I’m working, in Melbourne loading to go home. The photo above is me getting loaded last week in Perth. Apparently the wreck – it appears to have blown a steer tyre and dived off the road into a culvert – was worth buying and bringing over for parts. And I’m organised, I have/had reviews ready for Monday and Thursday posting through to next week. But, you my friends keep posting AWW Gen 3 relevant reviews, so I’ll put this up on Saturday (at the moment I’m typing on Tuesday) with the appropriate links.
That brings up the question Why? Nearly everyone who comments here will have seen them already. Well, firstly just to reference them all in one place. But also, because the few people who comment – and I think that is about 15 here, 20 max. – are only a tiny proportion of the people who read blogs. It constantly astonishes me how tight, and how relatively small, the community of people who read and comment on each other’s blogs is.
The three posts are:
Whispering Gums: Elizabeth Harrower, The Long Prospect (1958)
Harrower, it seems to me writes in a similar vein, and similar settings, to Eleanor Dark. Modernist, Sydney, Middle-class life.
“Oppression and tyranny, power and manipulation in human relationships are the stuff of Elizabeth Harrower’s writing, at least in my experience of it, and so I found it again in her second novel The long prospect.” Read on …
Reading Matters: Dorothy Hewett, Bobbin’ Up (1959)
Hewett is an interesting author, very mainstream Gen 3, a Communist brought up middle class (on a Western Australian wheat farm) writing about the working class, and I’m glad Kim chose to review her.
“.. not really a novel; it’s more a collection of short stories focused on a bunch of diverse characters, all female, who work together at a woollen mill in Sydney during the 1950s.” Read on …
ANZLitLovers: Modernism, a Very Short Introduction, by Christopher Butler … and Christina Stead
Now, this post is dated Nov. 2016 so don’t ask me why it was in my head to include it in this spot. But having got this far, and given all our discussions of Modernism in relation to Gen 3, I commend it to you.
“So, to Modernism, A Very Short Introduction first of all, because Christina Stead is a great modernist and most of us could use a little help in understanding her work. Alas, she does not get a mention in this little book of only 102 pages, so you will have to make do with my interpretations and extrapolations…” Read on …
And because I can, one more truck photo
It’s Saturday now, or near enough, and I’m on the way home, pulled up for the night 300 km from the WA border. I’ll be home Sunday, touch wood, and once I’m unloaded will take a month’s holiday, or at least, 2 weeks iso then two weeks with whichever of my family make it over to celebrate my daughter’s wedding.
If the government is going to censor the ABC, our national broadcaster over the use of ‘Invasion Day’, not to mention spending $10 mil on advertising its preferred ‘Australia Day’, then you can guess which side I am on.
Australians will know Watkin Tench as an officer well inclined towards the local inhabitants of the Sydney region and as the best-known chronicler of the first days of white settlement (here and here). I had occasion to re-read my reviews of his accounts in connection with Neil@Kalaroo’s well received review of The Timeless Land, and extracted the following dates. The first fleet arrived in Botany Bay on 18-20 Jan, 1788; moved to neighbouring Port Jackson (Sydney Harbour) on 26 Jan; and proclamations were read declaring the eastern half of New Holland (Australia) a British colony on 7 Feb.
Australia became a nation on 1 Jan, 1901 – though still a subsidiary of London within the British Empire; white women became full citizens at the following national election, in 1902; and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islands people were admitted to citizenship in May 1967.
But we choose the day which celebrates the foundation of Sydney and the dispossession of the Eora, Cadigal, Guringai, Wangal, Gammeraigal and Wallumedegal people initially, and eventually, of all the Aboriginal nations.
So it’s apt for today that I re-use the cover image from my – or more correctly, Neil’s – last post. And, it’s a good image too for this summary of what has been an excellent Week, by participation, by variety of books discussed, and by my favourite part of the week, your engagement with the discussion of underlying themes.
I wish particularly to thank Sue/Whispering Gums and Brona/Brona’s Books for their enthusiasm and work. I think between them they may have put up more posts than I did. Here’s the list –
The Australian Legend Late Modernity, and introduction to the Week (here) Kylie Tennant, Tell Morning This (here) Christina Stead, The Little Hotel (here)
Whispering Gums Vance Palmer, The Future of Australian Literature, 1935 (here) Monday Musings: Realism and Modernism (here) ML Skinner, The Hand (here) Dymphna Cusack, A Window in the Dark (here) Monday Musings: Contemporary Responses to Coonardoo (here)
Brona’s Books Eve Langley, The Pea Pickers (here) Ernestine Hill, My Love Must Wait (here) Katharine Susannah Prichard, The Wild Oats of Han (here)
Nathan Hobby Katharine Susannah Prichard in the 1940s and 50s (here)
Buried in Print Eleanor Dark, The Little Company (here)
Book Around the Corner Eleanor Dark, Lantana Lane (here)
Neil@Kalaroo Eleanor Dark, The Timeless Land (here)
The Resident Judge of Port Phillip Julie Marcus, The Indomitable Miss Pink (here) Dymphna Cusack, Say No to Death (here)
There are two or three reviews pending. Jessica White has stopped packing for her imminent move from Brisbane to Adelaide to read Ruth Park’s “the huge Harp in the South. It’s wonderful!” And she may also later review Marjorie Barnard’s The Persimmon Tree, which was her original intention. I’ll repost or guest post those when they come up.
Sue, last I counted, was at page 82 of an Elizabeth Harrower (20pp last weekend, 2 per day during the week and 50 on Sunday) and I’ll repost that too. All posts/reviews are added to my AWW Gen 3 Page, of course, and any you review during the coming year(s) I will mention as I see them or you bring them to my attention.
I had been thinking about Gen 0 for next year – writers like Mary Wollstonecraft and George Sand say, who may have influenced the thinking and writing of our Gen 1 – but I will give in to the momentum generated by this week and go on to AWW Gen 4. We will say, for now anyway, women writers of the 1960s, 70s and 80s and work on a proper definition during the year. This is the period when Modernism gives way to Post-Modernism, not well understood by me or by many writers – who fall back on the formulas of books about the book being written, novelists in their own novels, and the fashion of Magic Realism.
Thank you again for your participation. If I have missed any reviews, or you have older reviews I haven’t included in the AWW Gen 3 Page, let me know. I really feel like I have missed at least one and for that you have my heartfelt apology.
Now, 10 minutes later (10 minutes after posting, that is) I remember. The Resident Judge reviewed Say No to Death, Dymphna Cusack (and referenced this Week) and late last year she wrote up a life of Olive Pink – a truly Independent Woman in the Outback in the 1940s. Links in the list above.
Look out for Lisa’s Indigenous Literature Week (July) and Eleanor Dark Week (August), Brona’s AusReading month (November). Is November MARM (Margaret Atwood Reading Month) again? I will try and be better prepared. What have I missed? I was going to have a little dig at Emma’s love of north western USA crime novels, but here’s something a little different – a six week course on writing detective fiction in Wisconsin (here).
Addendum (2): What have I missed? Kim/Reading Matters is hosting Southern Cross Crime Month (here) in March for Aust and NZ crime fiction, AND she is right now writing up a review of Dorothy Hewett’s Bobbin’ Up. Look for it during the coming week.
It’s Saturday as I type and I’m on the road home. But an email has come in (or to be honest, I have just checked yesterday’s emails) from Neil@Kallaroo. We’ve done very well with Eleanor Dark this week. Here you go Neil, the space is all yours.
Let’s cut to the chase. I read about one third of The Timeless Land before I gave up. That’s not a reflection on the book so much as a reflection on what I enjoy reading. Once upon a time I read a book from cover to cover, but there are so many books to read, so nowadays if I’m struggling I give up and move on.
The Timeless Land is the first in a trilogy about the European settlement of Australia. It is told from many viewpoints, such as Governor Arthur Phillip, Captain-Lieutenant Watkin Trench of the Marines, the Reverend Mr Johnson, Andrew and Ellen Prentice, convicts, and the indigenes Bennilong and Barangaroo. There are plenty more!
The different viewpoints expose us to the many issues around the settlement, from concern with the food supply, convicts trying to escape, and interactions between Europeans and First Settlers. The story progresses chronologically, with minimal flash-backs, and even though the viewpoint changes frequently, it is not hard to keep track of what is going on.
So why did I struggle with the story?
I guess I knew the plot already, though not the nitty gritty. So there was minimal novelty to engage me. The writing is a bit dry and academic (possibly as a result of Dark’s extensive research), and there wasn’t much witty repartee to humour me. I didn’t crack many smiles.
I was uncomfortable with the thoughts and actions attributed to the indigines. One phrase in particular caught my eye:
“Arabanoo, who was so gentle and so patient that he hardly ever beat his wife.”
Ouch. Did indigenous husbands beat their wives regularly? I know that alcohol currently contributes to domestic violence (universally!), but I am not at all sure wife-beating was a feature of the indigenous population in 1788. Mind you, Dark has a rather sly comeback:
“Bennilong, therefore, had felt no pity for the woman, but he wondered why she had been so held up to the execration of the whole tribe instead of being privately beaten by her husband in the normal way.”
And finally, I struggle with historical fiction in general. Is it fiction or faction?
So should you have a read of The Timeless Land? If you are looking for something light and fluffy, with witty repartee and plenty of action, probably not. But if you are interested in a warts and all approach to the problems of settlement, offering more than a European-centric story, then definitely have a go. Hopefully you can make more progress than I did.
Eleanor Dark, The Timeless Land, first pub. 1941. Cover image Collins, 1960
see also reviews of: Tim Flannery ed., Watkin Tench (1) (here) Tim Flannery ed., Watkin Tench (2) (here) Michelle Scott Tucker, Elizabeth Macarthur (here) James Tucker, Ralph Rashleigh (here)
Christina Stead (1902-1983) is the greatest or second greatest Australian writer (depending how you rank Patrick White) of the inter-War and immediate post-War years. She was born in Sydney, went to London after school and one or two years of uni, and lived and wrote, often in poverty, in England, Europe and the USA, ignored and sometimes positively shunned in Australia , until the death of her husband, the Communist economist William Blake in 1968. She returned briefly to Australia then, on a fellowship to ANU, and permanently in 1974. (See my review of Chris Williams’ Christina Stead: A Life of Letters).
The Little Hotel (1973) is the stories of the proprietors and semi-permanent residents of a down-market hotel on the shores of Lake Geneva, in the late 1940s. As many of the residents are English it is relevant that England’s post-War Attlee Labour government had instituted a Socialist programme, with very high taxes on the well-off, austerity following the enormous expenditure on the War, and many important industries being nationalised. (The English/Australian novelist Neville Shute was just one of many who chose not to live there).
By the end of the War, Stead and Blake had been living in the USA for 9 or ten years, which proved the peak years for Stead as a novelist. But the rise of McCarthyism made it increasingly difficult for them to obtain script-writing jobs and at the end of 1946 they returned to Europe. Briefly to Belgium where Blake had hoped to get work, then London, back to Belgium, then in Oct. 1947 to –
Montreux at the Hôtel de Londres, a Swiss haven that became their home for a couple of years … she loved its charm, its quiet and its scenery, but not the English tourists whom she characterized so well in the novel, The Little Hotel.
Williams, 1989. (p. 172)
Knowing the way that Stead worked, with mss for a number of novels on the go at one time, it is probable that she began working on The Little Hotel in Montreux, while getting the last of her American books – A Little Tea, A Little Chat and The People with Dogs – ready for publication (I don’t think she began researching Cotters’ England until 1949). And then it finally surfaced when she needed a book, or felt the time was right. She had been making approaches to Australia for some time and maybe this book was gentle enough not to offend the delicate sensibilities of publishers Angus & Robertson, who had knocked her back repeatedly in the past.
I found The Little Hotel similar in its almost jaunty style and lack of theme to Stead’s first novel The Salzburg Tales, and nothing like my favourite Stead, Letty Fox: Her Luck, with its flood of words, which just preceded it by date of setting, nor the gritty Cotters’ England, which followed. The narrator, ostensibly is Mme Bonnard who with her husband Roger, runs the hotel, but in fact the POV which starts out first person, more and more slips over seamlessly to third person when Mme Bonnard is not in the room.
I am very firm. It is the only way to manage these disorderly people. They are just like spoiled children. It’s funny, isn’t it? Here I am, only twenty-six, and I am running men and women of forty, fifty, sixty and seventy, like schoolchildren. The secret is simple. You must have your own rules. We have another simple secret. Our hotel, the Swiss-Touring, which is near the station and near the esplanade, is the cheapest in town for visitors … No one ever mentions this fact, among our guests; but it is the thing that keeps them from boiling over.
The English, all of them retired or semi-retired, are living cheaply In Switzerland while they work out where to go next, and how to get their capital out of England (I think currency movements were severely restricted to prevent a run on the Pound). But there are also European and American guests. The big worry, for all of them, is the Russians who might overrun Switzerland at any time and steal all the gold hidden in the mountains on which the Swiss Franc depended to maintain its value.
Guests and staff are relatively constant, though of course with some turnover, and we get to know a great many of them. At the centre was –
Mrs Trollope and her cousin Mr Wilkins, English people from the East, who had been with us for over a year and who occupied two adjoining rooms. .. next to Mrs Trollope was Madame Blaise, who had been with us the whole winter. Next to her was the large corner room… which Dr Blaise occupied every second weekend when he came over from Basel.
Mrs Trollope’s mother was Javanese, which doesn’t seem to matter in the hotel, but does in wider society, particularly in England. Her marriage settlement with her previous husband has left her independently wealthy. As Mr Wilkins gets more and more control over Mrs Trollope’s fortune he pays her less and less attention. And it is the unveiling and resolution of their relationship which holds the book together.
Madame Blaise is also the wealthy one in that relationship, and it becomes apparent that Dr Blaise’s hold over her is drugs. One guest is starving herself to death, another, with plenty of money, declares himself to be the Mayor of Brussels and is eventually locked up after wandering around the town naked. It’s not a long book, and there is enough going on to maintain interest (isn’t that faint praise!).
In case you’re wondering, after I have forced a lot of theory on you in discussions on Gen 3, Christina Stead was one of the great Modernists, she clearly studied James Joyce and would have met him and many other writers at Sylvia Beach’s Shakespeare & Co in Paris in the 1930s. She was a communist, though not formally a member of the Party; she could not possibly have stood the restrictions of Socialist Realism. Perhaps the closest she got to Social Realism was Cotter’s England in the 1950s, just as that period was coming to an end (It’s a long time since I read Seven Poor Men of Sydney).
Christina Stead, The Little Hotel, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1973. 191pp
see also: Lisa/ANZLL’s review (here) My review of Chris Williams, Christina Stead: A Life of Letters (here) ANZLitLovers’ Christina Stead page (here) which contains links to all our reviews.
Eleanor Dark (1901-1985) is best known for her Timeless Land trilogy, but she was also an important modernist writer, and one of the earliest. Luckily for us, two contributors to this Week, Buried in Print from Canada and Emma of Book Around the Corner from France, have chosen to review Eleanor Dark novels.
Buried in Print
Writers in Novels: Eleanor Dark’s The Little Company (1945) #AWW
It’s a time of “political and intellectual crisis” in The Little Company. Sound familiar?
Drusilla Modjeska’s introduction situates readers in Dark’s depiction of ordinary life in Sydney and Katoomba, in this time of “recession, nuclear threat and more failed expectations” in Australia.
Lantana Lane by Eleanor Dark – an intelligent comedy about a community doomed to disappear.
Eleanor Dark introduces us to the inhabitants of Lantana Lane, set in Dillillibill, a rural area of Queensland, the tropical part of Australia. They have small farms and mostly grow pineapples on their land that is not occupied by the sprawling lantana weed.
In this district it may be said with little exaggeration that if you are not looking at pineapples, you are looking at lantana.
Nathan Hobby’s biography of Katharine Susannah Prichard, with the working title The Red Witch, is due out from MUP later this year. While completing his PhD with the very meta topic of writing about writing a biog of KSP, he was a frequent blogger. Getting the book finished and being the stay at home father to two young children slowed him down a bit, but let’s hope as the nappy haze dissipates we see him back here more often.
Katharine Susannah Prichard spent the 1940s working on her Western Australian goldfields trilogy, which finally appeared as The Roaring Nineties (1946), Golden Miles (1948), and Winged Seeds (1950). It’s a saga that tells the story of the development of the goldfields through the fortunes of one family, and interwoven with folklore, historical events, and technical descriptions. It is Katharine’s attempt at writing faithful to her communist convictions … Read on …
Kylie Tennant (1912-1988) was an important chronicler of the lives of Sydney’s underclass, perhaps not so popular as Ruth Park, but with a grittier style and a better understanding (Park and Tennant were both of the middle class, but Park’s depictions of the people of Sydney’s inner suburbs tended towards patronising, whereas Tennant’s were genuinely sympathetic and tempered by her early association with the Communism).
Tell Morning This (1967) is a rambunctious, entertaining novel of the seamier side of life in and around Kings Cross during the latter stage of WWII. This is more or less the same period/locale as that covered by Cusack & James’ Come in Spinner and interestingly they seem to have had similar publication histories. Although the winner of a major prize in 1948, Come in Spinner had to be abridged to get past the censors and a full version was not published until 1987. Tennant writes of Tell Morning This
A brief version of this book appeared in those years when paper was hard to come by and censors unduly sensitive. The choice was to cut by at least a third or to lay the manuscript aside … the remnant, The Joyful Condemned , looked much the same.
From Tell Morning This (Tennant), Say Not to Death (Cusack) and The Drums go Bang (Park) you get a pretty good idea of the housing shortage, and resulting squalid, crowded rooming houses in inner Sydney in the 1940s and 50s. I wish we had the same insight into Melbourne, but as I wrote elsewhere, for a while ‘they’ had all the good writers.
The central characters of Tell Morning This are Rene (short for Irene), a fifteen year old prostitute and David, a medical student and conscientious objector to the War – interesting, because despite my own background in the anti-war movement as a draft-resister, I commented recently that I thought that the Japanese threat was so imminent that if I had been born a quarter century earlier I would have joined up.
Rene was a hefty chunk of a girl with a nose flat across the bridge, good teeth, and hair that was temporarily blonde and curled nearly as high as the storm’s. Its original colour had been a nasty red.
Rene, whose only family is “a bunch of files in the Department”, has been brought up by the McGarty’s, a complicated family of sly groggers and petty thieves you need a spreadsheet to keep up with. David is a quiet, thoughtful good-looking boy whose mother had died in childbirth and his father, a judge, had been shot dead about 15 years earlier. A woman, Terry Lago, got life for the murder but is widely believed to be covering for her career criminal husband who has disappeared.
Imprisonment is the novel’s central theme. Rene and her friends, whose only source of income (and amusement) is to be picked up off the streets by US servicemen, are routinely rounded up for ‘being in moral danger’ and put into youth detention, the pinnacle of which is the infamous Parramatta Girls Training School (which Tennant gives the alias Petworth); David’s cousin Henrietta runs a model detention centre, until she is promoted to Petworth and fails; David spends six months in gaol during the course of the novel, and will have further spells of six months until the War ends (or his spirit breaks); a vindictive doctor, as Terry Lago is approaching release, commits her to indefinite detention in a mental home.
Tennant famously biffed a cop in order to research this novel from the inside, and she seems to have done a pretty thorough job (of the research. I’m sure the biffing was quite gentle). There’s a lot about the power structures, formal and informal, in the men’s, women’s and girls’ institutions; and about different reactions to incarceration. There’s even an evil smelling prison tram which runs between Long Bay and the central courts – the men all chained together must shuffle around in a circle if one of them needs to use the can.
David in gaol refuses to work, in the belief that the work is to assist the army, and so is put into solitary, not the dreaded dark cells, the black peter, but the yards, only half roofed
They shut him, by his own fault, in this narrow cocoon, and from a mild white grub of a boy he was hatching into something that very closely resembled a human hornet. His hatred of the governor, when every morning, the man said: “The magistrate has been delayed. He will be here tomorrow”, was the greater in that he detected real pleasure, malicious pleasure in this delay.
This is a big book, 446pp, with a cast to match. David’s family of do-gooder aunts, the Aumbrys, who live in a fine old house on the North Shore; the McGartys – Grandma bedridden, who brought up Rene till she became too much to manage; her daughter who runs Grandma’s house in the Cross as a rooming house and who has banned Rene; a nephew who runs a pub nearby and another who drives for Sydney’s Mr Big; the Cobbetts who have a shop out in a semi-rural outer suburb and who are connected to Mr Big and to Terry Largo. And then there’s Mr Big’s daughter Margot who wants to join the Aumbrys in do-gooding and who is keen on David.
Of course there are Americans, who in between missions, spend time and lavish money on Rene and all her underage friends, all generally in a state of undress, even when out, and ready to jump into bed. And there’s Marie, a minor character really, who has a baby which Rene loves; who is given a home by the Aumbrys to save her from the Department but which she hates for its boredom, until at last she runs away to Melbourne, is bored there too and comes back to have another baby which she is relieved to discover is white.
Rene and David bump into each other from time time, and each feels sorry for the other. We follow their separate paths, Rene to slowly become aware who her mother is, and David who shot his father; neither looking, but with everyone around them knowing, knowing becomes inevitable.
What a marvellous book. What took me so long to get to it.
I have in my ‘possession’ an essay entitled The Solid Mandala and Patrick White’s Late Modernity by Nicholas Birns. I say in my possession when in fact it has been residing under an icon on my screen for some months and I forget how it got there. Downloaded from a letter from Professor Brother-in-Law maybe. Birns I’m pretty sure is a US academic and editor or past editor of the literary journal Antipodes. The essay itself is an extended discussion of the definition of ‘Late Modernity’ which is of some relevance to our upcoming AWW Gen 3 Week, Part II.
Late modernity as understood in this piece is composed of two key aspects. One is the dominance of the innovative, labyrinthine Modernist aesthetics developed in the previous generation – the generation born in the late nineteenth century, that of Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, and, most important for White’s text, T.S. Eliot – and inherited by the second-generation modernists, writers like White who were born in the first two decades of the twentieth century. The other is the political predominance of welfare state models and a strong public sector that provided significant employment. These two aspects are contrasted with the era of neoliberalism of the postmodern era (roughly 1970 and after) …
You’ll remember of course I have defined Gen 3 as the period from the end of WWI to the end of the 1950s. Now, it is very easy to argue that the 1950s in Australia extended well into the 1960s, and certainly that was true of my own white, rural, middle class, teenage years. But I am sticking with 1960 as the changeover from Gen 3 to Gen 4 because The Beatles; southern European immigration; the anti-Vietnam War movement; the Pill; Women’s Lib; and because it seems to fit with a changing of the guard from the mostly women writers of the inter-War years to a new generation around Thea Astley, Thomas Keneally, Helen Garner and David Ireland say.
These issues of periodisation indeed present many pitfalls. When dealing with the near past, people of different generations have different perspectives upon not only the nature of the near past but its degree of proximity; the very idea of a near past implies some people still living for which that past is still a part of active memory …
Ain’t that the truth! I am very passionate about my lived experience of ‘the sixties’ – which occurred I must say mostly in the early seventies.
Much as I deplore the end of the ‘welfare state’, I struggle to see its relevance to the literature of Gen 3. Indeed much of the writing in the Social Realism stream is to do with the failure of the state to provide the underclass with meaningful welfare (or employment), and to the largely middle class modernist stream it is irrelevant. An example of the former might be Say No to Death and the latter, Waterway. However, Birns argues that
… Waldo Brown and his brother Arthur, the co-protagonists of The Solid Mandala, are people who, in the late modern paradigm, however tormented and limited their lives are in individual terms, are provided a firm social foundation by their polity, and that this is an important factor in comprehending the novel and their place in it.
Waldo is I think employed by the Library, with a sense of security only a distant memory today. I am not going to argue with him (Birns) and indeed was more engaged by how he differentiated between this period and its successor, contrasting the conservatism and security underlying Late Modernism with the following generation of Regan/Thatcherism and globalism now generally contained in the catch-all “neo-liberalism”, and the cultural commodification of post-modernism. Subjects for another day! And how we are going define the end of Gen 4 I have no idea.
AWW Gen 3 Week, Part II. I will start putting up reviews in the next day or so. Quite a number of you are planning to contribute, not all on the same day I hope, and I am quietly confident that with the two I have ready, I will be able to put up a review/guest review/repost each day for the week. Off the top of my head we will have Kylie Tennant, Christina Stead, Marjorie Barnard, Eve Langley, KS Prichard, Ernestine Hill, Elizabeth Harrower. Bloggers I haven’t spoken to can drop me a line here. And there will be a summary after the end of the Week with links to everyone’s reviews. I’m back at work as of yesterday, through to about 25 Jan, so hopefully I’ll be able to use Invasion Day to do my write-up.
Since AWW Gen 3 Week last year (here) I have put up the following posts (Woolf and Sackville-West are of course English but their works are central to the modernist project).
Katharine Susannah Prichard, The Pioneers (1915) (wadh) Daisy Bates (theaustralianlegend) Daisy Bates, The Passing of the Aborigines (1938) (wadh) Miles Franklin, Bring the Monkey (1933) (wadh) Marjorie Barnard, Miles Franklin (1967) (wadh) Dymphna Cusack, Jungfrau (1936) (wadh) Dymphna Cusack, Say No to Death (1951) (wadh) Melbourne and Sydney (theaustralianlegend)
Virginia Woolf, The Voyage Out (1915) (wadh) Vita Sackville-West, All Passion Spent (1931) (wadh)
Sue (Whispering Gums) has three posts scheduled under the Bill Curates banner over the next week or so. If you miss them there’ll be links in the end-of-week summary.
Last year I wrote “I ate very well at Ludmilla Agnes’ festivities and by the time I got to the pavlova, cheesecake and cheese platter I was struggling”. This year, I was struggling well before then and I spent most of the evening asleep in my armchair like an old fat grandpa. And three or four days later when I felt like eating again, the pavlova was all gone! If you look closely at the back of my plate, that is a really excellent beetroot (and fetta) terrine. Thankyou Milly!
I’ve seen everywhere people glad to see the back of 2020, but except for the possibility of vaccination 2021 won’t be much different I don’t think. Gladys is paddling furiously beneath the surface to keep those numbers down in NSW, but if she doesn’t mandate masks and ban large gatherings it’s going to get away from her and close the country down again. Lou was planning to spend the next fortnight in Victoria, but will he then be allowed back into the NT? I’m coming over mid-month, so it’s definitely back into iso for me, and I’ve just about had enough. With regular work and running with the extra capacity of a road train I’ve been making good money. But to what end, if for another year I can only work, or sit at home alone.
Ok, here are my reading stats (late because the paperwork for owner-driving is non-stop. Currently I’m doing my annual maintenance records audit for WA – I do a separate one for the other states). 2019 in brackets.
Books read: 164 (159)
Gender balance: Male authors 67, Female 97 (84/75)
Author from: Australia 29 (47), USA 79 (51), UK 35 (36), Europe 10 (19), Asia 5 (4), Africa 1 (0) Other 5 (2) The ‘Other’ were Canada 3, Palestine 1, Russia 1
Genre: Non-fiction 12 (14), Literature 43 (44), General 39 (43), SF 18 (21), Crime 48 (37), Short Stories 4 (0)
That’s made up of 118 audiobooks and 46 ‘real’ books (including maybe 5 from Project Gutenberg (Willa Cather, Miles Franklin)).
I’m glad to see my gender balance has tilted female again. Scanning down the list of books I read rather than listened to, I see the male/female author balance there is 7/39.
Posts for year: 90 (85)
Made up of: Reviews 63 (60), Journals 21 (25), Other – Biogs, Excerpts, Theory 6 (n/a). Though some of the Journals were also largely Reviews. Eight reviews were supplied by guests – 6 for AWW Gen 3 Week (and I provided links to 5 others) – plus Bloodfather (Ireland), A Kindness Cup (Astley). Nine counting Melanie’s ‘Letter from America‘ on The Slap. Reviews seem to have split 13/50 male/female by author (31/29).
‘Others’ also includes posts I’ve done on Indigenous Massacres. The reading up takes a bit of time, which is why I’ve done only a couple this past year. But they generate a lot of traffic, probably as they are mentioned off and on on Indigenous Facebook sites. Chris Owen, the author of Every Mother’s Son is Guilty about policing and massacres in the Kimberley (WA) also has a Facebook page, where he will sometimes put up newspaper reports of the day.
Working through my scratchy notes, I would say I put up 20 reviews to the Australian Women Writers Challenge. Theirs is a great site, I thank them, and hope they keep going for many more years (Even if I didn’t make the final General Fiction Roundup with The Place on Dalhousie).
I’m quite clear which is the worst book I read this year, Miles Franklin’s Bring the Monkey. The best is a bit harder, but let’s go with The Song of the Lark, Willa Cather. I hope 2021 brings another Benang, Swan Book or A Million Windows, and that I actually read it, rather than just hear about it.
Part II because we are going to take a second look at this period, 1919-1960, and while hopefully some of you will review some of the classics we missed first time round, we will also take the chance to look at writers who carried the period forward during and after the War (WWII). The problem of the cusp is always interesting. Somewhere, Sue (WG) and I agreed that Elizabeth Harrower wrote mostly within Gen 3, and Thea Astley, who is the same age, wrote mostly within Gen 4. The transition in my mind is from a white (British) mono-culture, though with serious class problems which the upper class pretended didn’t exist, to a vibrant multi-culture (during which there was a lot of class fluidity).
All the best for a Prosperous and Healthy New Year!
In the past few days I have read and not elsewhere listed –
Christina Stead, The Little Hotel Murray Bail, The Pages Sayaka Murata, Earthlings This is a truly horrifying book of a women driven mad by a bad mother, a badder sister and a molesting teacher.
What I really must get stuck into reading are –
Kylie Tennant, Tell Morning This Ernestine Hill, The Great Australian Loneliness Joseph Furphy, Such is Life
My first edition hardback of Say No to Death (1951) doesn’t have a dust jacket but I imagine that is it above. I was going to write first and probably only edition, until I saw some paperbacks in Images – publishers Allen&Unwin, Seven Seas and Great Books, which implies that it’s out of copyright – and a cover, in English, on a Russian site, pictured below along with an intriguing book I hadn’t previously heard of – Dymphna by Norman Freehill with Dymphna Cusack (1902 – 81).
I didn’t have Cusack down as a Communist, of whom there were a number in Gen 3, but from Images I could see she was obviously published in Eastern Europe and so looked further.
Late in 1948 Cusack consolidated a long-term if intermittent relationship with Norman Randolph Freehill, then chief-of-staff of the Communist Party of Australia’s newspaper, the Tribune… In 1949 Cusack, and later Freehill, sailed for Europe. When health permitted, she worked on the manuscripts that she had taken to London, including Say No to Death
A committed social reformer, she interpreted history through the lives of ordinary people and used various forms of popular culture to entertain, inform and educate. She regarded herself, in Jean-Paul Sartre’s phrase, as an `écrivain engagé’—one for whom the pen was mightier than the sword. Despite constant illness, she was a brave and prominent anti-nuclear activist in the World Peace Movement during the Cold War era.
If you’re interested in that sort of stuff, ADB also says the play Comets Soon Pass (1943) “was her personal catharsis and artistic reprisal for the defection of her former lover, the novelist Xavier Herbert”.
Before I go on I should clarify what I’m attempting to achieve by looking again next month at Australian Women Writers Gen 3, which covers the period from immediately after the Great War to the end of the fifties. In our first go we looked at the transition away from the blokey Bulletin era of ‘the nineties’, to the new movements of Modernism and Social Realism, and for Communists, Socialist Realism (I won’t question you on the difference, though it’s important), and the rise of a family-based Pioneer legend as a counter to the Bulletin’s misogynist ‘Lone Hand’.
Please, by all means look some more at the pre-War (WWII) period, but I also need to be clear in my own mind about the transition to Gen 4 which occurred after the War. I was born in rural Victoria in 1951 so this is personal. Australia’s eastern seaboard, where 80% of us live, was White. White, white, white. And not just white, but totally, homogeneously Brit. “Home” was England and the only ethnic diversity came from Irish Catholics. Victoria’s remnant Aboriginal population was hidden away at Lake Tyers and it was the same, to a large extent, in the other eastern states until you got into the outback. The writing of the 1940s and 50s represented that and continued on the stories of white middle-class privilege, and of working class hardship and housing shortage ongoing from the Depression years, almost without a break.
Even before the War, migration had commenced with Eastern European Jews, then came assisted migrants in their thousands from the UK, Italy and Greece, so by the 1960s we were a totally different place. Add in the sexual revolution which arose out of/coincided with the Pill, the popular music revolution, the baby boom, the anti-war movement, and you can see why this must be my transition point from Gen 3 to Gen 4.
This, as always, leaves two important writers on the cusp, Elizabeth Harrower (1928-2020) and Thea Astley (1925-2004) who published their first novels in respectively 1957 and 1958. I’m going to make a captain’s call and put Harrower in Gen 3 and Astley in Gen 4. My reasoning is that Harrower wrote mostly in the 1950s, she was a modernist, after Eleanor Dark and Patrick White say, and her subject was the monocultural middle class suburbs of Sydney. Astley on the other hand, wrote prolifically throughout the second half of the C20th and her theme was much more the clash of cultures.
So, back to Say No to Death. I have reviewed Cusack’s first, Jungfrau (1936), should have reviewed her second, the spoof Pioneers on Parade (1939) written with Miles Franklin, have reviewed her third,Come in Spinner (1951) co-written with Florence James and also Caddie (1953) for which Cusack wrote the Introduction and which is a memoir written by her and James’ housekeeper when they were living together in the Blue Mountains writing Come in Spinner.
Say No to Death was her fourth, not counting five or six plays which Cusack thought might be her real vocation. It wasn’t one I had planned to read, but was getting – am still – bogged down in Christina Stead’s Little Hotel, and so grabbed the nearest to hand off the shelf of possibles for this Gen3/II introduction. It’s a shame to tell you any of the story at all, as it is much better if the developments come up in their proper place, but yes, I’m going to.
The setting is Sydney, 1947, starting in the crowded suburbs around the Cross, described elsewhere with much more feeling and detail by Ruth Park who had arrived there to live in shambolic rooming houses three or four years earlier with her new husband D’Arcy Niland and his brother. There Jan and her sister Doreen share a one room flat.
The novel begins with Bart Templeton, a soldier who had fought in New Guinea before re-enlisting, returning from a year or so with the Occupation forces in Japan. Jan is at the wharf to meet him, at the back of the welcome-home crowd, ready to walk away if he doesn’t acknowledge her.
He’d behaved pretty lousily to Jan, he was willing to admit. But what else was a cove to do? He’d been her first man – he’d take an oath on that. She was in love with him; there was no doubt about that either, and they’d had a hell of a lot of fun together. And when he’d gone away without saying a word about marrying her she hadn’t reproached him nor even shown what she felt …
He does acknowledge her, taking up where he’d left off and soon they’re on ten days vacation in a shack on a lake somewhere up the Northern Beaches. Towards the end she coughs blood, a bone in her throat maybe, but we know what’s coming and soon it’s clear Jan has TB.
I still find Cusack’s writing style awkward, but the story itself is good. Bart and Jan have their ups and downs. The public system for isolating men and women with TB is a disgrace, crowded ex-WWI army barracks with a 3 – 6 months waiting list, men sleeping on verandahs, working people dying from want of treatment. I can remember my father being terrified of us kids touching stuff in the street or eating with dirty hands and this is why. Maybe every generation has its Covid-19.
Dymphna Cusack, Say No to Death, Heinemann, London, 1951. 324pp
see also Sue (Whispering Gums): Dymphna Cusack, A Window in the Dark, memoir (here) Dymphna Cusack, Jungfrau (here) Delicious Descriptions: Dymphna Cusack’s Sydney (here)