisters by Ada Cambridge.

It’s April, Covid-19 has struck, I’m in a motel outside Darwin in quarantine getting lots of reading done, and even a little exercise. I read Virginia Woolf, Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, three Willa Cathers and finally Melissa Lucashenko’s Too Much Lip. I think I’ve moved on to my daughter’s apartment in Darwin when I read the predictably disappointing Bring the Monkey by Miles Franklin, because my next review is of The Black Line which she and I watched together.

I’d forgotten that David Ireland slipped over into 2020 with John ‘Fourtriplezed’ providing a guest review of Bloodfather. Back home, a brief respite from Covid, the 1987 short story collection, The Babe is Wise, then Second Wave in Melbourne and I am back in isolation, seemingly forever, but working, constantly driving backwards, forwards, Melbourne, Perth, though still doing some reading. Marjorie Barnard’s biography of Miles Franklin; Patrick White’s novella collection, The Cockatoos; a bit of recent history, The Hand that Signed the Paper, Helen Demidenko; Choc.Lit for ANZLL’s Indigenous Literature Week, Not Meeting Mr Right, Anita Heiss, and also her compilation, Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia; two for ANZLL’s Thea Astley Week, Drylands and Collected Stories; a Karenlee Thompson short story, Grace; a bit about Christos Tsiolkas before Melanie (GrabTheLapels) and I buddy read The Slap; a Macedonian novel featuring Miles Franklin (that must count as Australian); Jessica White’s A Curious Intimacy; my son Lou’s review of Thea Astley’s A Kindness Cup; Katharine Susannah Prichard’s The Pioneers; a YA, Melina Marchetta’s Saving Francesca; and that’s it.

Anticipation: This will be brief. I’m currently reading and will review later this month Melina Marchetta’s not-YA novel The Place on Dalhousie. After that I have hundreds of unread Australians in my TBR including The Cardboard Crown from which I keep getting distracted, but near the top of the list, friends have recently given/loaned me Trent Dalton, Boy Swallows Universe; Bill Green, Small Town Rising; Mudrooroo, Tripping with Jenny; Jean Devanny, Sugar Heaven; Elizabeth Jolley, The Orchard Thieves, An Accommodating Spouse, Lovesong and the memoir, Central Mischief. I also have two Miles Franklin’s to dig up, The Net of Circumstance and Pioneers on Parade as well as all her unpublished/uncollected short works and journalism. If the plague is ever behind us I might shout myself a trip to Sydney and the Mitchell Library.

Promotion: There are two items under this heading. First of course is Australian Women Writers Gen 3, Part II Week on this blog 17-23 Jan, 2021, which is back a little compared with last year but I suspect I’ll be working right up to Christmas so that gives me a few days extra to prepare.

As I wrote last year, Gen 3, 1919-1960, which covers the period from the end of WWI to the beginning of the sixties, is the story of White Australians clustered in a few cities on the arable fringes of a hostile continent. I said there were two main strands to Gen 3, ‘Social Realism’ and ‘Modernism’, but there was a third, ‘Pioneering’ which followed on the Bush Realism of Gen 2 and which emphasised the role of families in the Bush, and therefore of women, as a reaction to the misogyny of the Bulletin’s Lone Hand myth (AKA the Australian Legend).

At the edges of any movement and in this case between Gen 3 and Gen 4 there are always writers on the cusp. I haven’t given enough thought to Gen 4 yet, and you guys might help, but it is in essence those writers we baby boomers began to read as we reached adulthood, corresponding to the revolution in popular music represented by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, musicians born 10 or so years before us, and to Women’s Lib, the pill, de facto marriages, cheap universal tertiary education, the anti-War movement. So, Thea Astley, first novel 1958; Elizabeth Harrower, first novel 1957; and so on through to Helen Garner, first novel 1977. The theoretical background should be post-modernism though I’d be surprised if that was influential in Australia before the 1970s.

I plan to read Kylie Tennant’s Tell Morning This which, speaking of cusps, was published in 1967. But I hope also to get to The Great Australian Loneliness (1937) by Ernestine Hill which I think is central to how Australians saw themselves ‘back then’. Look on the AWW Gen 3 page for authors and the reviews I’ve so far collected.

My second ‘promotion’ is I plan a deep reading of Joseph Furphy’s great work Such is Life, following in the footsteps of Brona (Moby Dick) and Lisa Hill (Finnegan’s Wake), with posts, probably monthly, throughout the year.

I have a 1999 edition annotated by FD Glass, R Eaden, L Hoffman & GW Turner, though unfortunately IMO the annotations take the form of end notes. I’m not sure yet how I’ll break the 7 chapters, 297 pp into 12 sections but I hope that by the end you, and more especially I, have a better understanding of this wonderful, idiosyncratic work.

That’s another year in summary for me. I don’t think I can manage a Bingo card. Thank you Brona, and good luck. From the chatter around it sounds like you already have lots of participants.

BronasBooks: AusReading Month 2020 (register here)

Madura Sunrise

Journal: 058

Yesterday morning I woke up way out in the desert at Madura, 600 km after the last town, Penong SA, 525 km to the next, Norseman WA, and another 725 km after Norseman to Perth (map). I made it home around 8.00pm but couldn’t face another 3 or 4 hours getting my last trailer in, so that cost me most of this morning. Now, after lunch and a glass of wine, I can finally attend to my bloggerly duties.

The good news is that while I was on the road Victoria announced that it had got on top of its second wave Covid outbreak and was coming out of lockdown. The next good news was that the WA’s hard border was down and that visitors would be allowed in from states without ongoing infections. The bad news was that this doesn’t yet include Victoria and that, unlike the citizens of both Vic and WA, truck drivers who travel between the two must continue to self-isolate. Still, I have my fingers crossed for Christmas.

[Just then, I wrote something, deleted it and somehow deleted the previous paragraph with it. Luckily, Undo worked just fine. Did we always have Undo?]

Otherwise, I had an unremarkable trip. It rained. It’s rained every trip for as far back as I can remember. At least with the coming of spring the rain seems a bit warmer. And I saw two Mallee Fowl. In the Mallee (north western Victoria). I’ve seen them a few times over here in the west, going into mines in mallee scrub country, but despite all the years I lived there, this was the first time I’d seen them in Victoria. Which leads me to where are the great flocks of cockatoos, galahs and rosellas that we used to see as kids? I still see some of course, but nothing like we used to, nor magpies. Every other bird these days is a crow. I blame glysophate.

That’s the reading/listening for three trips or six weeks down there, representing maybe half a dozen half-considered and abandoned posts, mostly because by the time I sit down at my computer I’ve forgotten all the arguments with which I was going to dazzle you. But two American books to which I listened on the way home made me think some more about ‘the Independent Woman’.

The Independent Woman in Australian Literature was, I’m sure you all know by now, the title of my M.Litt dissertation. Its thesis is that Australian women writers developed an archetypal heroine who eschews marriage in favour of career, that this is an alternative to the male archetype – mates in the bush/brave, larrikin Anzacs beloved of politicians; and that this archetype seems peculiarly Australian though with possible antecedents in early English Lit.

What started me thinking was Robert Heinlein’s Beyond this Horizon (1942). The principal theme of the work, as was so often the case with Heinlien, is supermen – in the Nietzschean sense – but here the hero meets a woman who might be his equal, including in the wearing of guns. His response is, “You’re not one of those independent women, are you?” before wrestling her to the floor, taking away her gun, and forcing her to accept a kiss. At which she falls in love with him and becomes the mother of his (super) children.

Next up was a Danielle Steel, Power Play (2014), which was less formulaic than I had feared. We follow two CEOs of major corporations who have very contrasting years. One, a woman, long divorced is both competent and moral; the other a guy with a wife who gave up being a lawyer to be his perfect helpmeet, who sleeps with his young women employees, and who has a second family in another city. Interestingly, the guy has a woman chairman of the board who forces him to resolve the two wives thing (Spoiler: they both leave him).

It is my opinion, though without going to the trouble of collecting actual evidence, that US writers shy away from allowing their women too much independence and almost invariably have them, in the end, deferring to men. Prime example: Marge Simpson. Possible exception: Willa Cather.

In my next post, later this week (touch wood), I’ll address Brona’s #AusReadingMonth2020 and also my coming Australian Women Writers, Gen 3 Part II Week (second or third week of Jan. 2021).

Recent audiobooks 

Gene Wolfe (M, USA), The Land Across (2013) – SF (sort of)
Kevin Wignall (M, Eng), The Traitor’s Story (2016)
John Grisham (M, USA), Sycamore Row (2013) – Crime
Jacqueline Winspear (F, Eng), In This Grave Hour (2017) – Crime
Jenny Siller (F, USA), Iced (2000) – Crime
Mark Twain (M, USA), The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884)
Nick Spalding (M, Eng), Love and Sleepless Nights (2012) – Comedy?
Neil White (M, Eng), Next to Die (2013) – Crime
JD Robb (F, USA), Born in Death (2006) – SF/Crime
Edith Wharton (F, USA), A Son at the Front (1923)
Lee Child (M, Eng), A Wanted Man (2012) – Crime
Ben Lieberman (M, USA), Odd Jobs (2013)– Crime. DNF
Petra Durst-Benning (F, Ger), The Glassblower (2014) – Hist.Fic
Gaston Leroux (M, Fra), The Mystery of the Yellow Room (1908) – Crime
Bradford Morrow (M, USA), The Forgers (2013)– Crime. DNF. Boring
F Herbert, B Ransom (M, USA), The Ascension Factor (1988) – SF
Unknown (M, Eng), Beowulf (700?)
Danielle Steel (F, USA), Power Play (2014)
L Ziepe (F, Eng), The Morning After the Wedding Before (2019) – Comedy
Bruce Porter (M, USA), Snatched (2016)– NonFic.
Mickey Spillane, M Collins (M, USA), King of the Weeds (2014) – Crime
Robert Heinlein (M, USA), Beyond this Horizon (1942)– SF

Currently reading

KS Prichard (F, Aust/Vic), The Pioneers
Melina Marchetta (F, Aust/NSW), Saving Francesca
Melina Marchetta (F, Aust/NSW), The Place on Dalhousie
Georgette Heyer (F, Eng), The Grand Sophy

Recent Purchases

Zorah Neale Hurston (F, USA), Jonah’s Gourd Vine
Elena Ferrante (F, Ita), The Lying Life of Adults
Sally Rooney (F, Eng), Conversations with Friends
Haruki Murakmi (M, Jap), The Wind-up Bird Chronicle
Thomas Pynchon (M, USA), V
Ursula Le Guin (F, USA) The Unreal and the Real Vol.s 1,2

Australian Grunge

Journal: 056

Melanie at Grab The Lapels and I are planning to buddy read and review Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap (in about four weeks) and I thought I would provide some background about Tsiolkas’ writing, hence the title of today’s Journal.

But let me first say here just how angry I am that WordPress have steamrolled the introduction of block editing. Like all modern editors WordPress of course knows much better than I what I am attempting to achieve. I used to use HTML to produce single spaced lists. The new editor is happy for me to do this. In draft. And then publishes the list double spaced. I pay them for my business site and if I can’t produce simple posts with lists and pix on my phone then I will take my business to someone who can.

Yes I am sure there is a block for single spaced lists and blocks for photos. But I drive trucks 15 hours a day for a week or ten days at a time; apart from audiobooks I am barely reading; my Blog Unread folder is backing up alarmingly; and I just can’t be stuffed learning yet another new system.

And before I go on I must say thank you to Karen at BookerTalk who has dedicated a lot of her posts this year, and much time and energy commenting, to WordPress features and the new editor.

Back to Tsiolkas. He was born in 1965, in Melbourne, and went to school at Blackburn High – as did two of my kids, Psyche and Lou, a decade later. His parents were migrants from Greece. He’s gay. His first novel was Loaded (1995). The Slap (2008) was his fourth.

I wrote an essay on Loaded and Australian grunge in 2005:

The work of a number of young authors published for the first time in the 1990s, commencing with Andrew McGahan (Praise, 1992) and including Justine Ettler (River Ophelia, 1995), Linda Jaivin (Eat Me, 1995) and Christos Tsiolkas (Loaded, 1995), has been given the label Australian Grunge.

“At the Melbourne Writers Festival in 1998 the Aust.Lit. discusssion group including McGahan, Fiona McGregor, Jaivin and Tsiolkas “all remonstrated at how hateful they found the label and how they did not wish to be associated with it.”

Grunge seems to have been a fashion that passed. Internationally it had its antecedents in Beat (William Burroughs) and Punk (Kathy Acker). Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting came out in 1993. In Australia we had William Dick and Mudrooroo in the 50s and Helen Garner’s Monkey Grip in 1977, but that’s about it. What druggy, inner-suburban novels have I missed?

I wrote a bit about Loaded. How about:

Loaded is even more pernicious. Sex between men mocks the whole notion of mateship – the great bond that unites and succours the ‘legends’ in the bush. Ari struggles with his identity as a man, as a man in Australia, and as a man of Greek extraction. “I’m a man I say in a deep drawl. And I take it up the arse. Of course you do, she answers, you’re Greek, we all take it up the arse.”

Jaivin, who was older than the others, and whose Eat Me was actually middle class erotica, quickly produced a couple of ‘grunge’ novels to take advantage of her unexpected notoriety. If you ever see Rock ‘n Roll Babes from Outer Space give it a try, it’s quite amusing.

The others moved on. McGahan wrote one more and then his next was a police procedural. The next of Tsiolkas’ that I read was Dead Europe (2005). I seem to remember an Australian gay man in Athens and then up in the mountains seeking out rellos.

At this point I am down about 30 cm – maybe 50 lines by 12 words across, so 600 words. Despairing sigh. Karen! Where’s the word count?

I was going to write something about the books I listened to this last trip, but they were boring, why bother. Yesterday I started four and DNF’d them all, one after 10 hours that wasn’t going anywhere, two I just didn’t like, and one by a Palestinian-American that was hopeless, ie. completely bereft of hope in the face of the Zionist juggernaut.

WA has tightened up its Covid rules once again for travellers from Melbourne and so I am back in isolation. I always thought I could survive solitary confinement if I had enough books. Now I am not so sure.

I’ve copied the lists of current reading from an earlier Journal, which I’ll overwrite. If they stay single spaced they’re in, if not they’re out. But of course WordPress knows I don’t really want two empty lines before the lists (or perhaps it’s simply against the rules). Now where the hell are Tags and Categories.

Recent audiobooks 

Yelena Akhtiorskaya (F, USA/Ukraine), Panic in a Suitcase (2014)
Lauren Francis-Sharma (F, USA/Trinidad), ‘Til the Well Runs Dry (2014)
Elizabeth Aston (F, Eng), The True Darcy Spirit (2015) – Romance
Charles Willeford (M, USA), New Hope for the Dead (1985) – Crime
Erle Stanley Gardner (M, USA), The Case of the Crying Swallow (1947) – Crime
Erica Jong (F, USA), Fear of Dying (2015) DNF
Susan Abulhawa (F, Palestine/USA), The Blue between Sky and Water (2015) DNF
Erica Ferencik (F, USA), Into The Jungle (2019) DNF
Joy Fielding (F, USA), All the Wrong Places (2019) – Crime DNF

Currently reading

Christos Tsiolkas, The Slap
Martin Boyd, The Cardboard Crown

There is a GAN, revisited

Voss

I mentioned recently that I had seen Jonathan Franzen named as the Great American Author, on a 2011 Time cover I think, and that has led me to revisit the subject of the Great Australian Novel. There is a GAN was one of my earliest posts, and on re-reading I find there is not much I wish to change, at least not in what I say, but two books I have read since then (April 2015) cry out to be included. So my top 10 Great Australian Novels are now –

Voss (1957), Patrick White

Such is Life (1903), Joseph Furphy

The Swan Book (2013), Alexis Wright (review)

Benang (1999), Kim Scott (review)

The Pea Pickers (1943), Eve Langley (review)

The Man Who Loved Children (1940), Christina Stead

The Timeless Land (1941), Eleanor Dark

The Fortunes of Richard Mahoney (1930), Henry Handel Richardson

The Unknown Industrial Prisoner (1971), David Ireland (review)

An Australian Girl (1890), Catherine Martin (review)

The books I had to make room for were The Swan Book and Benang. Everything Alexis Wright writes is soaringly original, invested with poetry, love of language and Indigenous culture. That is true too of Benang though some of Scott’s other works are more prosaic.

And I’ve included too Eve Langley who in 2015 languished in the long list, not so much for The Pea Pickers, which I love, but for her whole body of work, 4,200 pages, largely unpublished, but samples of which Lucy Frost (ed.) used to produce Wilde Eve.

Dropped out were My Brilliant Career/My Career Goes Bung by Miles Franklin, who when young was an original, inventive, exuberant but still thoughtful writer; Loaded by Chris Tsialkos who I think is only a middle ranking author in middle age when I thought he might be much more; and The River Ophelia by Justine Ettler, a work which I still rank very highly but which perhaps is insufficiently mainstream to be one of the ‘greats’.

Voss clings to top spot. White, I get the feeling, is being treated as less and less relevant, but he was a giant of Modernism, in Australia and in the world. Each of his works on its own has substance and his body of work more so. He teaches us how to write and how to write about Australia. Coincidentally, the Voss cover comes from a SMH article Australia Day 2015: Jason Steger picks his top 10 (here).

Furphy is White’s opposite, a working man, a man of the bush, an autodidact, the author of a single work. And yet what a work! Its fiery, mad prose anticipates James Joyce by a quarter of a century.

Stead, like White has a significant body of substantial work. I’ve named The Man Who Loved Children, though my favourite is the thoroughly American Letty Fox: Her Luck (and I still have a couple of big ones left to read). Looking back at the list I see that I have largely avoided romances – just An Australian Girl at no. 10 – is that prejudice do you think? Perhaps I should have named For Love Alone.

That question applies too to Henry Handel Richardson. The Fortunes trilogy is certainly a fine work and made Richardson’s reputation but Maurice Guest is probably more thoughtful and better written.

The question for Dark is, Is The Timeless Land trilogy a great work or ‘merely’ an important one? It is such a landmark in our acknowledgement of the prior rights of Indigenous people in Australia that it is hard to judge its qualities as literature. But Dark’s qualities as a writer and early modernist were made apparent (to me) when I reviewed Waterway last year.

The Unknown Industrial Prisoner is another work important for being a landmark. Urban, industrial, postmodern, it marked a step up from pre-War social realism.

Which brings us to one of my favourites, An Australian Girl, a very C19th romance with lots of German and moral philosophy in an Australian setting.

And still I haven’t found room for Thea Astley or Elizabeth Jolley, or as Steger reminds me, Elizabeth Harrower, nor for Peter Carey whose Oscar and Lucinda at least, deserved consideration, nor for another Steger choice Marcus Clarke’s For the Term of his Natural Life.

I look around my shelves, as I often do, and realise that just as I left out Langley last time, this time I have left out (again!) Gerald Murnane. The post can stay as it is but if I were to pick one of his works it would be Border Districts, an intensely thoughtful work about memory, but again, I haven’t read them all.

The question I have in my mind though, is who among our young, and even not so young writers might challenge for inclusion on this list. Or a different/related question, after The Swan Book what is the best novel so far of the C21st? I’m inclined to say Heather Rose’s The Museum of Modern Love. Or is it, like The River Ophelia, too narrowly focussed to be a ‘great’. And do I even read enough new releases to be able to offer an opinion. Probably not!

Miles Franklin, Majorie Barnard

Miles-Franklin-The-Story-Of-A-Famous-Australian-Marjorie-Barnard-OzSellerFast

Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin was born on her maternal grandmother’s property in the high country of southern NSW in 1879 – there’s a line I could write in my sleep, this might be my 25th Miles Franklin post – after an epic ride by her mother through the snow from the Franklin property at Brindabella, south of present day Canberra, up into the mountains to the Lampe property at Talbingo.

Marjorie Barnard was 18 years younger (ADB). As I wrote a week or two ago, the two met in the early 1930s at the Fellowship of Australian Writers when Franklin returned from years abroad, in Chicago and London, to keep house for her recently widowed mother in Carlton, an inner Sydney suburb, where she stayed for the rest of her life.

Barnard’s Miles Franklin: The Story of a Famous Australian was published in 1967, thirteen years after Franklin’s death in 1954, and three years after the release of her papers though she doesn’t appear to have made much use of them. This is a strictly literary biography with some reference to Franklin’s childhood and only such references to Franklin’s years in Chicago and London as Barnard gleaned from conversation with that unreliable witness, Miles Franklin.

The best references for Miles Franklin’s years abroad, apart from Jill Roe’s great work, are Verna Coleman’s Her Unknown (Brilliant) Career (Chicago) and Sylvia Martin’s Passionate Friends (London). Colin Roderick, who did have the advantage of Miles Franklin’s papers – in which he himself appears in a less than glowing light – also wrote an MF biography, though as I’ve written elsewhere, not one worth reading.

Barnard and Franklin moved in the same circles for twenty years so Barnard knew her well and it is this acquaintanceship which informs the biography and Barnard’s reading of MF’s works, rather than any great research.

[Franklin] was spirited and provocative in conversation but her audacity smacked of the 1890’s. All her daring had an antique air. She was, and remained, an enfant terrible. She might have shocked people by her forthrightness fifty years ago. She obviously thought that it would shock them still and felt a little snubbed when it did not.

Because she was vulnerable, Miles was secretive. There were other reasons too. She loved a mystery and used it partly as display and partly as cover… She was fiercely virginal yet even to the end of her life she was habitually flirtatious… She wanted to cut a figure in the world of literature, she wanted to hide… I am tempted to say that, like the spoilt child she once was, she still wanted everything her own way. The child lived on in the woman and was bitterly hurt by life.

All Franklin’s best work is rooted in her adolescence, in her exile from her families’ stations in the high country and in the lives of the men and women of her grandparents’ generation who pioneered that country.

Franklin achieved instant success with My Brilliant Career (1901), wrote two follow-ups in the next couple of years without being published, wrote the mediocre Some Everyday Folk and Dawn (1909) and then as far as Barnard is concerned, disappeared from view for decades.

In fact, Franklin was in the US from 1906 to 1915, where she wrote two books of which Barnard seems entirely unaware The Net of Circumstance (1915) and On Dearborn Street (1981); then in London and Serbia during WWI – which she reported on extensively I think, though again Barnard is unaware, and I’ve seen no evidence that MF ever revisited this writing to have it collected; and then London, with one visit home around 1927, until about 1932 [I’m writing without access to Roe!] when she returned to Sydney for good.

Barnard devotes the first couple of chapters to Franklin’s family and childhood with most of the material drawn from Franklin’s own writing, Childhood at Brindabella (memoir), and My Brilliant Career and Cockatoos (autobiographical fiction). She deals briefly with Franklin’s failure to find a publisher for My Career Goes Bung, and then moves on to the (mistaken) heart of her thesis ‘Thirty Years in Exile’. Barnard looks to Ignez, the heroine of Cockatoos and the absent centre of Back to Bool Bool for an explanation.

The days in [the USA] were, in so far as the development of her special talents were concerned, wasted. She had fallen among reformers, and that for an artist is more fatal than for a merchant to fall among bandits. Her heart was frozen by a secret tragedy. [Back to Bool Bool]

MF did fall among reformers, the National Women’s Trade Union League of America, and had to deal with the tragedies of the loss of her singing voice, which she had hoped to make her first career, and of the death back in Australia of her nearest sister, but she also continued to write both then and in London after the War.

I have written elsewhere that these were her middle years stylistically when she attempted contemporary fiction at which she proved to be less than good. Barnard treats the work written around 1925 and published much later as Prelude to Waking as Franklin’s first attempt at returning to writing after a long hiatus.

Perhaps this book had to be written to get Miles into the habit of writing again. It did not have to be published.

I’m not clear whether by 1967 it was known for sure that Brent of Bin Bin was Miles Franklin. Barnard surmises that ‘he’ was and goes on to analyse in some depth the five books of the Up the Country saga published under the Brent of Bin Bin name, and then the books published under Franklin’s own name: Bring the Monkey, Old Blastus and her crowning achievement, All That Swagger, all written in the space of ten years from 1926 to 1935.

At that point inspiration dried up. There followed her collaboration with Dymphna Cusack, Pioneers on Parade (1939), a biography of Joseph Furphy and a book of essays, Laughter not for a Cage arising out a lecture series at UWA, Perth. Franklin in fact quite often gave public talks in these last 20 years, but her career as a novelist was over.

This is a flawed work, the biographer too close to her subject, but nevertheless probably remains the best and most comprehensive treatment of Franklin’s work.

 

Marjorie Barnard, Miles Franklin: The Story of a Famous Australian, Hill of Content, Melbourne, 1967 (the cover above at the time of writing, is from a UQP reprint, but I will replace it with a photo of the dustjacket of my own first edition when I eventually get home).

For more of my (and other bloggers’) reviews and writing about Miles Franklin go to my Miles Franklin page (here)

Melbourne and Sydney

This post went up yesterday as a guest post on Whispering Gums’ Monday Musings series.

Norman Lindsay

In the 1870s and 1880s Melbourne was both Australia’s largest and wealthiest city and its literary centre – around figures like Marcus Clarke, George McCrae (son of Georgianna), Adam Lindsay Gordon, Henry Kendall, Ada Cambridge, Tasma.

What I want to discuss here is the movement of the literary centre to Sydney and how that worked out, during the first half of the twentieth century. This is an opinion piece rather than the result of any great research so feel free to add to what I say and to correct my mistakes.

Sue (Whispering Gums) has always been interested in the women of this period of Australian writing, and over the past few years we, the Australian Lit.Blogging community, have done a lot to establish in our own minds at least, who the women writers were and to review their work. On my blog, I broke Australian writing into ‘Generations’ more or less in line with HM Green’s ‘Periods’ in his History of Australian Literature, so: Gen 1 1788-1890, Gen 2 1890-1918, Gen 3 1919-1960.

Gen 2 and the first years of Gen 3 were characterized by being both Sydney-centred and seriously misogynist. Gen 2 covered the years of the Sydney Bulletin magazine’s greatest influence, Federation, rising nationalism, WWI.  The Bulletin‘s stable of writers: Henry Lawson, Banjo Patterson, Steele Rudd, Joseph Furphy and a host of bush poets, and the drawings of Lindsay Norman (who moved up from Melbourne after leaving art school) followed by the War reporting of Keith Murdoch and CEW Bean left us with an indelible image of ourselves as resourceful bushmen, and larrikin fighting men. An image which both excluded women and around which they had to work.

The Bulletin openly scorned home life and dismissed the popular women writers of the previous generation as ‘Melbourne-based romance writers’.

“The Sydney Bulletin liked to believe that in ‘virile cultures’ where ‘home-life [had] not become so all absorbing: ‘men live and struggle and fight out in the open most of the time. When they go to their homes they go to beat their wives…’{3 Nov. 1888} According to the Bulletin, home life trammelled a man’s spirit and sapped his masculinity. And it robbed him of his independence.” Marilyn Lake, 1986

This bled into Gen 3 and the Lindsay-led Sydney Push of the 1920s, an antipodean Bohemia where women were only of use as models and for sex.

For those of us over say, 50 our history, including such literary history as got past the anglophile gatekeepers, was written and taught by returned servicemen, and they very much bought into the myths of the lone bushman, mateship etc. So it is important to realise that there is another history, that of strong, independent women, which is not taught. In the 1890s both Melbourne and Sydney had vibrant women’s movements focussed on (white) female suffrage, yes, but also on domestic violence, temperance, and women’s welfare. The Melbourne movement coalesced around Annette Bear and Vida Goldstein, and Sydney around Rosa Scott and Louisa Lawson, and Lawson’s newspaper, Dawn.

Miles Franklin is the prime example of a woman writer who was influenced by the nationalism of the Bulletin but wrote with a definite pro-woman and anti-marriage slant. After the publication and instant success of My Brilliant Career in 1901 Franklin was taken up by Rosa Scott, and then subsequently fell in with Goldstein’s lot when she moved to Melbourne and became life-long friends with Melbourne suffragists Mary Fullerton and Mabel Singleton. Her fictionalised biographies My Career Goes Bung and Cockatoos describe her year in the Sydney literary set, living with Scott, flirting with AB Paterson, and meeting Lindsay and (Bulletin editor) Archibald.

Franklin lived overseas for many years, from 1906 to the 1930s and when she came back for good, to her mother’s house in Sydney it was to a changed literary scene, one dominated by women. During the 20s women had been excluded from the Sydney Push’s literary magazine, Vision and maybe only Zora Cross with her erotic poems fitted in with the times. Anne Brennan, daughter of drunken poet Christopher Brennan, who hung around the Lindsay push for grog and sex, and tried to write, tried to fit in and failed. Christina Stead was tempted to join the Push, but her compulsion to earn enough to flee overseas saved her.

The Melbourne scene gathered around Nettie and Vance Palmer. Vance, originally a Queenslander, tried hard to be a writer in the Bulletin tradition but hasn’t stood the test of time. They were friends with Louis and Hilda Esson and with the poet Maurice Furnley. But more importantly Nettie and Hilda had been at school together at Melbourne’s Presbyterian Ladies College, and subsequently at university. Hilda had been neighbours with Katherine Susannah Prichard’s family and introduced KSP to Nettie. Earlier alumni of PLC included Vida Goldstein and Henry Handel Richardson who of course wrote about the school in The Getting of Wisdom.

Nettie, a poet and scholar, maintained an enormous correspondence with a great many Australian writers and was important in maintaining links with expatriates like Richardson.

Sydney women wrote from their homes, isolated from each other until the formation of the Fellowship of Australian Writers in 1928 by Mary Gilmore, Steele Rudd and John le Gay Brereton. Later in the 30s the FAW’s most prominent members were Miles Franklin, Marjorie Barnard and Frank Dalby Davidson [Sue says I should include here that the FAW’s first female president was Flora Eldershaw in 1935].

So what can I say about that fixture of Australian life: Melbourne-Sydney rivalry. Melbourne ‘had’ Katherine Susannah Prichard, but she was living in Perth; Henry Handel Richardson, acknowledged for years as Australia’s best writer, but long since based in England; (the late) Joseph Furphy, writer of the Great Australian Novel, Such is Life; and Nettie Palmer.

Sydney, by the outbreak of WWII, had a blossoming of writers: Kylie Tennant, Marjorie Barnard, Flora Eldershaw, Dymphna Cusack, Eleanor Dark, Ernestine Hill, and Patrick White just setting out. You be the judge.

 

For a compilation of posts on Australian (mostly) women’s writing up to 1960 see

theaustralianlegend, AWW Gen 1, 1788-1890 (here)
theaustralianlegend, AWW Gen 2, 1890-1918 (here)
theaustralianlegend, AWW Gen 3, 1919-1960 (here)

AWW Gen 3 Week Summary

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

Grace Cossington Smith
Artist: Grace Cossington Smith

Another successful ‘Gen’ week negotiated – thank you all, readers and writers – without the benefit of holidays this time, as I drove from Perth to Albany (WA) to Goulburn (NSW), picked up my new trailer somewhere in the wilds north of Windsor, outside Sydney, ran empty to Melbourne, had a day off to visit mum, loaded, and here I am in Adelaide, Sunday night, ready to top up in the morning and head home.

Each time we do a Gen week, I find surprising both the gems we discover and the major works we fail to get to. My list of the major works of the Australian Women Writers Gen 3 period, from the end of WWI to the end of the 1950s, would include –

Henry Handel Richardson, The Fortunes of Richard Mahoney (trilogy)
Katharine Susannah Prichard, Coonardoo and Working Bullocks
Christina Stead, Seven Poor Men of Sydney and For Love Alone
M Barnard Eldershaw, A House is Built
Eleanor Dark, Prelude to Christopher and The Timeless Land
Miles Franklin, All That Swagger
Kylie Tennant, Ride On Stranger and The Battlers
Cusack & James, Come in Spinner
Eve Langley, The Pea Pickers

I think that’s close to chronological order. Anyway that’s a pretty powerful list and we didn’t get to any of them. Yet I’m happy with the books we did cover and I think between us we chose books that illustrated the principal themes of Gen 3 – Modernism, Social Realism (Socialist Realism for Communists) and Pioneering. And the hidden gems? Well definitely Zora Cross and Dorothy Cottrell.

So, in the lead up to and over the course of AWW Gen 3 Week we saw the following reviews/posts –

Eleanor Dark, The Little Company, ANZLitLovers
Ruth Park, A Fence Around the Cuckoo, Travellin Penguin
Dora Birtles, The Overlanders, Luvvie’s Musings
Drusilla Modgeska, Exiles at Home, wadh
Cathy Perkins, The Shelf Life of Zora Cross (biog.), The Resident Judge
Monday Musings on Christina Stead, Whispering Gums
Dorothy Hewett, In Midland Where the Trains Go By (poem), Brona’s Books
Jean Devanny, Sugar Heaven, ANZLitLovers
Myrtle Rose White, No Roads Go By, wadh
Mena Calthorpe, The Dyehouse, Brona’s Books
Dorothy Cottrell, The Mysterious Box, Jessica White
Park & Niland, The Drums Go Bang, Whispering Gums
Monday Musings on Christina Stead (2), Whispering Gums

There are more reviews in the AWW Gen 3 page, as many as I can find that we’ve done over the years, including most of the ‘major’ works above, plus ‘Related Posts’ particularly the many posts Whispering Gums has done on 1930s writers, plus all the major literary prize winners (that I can dig up) for the period.

Christina Stead and Miles Franklin have pages of their own – Franklin (here) and Stead on ANZ LitLovers (here). Let me know if you do an AWW Gen 3 (or 2 or 1) review, or have done and I’ve missed it, and I will add it to the appropriate page. I’m currently working on a big post(s) on Daisy Bates and her The Passing of the Aborigines but I might let it rest for a while before I put it up. And then there’s Ernestine Hill, more Stead, more Eleanor Dark, Dorothy Cottrell’s The Singing Gold to find, so much to do!

At this stage I’m thinking we’ll do more Gen 3 next year and I’d like to take the time to look a little closer at the boundary between Gen 3 and Gen 4. I’ve tended to conflate Gen 4 and Baby Boomers, but just as much of ‘our’ music is by people ten years older than us, eg. The Beatles, so, I think, many of those writers we regard as ‘oldies’ like Tom Keneally, David Ireland and Thea Astley probably properly belong by style and subject matter in Gen 4.

Thank you all again, and it’s back to ‘normal’ reading for a while, well until a challenge catches my eye or ANZ LitLovers Indigenous Writing Week sneaks up on us again.

The Drums Go Bang, Ruth Park & D’Arcy Niland

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

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The Drums Go Bang, a joint memoir of their early married life in Sydney during WWII (which is not mentioned) by writers Ruth Park and D’Arcy Niland, has been one of my favourite books these last 50 or 60 years (my review). Sue/Whispering Gums has reviewed it for AWW Gen 3 Week


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Volume 1 of Ruth Park’s autobiography, A fence around the cuckoo, … was published in 1992. The drums go bang, written collaboratively by Park and Niland, was published in 1956 and covers the first five or so of these years to just after the publication in 1948 of The harp in the south. Read on …

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