My masters was built around My Brilliant Career, my truck is named after it, I have done innumerable (well, 23) posts about Franklin, but I have never posted a review of this her first and most famous novel. Luckily however, Emma of Book Around the Corner, last year, and now Karen of Booker Talk – who coincidentally, being respectively French and Welsh, bring an ‘outsider’s’ perspective to the task – have stepped up to the plate for me.
Every time I picked up my copy of My Brilliant Career, instead of delving straight into the narrative, I found myself simply staring at the cover image. That girl haunted me. At times it felt as if she was glaring at me, almost daring me to judge her behaviour and her attitudes. Other times it seemed more that she was asking me a question, inviting a response.
Maybe I’m making far too much of this but I certainly found the image mesmerising. The boldness of the girl’s look combined with her wild, unkempt appearance also perfectly matched the character of the protagonist created by Miles Franklin, Sybylla Melvyn. Read on …
Do you remember this sentence from Seasons Greetings 2018 – “I’ve pulled my last trailer for Sam and Dragan.” Not! This other sentence – “I’ve already handed the truck over to a mechanic who has promised to set it up for the next million kilometres of its working life” is the clue. As is the way with engine rebuilds, one thing led to another, the price went up and up, and trailer buying has been pushed back a month or two.
Once the mechanic was finished I took the truck around the corner to a signwriter (a decal maker these days) with the results you see. Years ago, when paint jobs were free with new trucks Milly and I spent ages coming up with fancy colour schemes for the new Scania I never bought. These days, particularly in the West, most trucks are white, but one of the joys of ownership is being able to personalize your ride.
Anyway, I sat down last weekend with Sam and Dragan and we decided it made sense to go on a bit longer as we were, build up a bit of a backstop before I splashed all my cash on trailers. (I looked at finance, but the idea of releasing all that info into the wild filled me with horror). So here I am heading off to … Melbourne as it happened and now I’m on the way home.
The other thing I did over the break – apart from my quarterly and annual tax, isn’t that neverending?! – is I made myself a website, using WordPress, billhtrucking.com if you want to have a look. I used a totally new gmail account to set it up, but they still managed somehow to link back to theaustralianlegend. Don’t ask me how. I’ll use the site to issue posts, but only to advise clients, potential clients (and family) where I expect to be next; and really only as a device to maintain a list of trips done.
I also had a shot at using the ‘gallery’ option for photos, but I’m not really happy with it as it adds new pics at the bottom, rather than at the top where you would see them straight away. Still, WordPress were very helpful in getting me started and another chat with their help desk would probably get that fixed too (no they didn’t).
Thank you everyone for participating in AWW Gen 2 Week – readers, commenters, reviewers. Please note that Brona has done a second Ethel Turner review – The Story of a Baby – which I won’t be able to read for another day or so (sorry Brona).
Interestingly during the week, we didn’t discuss Barbara Baynton, Henry Handel Richardson, nor the period’s most popular books, My Brilliant Career and Seven Little Australians. But these have all been reviewed previously and I think that with the authors we did discuss this time we have gained a good idea of how women writers responded to the dominant trends – nationalism and bush realism – of the 90s.
The updated list of posts for the week is as follows:-
There’s plenty more on the AWW Gen 2 page, lots of old reviews, more background posts including two on Louise Mack by Sue and Lisa, and with many of the older books out of copyright, I have put links to downloadable text whenever I come across them.
Lisa (ANZLL) also did two posts on Catherine Helen Spence (here) (here) but as I already had entries for Spence on the AWW Gen 1 page, I took the easy option and linked them there.
Paullina Simons (F, USA), Red Leaves (2011)
Erica Spindler (F, USA), Triple Six (2016)
Stephanie Laurens (F, Eng), The Murder at Mandeville Hall (2018)
Brenda Niall (F, Aus), True North (2011)
EB North (F, USA), An Unseemly Wife (2014)
Caroll O’Connell (F, USA), Stone Angel (1997)
Louise Mack, Teens AS Patric, The Butcherbird Stories (2018)
Dave Warner, River of Salt (2019)
When I left Western Australia in 1983 the big pub bands were The Dugites and Dave Warner’s From the Suburbs. Not that I ever got to see them, three kids under six and all that. But after I returned in 2002 I chanced to see a sign outside the Leopold, in Dave Warner’s old stomping ground of Bicton, working class suburb down Freo way, announcing a gig. An opportunity too good to miss and I didn’t. A couple of singers came on and I idly wondered which one was Warner, but when he did appear his booming voice was unmistakable.
I’ve seen him once or twice since, he is a marvellous singer (here’s Just a Suburban Boy – turn it up!) and I don’t know why he never really made it over East or overseas – though he has been named a WA ‘State Living Treasure’. However, as a writer of detective fiction he is just so-so. I thought this may be the second book of his that I have read, and after diligent searching, I find that I read eXXXpresso (2000), from memory a murder mystery based around WA’s first espresso machine, which ex-Mrs Legend and I both enjoyed.
River of Salt (2019) – yes, I requested a review copy – Warner’s tenth, is not set in WA, Warner lives in Sydney now “with his wife and three children”, but on the NSW north coast in the early 1960s. The setting is fictional, a smallish town about an hour south of the Queensland border. Not an area I know at all well so I can’t say what towns it’s based on. The period is not crucial to the story, except that of course it avoids mobile phones and modern forensics. Warner is only a few years younger than me so he lived through the 60s but still his research shows. In fact his writing in general is a bit clunky, though the story itself is good enough.
The ‘hero’ is Blake, a contract killer for the ‘mob’ in Philadelphia (USA). We see him commit two or three cold blooded murders then his older brother and mentor Jimmy, gets himself into trouble, Blake abandons him, and flees to Australia.
Where he becomes a likeable, laid-back, guitar playing, bar-owning, surfer dude. As you do. The real problem with the book is that though we mostly stick with Blake, parts of the story are also written through the POVs of Doreen, Blake’s attractive twenty-something bar manager; Nalder, the local sergeant of police; and least convincingly, Kitty, a local, cute, fifteen year old schoolgirl who attaches herself to Doreen when Doreen runs a dance competition in the bar. Did they really have bars back then? I’m a Victorian – we had hotels and a few licensed restaurants; and girls, and certainly not unaccompanied schoolgirls, weren’t allowed within a mile of them.
Warner uses his considerable rock n’ roll pedigree to construct a background of great 60s music and has Blake learn the guitar and form a band playing ‘surf’ instrumentals, heading for the big time until the Beatles release Love Me Do, and the world changes. Kate W would by this stage of the review have already put up a play list. I am content to link to an absolutely fabulous live version of Australian surf rock band The Atlantics playing Bombora (and yes, turn that right up too!)
The plot is satisfyingly complex. Blake fears the Mob will track him down from Philly; as it happens, local hoods are first on the scene seeking payments for ‘protection’; he is already paying Nalder, who nevertheless hauls him in to find out what he knows about the brutal rape and murder of an out-of-town woman in a shack in the hills (and I know how you all feel about that scenario); Blake decides to find the murderer before he is implicated any further, though Doreen does much of the work; the first serious suspect is Blake’s beach bum/poet friend, Crane; the hoods bash Andy, Blake’s yardman, causing serious head injuries; Andy probably witnessed the victim’s first contact with her murderer but is unable to remember.
It made sense to Blake that if anybody could figure out the killer, it would be him. After all, the one thing he knew a lot about was killing people. He wasn’t proud of this but it was a fact that very few killers had his degree of professionalism: they got sloppy, they made mistakes.
The homicide guys from Sydney arrest Crane; Blake proves it’s someone else; that guy is arrested and Crane released; then Blake comes up with a yet more likely suspect; and then another. Meanwhile his girlfriend/sex buddy goes missing. Is she the next victim?
Kitty wins the dance contest, wins the guy she’s been chasing, they go to the drives and he goes from kissing to heavy petting, to … , she escapes, that guy becomes one of the chain of suspects. Kitty turns to Edith Wharton, learns body language, discovers that her mother knows that her father is having an affair. With someone she knows, as it happens.
Blake runs into an old flame from the US. He’ll have to kill her before she has a chance to let anyone back home know where he is …
It all comes together at the end of course. Blake wins the a girl, a bright future beckons. The murderer is satisfyingly surprising. A fun holiday read, if you overlook that it’s premised on yet another bloody, sexually active, female victim, and at least half a dozen other gratuitous killings.
Dave Warner, River of Salt, Fremantle Press, Fremantle WA, 2019
Jessica White, whose Hearing Maud about Rosa Praed’s deaf and abandoned daughter Maud will be published by UWAP in July (I may get to go to my second book launch party) has chosen a late Rosa Praed novel for AWW Gen 2 Week. A few paras down she refers to Praed’s “bestselling feminist novel” The Bond Of Wedlock, which I reviewed (here). Thank you Jess.
Praed’s oeuvre stretches from 1880 to 1931, so she slots easily into Gen2. In the late 80s and early 90s she was at the height of her fame, but I’ve chosen her penultimate novel to review, because I need to revisit her works ahead of the edits for my book. This has turned into a minor essay full of spoilers, so if you plan to read the novel, you might want to shelve this until afterwards. Read on …
Sue (Whispering Gums) has posted a review of Louise Mack’s follow up to Teens which I reviewed yesterday (here). Between them they provide a fascinating insight into 1880s and 1890s Sydney, when university was a real possibility for the first time, at least for those young women whose parents could afford it.
Well, that was, surprisingly, genuinely enjoyable. Louise Mack’s Girls together is a sequel to her novel Teens , and features protagonist Lennie (Elinor) Leighton. It shouldn’t have been a surprise, given I know something about Mack, through my Monday Musings on her and my review of her debut novel The world is round, but it was, because … Read on …
Louise Mack (1870-1935) was the oldest of thirteen children of a Wesleyan minister who, after various positions around South Australia and NSW settled in Sydney in 1882. Louise, who had up to then had been schooled by her mother and a governess, began attending Sydney Girls’ High School, probably from the following year when she would have turned 13.
Ethel Turner, author of Seven Little Australians, was the same age and attended the same school. Ethel and her 3 years older sister Lillian were well known for starting a school newspaper, as did Louise Mack. I mistakenly wrote in an earlier post – which I will now have to go off and find – that it was unlikely the two newspapers were in competition as Mack was 9 years younger. I was wrong. Sorry. I’d recorded Mack’s year of birth as 1879 when it was actually 1870 (ADB).
Teens begins with 13 year old Lennie sitting and passing the entrance exam to the School
A large, brown, two-storey building, with a wide, wooden staircase, a verandah all round, and an asphalted playground, shaded with two huge Moreton Bay fig trees. This was the School.
After a lonely first few days she makes friend with 15 year old Mabel and this is the story of their year in ‘B’. The big girls studying to matriculate and get into university – only possible since 1881 (More Educating Women) – were in ‘A’.
To get things out of order a little, one of the things the two girls do is start a school newspaper. There is great demand for the initial hand-written version so they scrimp and save to get it printed, and the poor old printer will only get paid from the sales the girls make at 6d a copy, only for the girls in ‘A’ to trump them with a much more impressive newspaper printed by one of their fathers. As Lillian Turner was most likely in ‘A’ when Mack was in ‘B’ this is no doubt a little bit of setting-the-record-straight.
As a guy, old, and without sisters, I have no experience to fall back to evaluate this book. It’s a long time since I last read Seven Little Australians and I’ve never read Little Women for instance or the equivalent books that girls read when I was reading ‘Boys Own’ books. Jane Austen’s young women are mostly older and definitely more mature. Picnic at Hanging Rock also has a more mature feel, despite the setting and period being similar, and probably reflects that it was written in the 1960’s (though Ethel Anderson’s At Paramatta (here) written in the 1950s does not). Another that should be similar but is not is The Getting of Wisdom. TGoW is an adult novel about schoolgirls whereas Teens is a novel for schoolgirls, and not very mature ones at that. The writing it most resembles is that of Enid Blyton.
For all that, it was a fun read. The girls, who at 13 and 15 still play with dolls (not that some of my own stuffed animals haven’t survived these past 60-something years) get into the usual school day scrapes, fall in love with their (lady) teacher, sleep over, play tricks on Lennie’s older brother, and contrary to Melanie’s opinion of recent YA fiction (at Grab the Lapels) – and yes this is only middle school in American terms – agonize over their school-work, fail to pay attention in Mathematics and ‘Euclid’, but finally come top in English, French and History.
Would I give Teens to a granddaughter? Maybe, at around age 11 or 12. For an adult, the only real reason to read it would be for its lively account of middle-class life in 1880s Sydney, and on holidays in the Blue Mountains, by someone who was there.
It was on the third storey that Lennie had her new bedroom. There was a little, irregular-shaped room up there, very narrow, but as long as the house was deep, that looked over other people’s yards at one end, and at the other, opened upon a stretch of suburb, ending in the sands of Botany Bay. From that window Lennie had one golden glimpse of the lazy, fair Pacific, and the calm blue waters of Botany Bay and its white sands; and nearer, the fresh, bright green of Chinamen’s gardens…
The younger girls had wonderful games of hookey .. The game was played in this way:—One girl was on one side, and any number on the other. The one girl chased the opposite side about the ground until she had caught one; then she and the caught one joined hands and chased again until they had caught another. Then these three joined hands and rushed to catch a fourth: and so on. And the fun was very high when there were forty girls all holding hands and chasing one about the playground…
“I’ve got the whole History of England to learn in three weeks, Mother, from William the Conqueror to Victoria; and the whole of the French Grammar, and the whole of the English Grammar; and two books of Euclid, and half of Peter the Great, and all the Physical Geography, and all the Arithmetic, and all the Geography of the whole world, to learn in three weeks.”
“But you’ve had six months to learn them in.”
“I know, Mother; but you see——”
I was going to post this at the end of the week, but I’ve returned to work earlier than I originally planned, and am as you read en route to Melbourne and Sydney. So I’m putting it up tonight and will do another end-of-week summary on Tues or Weds.
Louise Mack, Teens: A Story of Australian School Girls, first pub. 1897. Angus & Robertson (paperback) 2016. I used pdf version (here) from University of Sydney Library.
Thankyou to everyone who participated in Australian Women Writers Gen 2 Week. There are links to all your reviews from the AWW Gen 2 page, as of course will be any reviews that you do in the future.
Posts/Reviews for Australian Women Writers Gen 2 Week
It is not clear even at the distance of more than a century whether Joseph Furphy (1843-1912) is one of our greatest writers, though he certainly wrote one of our greatest novels, Such is Life (1903) purportedly the memoir of time spent by Tom Collins, a minor NSW government official, with bullock drivers in the Riverina (southern NSW), “a classic which few were to read and no one was ever to establish clearly what it was all about.” (Manning Clark in Furphy’s ADB entry)
I have a first (and only, probably) edition of Miles Franklin’s Joseph Furphy, from now long-gone antiquarian book seller, Magpie’s, in Fremantle, originally belonging to a Paul Le Comte, “member W.A.H.S.” (WA Historical Society?) and including newspaper cuttings and – Emma and Lisa will like this – an information card for Furphy’s burial site in Perth’s Karrakatta Cemetery.
Franklin’s ‘Prefatory Note’ begins –
The time is not yet ripe for a definitive biography of Joseph Furphy. The Australian attitude toward biography opens the case for Mateship versus Modernity, and so far Mateship holds the pass. No frankly searching study of the lives of our prominent personages would be tolerated … because of the still lingering conventions of modesty and reticence by which British middle-class behavior was regulated until inhibition was loosened in the preliminary war of 1914-18.
Jill Roe (2008, p.388) thinks that Franklin is averting to the possibility of an affair between Furphy and Kate Baker (1861-1953), Franklin’s ‘collaborator’ in this work. The married Furphy and Baker, 18 years his junior, met in 1886 when Baker was teaching near Rushworth (in central Victoria). They became lifelong friends. Baker was important in encouraging Furphy to write, and after his death and her early retirement at 52 she did all she could to publicize and safeguard his work (ADB). By 1939, when she spent 5 months in Sydney with Franklin getting this biography underway, Baker was elderly and stone deaf and Franklin largely took over, so that the collaboration consisted of Franklin writing from the material Baker had collected over a lifetime.
Franklin was herself a Furphy fan and she and Furphy had exchanged complimentary letters and subsequently met, in 1904 (see also Such is Life, Abridged!).
It is sometimes stated that this biography won the 1944 Prior Prize, the year the book was published, but in fact Franklin won the 1939 Prior Prize for the essay Who was Joseph Furphy? which she dashed off after Baker had returned to Melbourne, though she shared the £100 with her (Franklin initially came second but the ms which beat her, MH Ellis’ biography of Governor Macquarie*, was belatedly judged to be insufficiently foot-noted).
Franklin begins at interesting point. After a brief ‘Furphian’ digression – one of the features of Such is Life is its flights down side alleys – on the development or otherwise of a distinctly Australian literature, she gives us Kate Baker, newly hatched school teacher, rushing to catch the train, and subsequently a coach and then a spring cart to the home of Isaac Furphy – brother of Joseph – and his family where she is to board for a year, before moving six miles to board another year at the home of Samuel and Mrs Furphy, Joseph’s parents, constantly inundated, by Joseph’s brothers and sisters and their children, by Joseph’s wife Leonie and their children, by everyone around except Joseph whom Kate finally meets only on the day of her departure.
When Joe began to talk he justified himself as the literary prodigy of the family. He was then forty-four, Kate Baker in her twenties.
Joe talked till 1.00 am, and again the following night. Then it was time to leave, and she asked him to visit her and her parents some time in Melbourne.
We then return conventionally to the beginning and Furphy’s surprisingly, almost Austenesque, literary home environment. Of his juvenilia Franklin writes:
A copy of “Childe Booth’s Pilgrimage” has been preserved. It bears traces of easy acquaintance with Scott, Longfellow, Homer, Byron, Burns, Moore and others. Written when the boy was between fourteen and fifteen years of age, it shows him in embryo the Furphy who in 1897 delivered of Such is Life.
Joseph was one of five brothers, and journals were kept by their mother of their writings, ballads and odes to lost loves. The Furphys had come out from Ireland in 1841, were employed and sometimes self-employed in various locations outside of Melbourne, including Kyneton where Joseph went to school. In 1868 they took up land, “Sand Hills”**, around Lake Cooper (map) in the names of Samuel (senior), Joseph and Isaac, building themselves homes which survived into the 1950s, and it is there that Kate Baker came to teach.
Today it is an inspiring sight to gaze from Mount Burramboot over the glowing plains which reach away to the blue distance for leagues on every side. In the foreground Lake Cooper and its satellites glisten like sapphires in a shield.
Joe’s selection lived up to it’s name and after five years he gave up, rented nearby while he tried a bit of gold prospecting, then with a wagon and bullocks, he uprooted his tiny, French wife and their children to follow him as a bullocky through the backblocks of NSW. His oldest son Felix, not a budding writer, who had command of Furphy’s second wagon wrote to his grandfather in 1883 –
I have no books hear but the third book and the story of the too dogs and father reads nothing but shakspere everybody carries books but they are yellow novels …
Older brother John, a blacksmith, had in the meanwhile set up the famous Furphy Foundry in Shepparton. When Joseph’s enterprise failed, due to drought and disease in the cattle, Leonie wrote home for help and a position was made for Joseph at the foundry. At last he had a settled home and could begin to write.
His first piece, “The Mythical Sundowner”, appeared in the Bulletin 5 Oct 1889, signed Warrigal Jack, though he later used Tom Collins, a “synonym for idle rumour” (as ‘Furphy’ was to become during WWI).
Over the next decade or so, he was engaged constantly, when he wasn’t working, in reading, writing, and researching, setting tasks for Kate Baker, and corresponding with fellow pedant and polymath William Cathels.
By 1897 he had an ms in want of a publisher. He wrote to the Bulletin seeking advice, and AG Stephens asked him to submit it to them – 1125 hand written pages. Furphy advised Stephens –
The plan of the book is not like any other that I know of – at least, I trust not. Also you will notice that a certain by-play in plot and éclaircissment is hidden from the philosophic narrator, however apparent to the matter of fact reader.
Stephens wrote at length to Furphy setting out in detail the economics of publication. First requirement was a typed copy and Furphy, fearful that a typist would bowdlerize his often profane masterpiece, purchased Shepparton’s third typewriter, taught himself to type, and knocked out a copy in … 12 months!
At his point in the book Franklin reproduces a great deal of (fascinating) correspondence. I find it interesting that both Stephens and Cathels, the first people to read and admire Such is Life, saw it as an idiosyncratic but essentially true-to-life account of Bush life, whereas I see it as one of the great works of Modernism, essentially about writing and language as Picasso’s work is about painting, not funny-looking women.
For three years the Bulletin prevaricated about publishing. It was a fine book, but much too long. They would bear a loss out of the goodness of their hearts. And so on. Furphy finally conceived the idea of excising two strands of the original, which would go on to be books in their own right, the novel Rigby’s Romance and the collection of stories which eventually became The Buln-Buln and the Brolga. Even so, correction, re-typing, illustration, proof reading dragged on through all of 1901 (when Miles Franklin’s own My Brilliant Career stole some of his thunder) and 1902.
Finally, in June 1903 Stephens wrote to Furphy that 2,000 copies had been printed and 500 bound, –
“… the book market is dead, have no hope of selling them for some time… Your whole affair is the curious instance of that dead and gone thing conscience. The book’s so good that it has got itself printed against foreknowledge and predestination absolute that it’ll have a darned slow sale. I mention this as a faint excuse for the shocking delays.”
Such is Life was finally released in August 1903 with an inappropriately floral cover, to mostly good reviews in Australia and adverse in Britain. Sales were poor, around 25 a month, making it impossible for the Bulletin to consider Rigby’s Romance. Furphy wrote a review of his own, concluding –
… the studied inconsecutiveness of the “memoirs” is made to mask coincidence and cross-purposes, sometimes too intricate.
In 1905 Furphy and his wife moved to Perth WA where their children were already established. They lived between the rail line and the sea, Cottesloe or Swanbourne. Between making their homes habitable, and surf bathing, he was fully occupied and after only little more than a decade, his writing career was at an end.
Rigby’s Romance was published in the Barrier Truth (Broken Hill) in 1905-6 and it was 15 years before Kate Baker could arrange to have it published as a book. Furphy died in 1912 without ever returning to see his friends in Melbourne, but maintained an active correspondence.
The last quarter of the biography is an analysis of Furphy’s work, including Miles’ frustration at Furphy’s inadequate depiction of women, ending with a discussion on the relative merits, and fame, of Ulysses, Such is Life and Remembrance of Times Past.
Miles Franklin, in association with Kate Barker, Joseph Furphy: The Legend of a Man and his Book, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1944.
Shane Maloney, Miles Franklin & Joseph Furphy, The Monthly, Sept 2009 (here)
Jill Roe, Stella Miles Franklin, Fourth Estate, Sydney, 2008
Such is Life is available from Text Classics in print (2013) and e-book.
*M. H. Ellis, Lachlan Macquarie: His Life, Adventures and Times – “after a fortnight’s examination, Ida [Leeson, Mitchell Library] declared the work undocumented and full of inaccuracies.” Franklin’s work was “elevated from ‘highly commended’ to first place, with a rider that entry No. 62 would have won had it been fully documented and the references checked.” From the NLA database it appears that Ellis’ work was published in stages from 1942 to 1952, and has since been reprinted.
**Googling ‘Sand Hills Furphy’ brings up directory entries which indicate that the family still farms there; a family reunion on May 25; and a death notice for Joseph’s mother.
This cutting fortuitously references not just Furphy but Mollie Skinner (see Writing the Boy in the Bush) who might come up again later in AWW Gen 2 Week