Australian Women Writers Gen 1 Week

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AWW Gen 1 Week, 15-21 Jan. 2018, is an opportunity to discuss the first generation of Australian Women Writers. First though to be clear, I love and support the AWW Challenge, but this is NOT one of their events (though I think they’re happy for me to do it). I hope you will use the period between now and then to read/review works from this period, putting a link in the Comments below. Then on 15 Jan I will launch an AWW Gen 1 page  to serve as a resource into the future.

I guess the definitions of generations or schools in writing, or any artistic endeavour, are arbitrary, especially at the edges, but I define Gen 1 as those Australian writers who began writing prior to the 1890s and the Bulletin. The fiercely nationalist (and misogynist) Sydney Bulletin and its writers were pretty scathing about this first generation, based mainly in Melbourne, whom they dismissed as anglophile and in the case of the women, purveyors of romance.

But in fact, that first generation were as conscious as their successors of the need to define what it meant to be (a white) Australian – people of British descent but rapidly acquiring independence throughout the latter half of the C19th, and with Melbourne one of the richest cities in the world. The women writers were often fiercely feminist, suffragists and outspokenly anti-marriage (anti men’s domination of marriage), one of the reasons they provoked such outrageous attacks from the Bulletin.

My other generations are as follows. Feel free to argue!

Gen 2, the Bulletin crew, mostly men, but including Barbara Baynton.

Gen 3, in many ways the glory years of women’s writing in Australia, starting with Miles Franklin (who published from 1901 to 1956), KS Prichard, Christina Stead, Kylie Tennant, Eve Langley, Barnard and Eldershaw, Dymphna Cusack, Florence James, Elizabeth Harrower. Lots of social realism from the women, while the men mostly harked back to the Bulletin years (as some still do).

Gen 4, the baby boomers, the great wave of writing beginning in the sixties, more men than women, though we could name Helen Garner, Janette Turner Hospital, Thea Astley.

Gen 5 finally brings us a more cosmopolitan Australia, beginning with the Grunge movement in the 1990s – Justine Ettler of course and many others.

Gen 6, too early to say, I think, except that we are experiencing a wave of great Indigenous Lit which interestingly at least some of its practitioners say is separate from Oz Lit.

But to get back to Gen 1, to get us started I will over the next few weeks reread and put up a review of the seminal text on early Australian women’s writing, Dale Spender’s Writing a New World: Two Centuries of Australian Women Writers (1988).

The Australian Women Writers Challenge have put up an excellent site (here) where they are listing all books by women, available online, sorted by decade, up to the 1930s. And in an earlier post (here) I listed the main authors and those few books from this period which have been reprinted, mostly thanks to the efforts of Dale Spender –

Catherine Helen Spence (1825-1910)

Clara Morrison (1854) Seal Books, 1971
Mr Hogarth’s Will (1865), Penguin, 1988
A Week in the Future (1889), Hale & Ironmonger, 1988 (Review)

Louisa Atkinson (1834-1872)

Gertrude the Emigrant: A Tale of Colonial Life by an Australian Lady (1857), Canberra School of English & Australian Scholarly Editions Centre reprint, 1998

Ada Cambridge (1844-1926)

The Three Miss Kings (1883), Virago, Modern Classics #244 (Review)
A Marked Man, Some Episodes in his Life (1891), Pandora, 1987
Sisters (1904), Penguin, 1989

Tasma (Jessie Couvreur) (1848-1894)

Uncle Piper of Piper’s Hill (1889), Pandora, 1987
A Sydney Sovereign, short stories, Imprint, 1993 (Review)

Catherine Martin (1848-1937)

An Australian Girl (1894), Pandora, 1987 (Review)
The Incredible Journey (1923), Pandora, 1987

Rosa Praed (1851-1935)

The Bond of Wedlock (1887), Pandora, 1987 (Review)
Outlaw and Lawmaker (1893), Pandora, 1987
Lady Bridget in the Never-Never Land (1915), Pandora, 1987

Mary Gaunt (1861-1942)

Kirkham’s Find (1897), Penguin, 1988 (Review)

So, to steal a line from Lisa at ANZLL, bookmark this page, pop the date into your reading diary and drop back here with a link to your review when you’re ready!

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In memoriam to identity, Kathy Acker

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Years ago, one of my daughters thought she’d be a writer. In fact, like Miles Franklin, she’d been writing stories all through her school years and reading them to her friends – I still have one or two in my bottom drawer. So for her 18th or 19th birthday I gave her the hippest, most up to date writing I could think of, Kathy Acker’s Pussy King of the Pirates (1996). It horrified her, may even have put her off writing, ended up of course on my shelves and I have read and enjoyed it a couple of times since.

At her (my daughter’s) age I was up at Melbourne Uni and had been introduced to the Beats – Allen Ginsberg and other poets I no longer remember, though I still remember these lines from a Beat compilation, “Farewell for now the tadpole said/and wrapped his tadtail round his head”, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs. That was a pretty weird time culturally, and no I didn’t do drugs, not anyway until I was years into truck driving.

Of course I loved/love Kerouac’s On the Road but Burroughs was my favourite: The Naked Lunch, The Wild Boys, Nova Express, Exterminator!, The Ticket that Exploded. I have more! And The Naked Lunch movie starring Judy Davis (I don’t know who the guys are). The Beats were a movement that grew up around Columbia University in New York City in the late 1950s, by which time Burroughs was in his 40s, writing semi-autobiographical fiction about his drug addiction and homosexuality. In the radical abstraction of his writing, he is second only to James Joyce in all of (English language) Literature. JG Ballard, in his Introduction to Naked Lunch: The Restored Text (2005), calls Burroughs “the most important writer to emerge since the Second World War”.

Kathy Acker (194? – 1997) cites Burroughs as her greatest influence – and later in her life (coincidentally, they died in the same year) did some work with him, interviews and a documentary – and this is readily apparent in her writing. Australian author, Justine Ettler, whom I interviewed recently (here), in turn cites Acker as an important influence on her The River Ophelia (1995). [In memoriam to identity contains the line “the stupid girl whose clothes make a lot of noise caught in the weeds at the bottom of the river (Ophelia, that part of me gone, mourned for, transformed… )”]. Ettler has been categorized as ‘Grunge’, Acker as ‘Punk’, Burroughs as ‘Beat’, but it’s all one continuum.

In memoriam to identity is a reimagining of the destructive relationship of two French poets, R and V – Rimbaud and Verlaine – and then it isn’t. Then it’s the story of a young woman student, Airplane, in Connecticut who loses her virginity to a rapist, who becomes her pimp. Then it’s …

I have zero knowledge of French poetry so when the France of R and V is invaded by Germans I think Second World War. But in fact, we’re really talking 1871, Paris Commune, Franco Prussian war.


Jean Nicolas Arthur Rimbaud (1854 – 1891) was a French poet who is known for his influence on modern literature and arts, which prefigured surrealism. Born in Charleville-Mézières, he started writing at a very young age and was a prodigious student, but abandoned his formal education in his teenage years to run away from home. During his late adolescence and early adulthood he began the bulk of his literary output, but completely stopped writing at the age of 21, after assembling one of his major works, Illuminations.

Paul-Marie Verlaine (1844 – 1896) was a French poet associated with the Decadent movement. He married 16 year old Mathilde in 1870 and was employed in the civil service. Wikipedia (herehere)


R comes up to Paris from his home town Charleville when the Germans invade and destroy Mézières (on the other side of the River Meuse), escaping on a Moto-Guzzi motorcycle – I didn’t say it makes sense – meets V, goes home with him to meet Mathilde’s aristocratic parents, gets thrown out.

Several days after V had thrown him out, V found R in a pile of dog shit. R was picking his nose without seemingly being disgusted. R spat at V and told V V was too disgusting, bourgeois, married for R to touch him.

V is torn between his love for R and his responsibilities as a husband, father and civil servant.

R and V again met, traveled to London, again split. This time because they were accused by close friends of being homosexual. They reunited in Brussels where V shot R in the wrist…

The judges of the Sixth Court of Summary Jurisdiction sentenced V to jail for two years.

We switch to Airplane. Airplane is at college, goes to a party out of town, the boy who takes her gets hopelessly drunk, Airplane wanders off, ends up in a farmhouse with some men, is raped.

After he had raped her, the tall thin man carried the girl out of the barn, into some sort of car, that moved by an engine, and she didn’t fight him. She even seemed to cling to him.

She was clinging to him because she had decided to survive. Somewhere in her sexuality was her strength. Later on, everyone would hate her for this…

“The next thing I thought to myself is that I could no longer live without the rapist.”

Throughout, the writing switches constantly between first and third person. First person is enclosed in quotes, but you have to look back to see the transition.

The rapist delivers her to a sex club, Fun City, where she works as a stripper, living with and handing over all her pay to her rapist/pimp. R now stands for ‘rapist’. In the club she performs in a ‘play’ where she begs Santa for sex. Santa is a doctor who manipulates her. They simulate sex. She says to herself that she enjoys it. Orgasms. “Obviously the fake fucking was getting good. At least for her. You can never tell what the other feels.”

At home she finds that she is free, “the rapist was at his job (he was now an editor in a book firm)”, but it’s months before she leaves him.

Lots of swearing: Capitol fucks all the boys in town, including her brother, maybe especially her brother, she fucks them because she hates them, or hates them, or loves them, because she fucks them. Her father drinks. Her mother suicides by pills.

Rimbaud, who may be her brother, argues with her father. Rimbaud gave up poetry and became a businessman. This made Acker angry (or so I read).  She writes Rimbaud, Capitol’s brother, as controlling, wanting to prostitute her.

If I had been another person, I would have mashed his face into red. Like some girls want to become ballerinas or have babies, I hoped that one day I’d have the ability to be totally independent and then I’d never again have to be nice to anyone or see anyone. Not someone who’s a creep.

Airplane takes a married man back to her New York apartment. The sex is rough. For the first time she sleeps with a man, takes him as a lover. William Faulkner whom I’ve never read makes an appearance [Suglia, below has an explanation]. Capitol is in New York too. Hooks up with a guy.

Both of them began making money out of their work. Not enough to pay, much less afford, the gigantic electric and gas bills of the city … But enough for real necessities: restaurants movies a thrift store clothing item and books.

So, the sex morphs into relationships and back into sex again. The back cover blurb says “a startling montage of history and literature, pornography and poetry.” I guess that’s what I think too.

 

Kathy Acker, In memoriam to identity, Pandora, London, 1990 (my edition – not the one pictured – Flamingo, 1993)

In researching this post – I didn’t want to be completely wrong in the connections I saw! – I came across this much more erudite review (here) by Dr Joseph Suglia.

Australian Women Writers Bingo 2017

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I meant all along to enter this years’s AWW Bingo and didn’t realise I’d missed it until I saw the winner announced a few days ago (here). As usual there were two bingo cards, and as it happens, no one completed the second, the Classics Challenge, so I thought I would go back through my reviews for the past year and see how I would have done.

19th Century. I read/reviewed three (Australian) works first published in the C19th:

Ada Cambridge, The Three Miss Kings, 1883 (review)

Tasma, A Sydney Sovereign, 1890 (review)

Catherine Helen Spence, A Week in the Future, 1888-9 (review)

Early 20th Century. Here, I’m afraid, I have to cheat.

Miles Franklin, Cockatoos, first written as On the Outside Track in 1903 but not published until 1954 after being re-written to fit into the Brent of Bin Bin series (review)

If they ask the same question next year I will make sure I can answer:

Barbara Baynton, Human Toll, 1907 which has sat in my TBR for years.

And if it comes to that, I have read and should put up reviews of MF’s first two published novels, My Brilliant Career (1901) and Some Everyday Folk and Dawn (1909).

1920s and 1930s. The work I have done this past year to review all of ‘Brent of Bin Bin’and to contribute to Lisa at ANZLL’s Christina Stead page pays off here.

Miles Franklin, Ten Creeks Run, 1930 (review)

Miles Franklin, Back to Bool Bool, 1931 (review)

Miles Franklin, Old Blastus of Bandicoot, 1931 (review)

Christina Stead, The Salzburg Tales, 1934 (review)

Henry Handel Richardson, The Young Cosima, 1939 (review)

1940s and 1950s. More Franklin/Brent of Bin Bin and more Stead, but also …

Kylie Tennant, The Honey Flow, 1956 (review)

Charmian Clift, Travels in Greece, first pub. 1958-9 (review)

Miles Franklin, Gentlemen at Gyang Gyang, 1956 (review)

Miles Franklin, Prelude to Waking, 1950 (review)

Christina Stead, Letty Fox Her Luck, 1946 (review)

1960s and 1970s. Stead keeps writing.

Christina Stead, Cotters’ England, 1966 (review)

Christina Stead, Miss Herbert (A Suburban Wife), 1976 (review)

Thea Astley, A Kindness Cup, 1974 (review)

A Contemporary Classic. I reviewed a few from the 1980s on, but I think these three, and particularly the last, deserve to be ‘classics’

Elizabeth Jolley, The Newspaper of Claremont Street, 1981 (review)

Helen Garner, The Spare Room, 2008 (review)

Alexis Wright, The Swan Book, 2013 (review)

Non-Fiction. You’ll see a ring-in amongst these, about an AWW rather than by, which led to a guest post/Monday Musings on Whispering Gums (here)

Bertha Lawson, My Henry Lawson (memoir), 1943 (review)

Miles Franklin, Laughter, Not for a Cage (collected essays), 1954 (review)

Brian Matthews, Louisa (biography), 1987 (review)

Chris Williams, Christina Stead: A Life of Letters (biography), 1989 (review)

Larrissa Behrendt, Finding Eliza (historiography), 2016 (review)

Sarah Goldman, Caroline Chisholm, 2017 (review)

Not yet Reviewed for AWW. I think that was true of all the old books I put up, except maybe A Sydney Sovereign. I’ll choose the least well-known.

Catherine Helen Spence, A Week in the Future, 1888-9 (review)

Free Square. Maybe not a ‘classic’, but certainly a favourite. I’m going to choose, drum roll ….

Jane Rawson, From the Wreck, 2017 (review)

I think in a hundred years time Wright’s The Swan Book will be the stand-out of all these, and maybe Astley’s A Kindness Cup, though I hope Stead is still rated highly (and Jolley, of course, but maybe not for Newspaper).

So, I wonder, what are the ‘classics’ of Australian women’s lit.? This is probably a subject for another post, but how about these five for starters:

Eleanor Dark, The Timeless Land, 1941

Christina Stead, The Man Who Loved Children, 1940

Elizabeth Jolley, The Well, 1986

Justine Ettler, The River Ophelia, 1995

Alexis Wright, Carpentaria, 2006

Arbitrarily stopping at five means I have unhappily left out two novels I have reviewed in the past 12 months Janette Turner Hospital’s Orpheus Lost (2007) and Astley’s A Kindness Cup and also Clara Morrison (1854) by Catherine Helen Spence which Miles Franklin in Laughter not for a Cage suggests is the best novel of the C19th (by an Australian woman).

Also left out are Franklin’s own My Brilliant Career (1901), Seven Little Australians (1894) by Ethel Turner and Snugglepot and Cuddlepie (1918) by May Gibbs which are all certainly classics, but not, I think, literary. What do you think?

 

Mr Jelly’s Business, Arthur Upfield

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Born in England, Arthur Upfield (1890-1964) moved to Australia in 1911, enlisting with the first AIF in 1914. Demobbed in London in 1919, he returned to Australia in 1921,  travelling and working extensively throughout the bush. According to the ADB, he began writing in the late 1920s. His first novel, The Barrakee Mystery (1929), originally had a white protagonist, but influenced by an Indigenous friend, Leon Wood, it was rewritten and became the first of 29 ‘Napoleon Bonaparte’ detective novels. Bony is mixed race identifying as Aboriginal, as is his wife, university educated, and a Detective Inspector in the Queensland police force – although his long-suffering chief often has to lend him out to other forces around Australia.

Mr Jelly’s Business (1937), which appears to be number four in the series, is set at Burracoppin in Western Australia, a hamlet of half a dozen houses and rail siding/wheat storage facility between Merredin and Southern Cross, on the main east-west rail line, highway, and water pipe-line. Also the location, near enough, as I commented in my review, of Stephen Daisley’s (much less convincing) Coming Rain.

Bolinda Books commence all their Bony mysteries with a warning that the language used (about Aboriginals) reflects common usage at the time. Upfield has an obviously loving attitude towards his protagonist and means only to point out the strengths of Indigenous culture. But still. They are very enjoyable novels to listen to, but I sometimes wonder what or how much acceptance of casual racism that implies.

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Upfield’s map of Burracoppin

Upfield worked around Burracoppin, clearing bush (probably along the rabbit-proof fence which runs north-south on the right hand side of the map), and except that the rail line was relocated to the north of the town and a modern silo built when the line was converted from narrow to standard gauge, very little has changed since he was there more than eighty years ago.

The ostensible mystery is that a farmer, George Loftus, well under the weather, left Leonard Wallace’s hotel at 1 am, forgot to turn off towards the Old York Rd at the end of town and instead continued along the track to the rabbit-proof fence. Attempting to turn around, he backed his car into the ditch along which ran the Goldfields water pipeline, abandoned it and was never seen again.

There is a second mystery, which only gradually becomes apparent, and that is where does farmer and widower, Mr Jelly go when he disappears for days at a time, even during the harvest, without telling his daughters.

Bony embeds himself in the town as a worker for the State Rabbit Department, living in the working men’s quarters and eating at Mrs Poole’s boarding house.

Mrs Poole was about forty years old, tall and still handsome … Into her brown eyes flashed suspicion at sight of the half-caste, at which he was amused, as he always was when the almost universal distrust of his colour was raised in the minds of white women.

The country, through which I drive nearly every day while I’m on the Kalgoorlie run, is lovingly and knowledgeably described.

They had reached the summit of the long slope. Before them lay a great semicircle of low, flat country chequered by wheat and fallow paddocks: to the east and south-east reaching to the foot of a sand rise similar to that on which they stood; to the south far beyond the horizon; to the south-west extending to a sand rise which drew closer the farther north it came… The [Loftus] house lay not quite half a mile from the road at the foot of a long outcrop of granite with oaktrees [sheoaks] growing in the crevices.

A little like Maigret (my other favourite), Bony works his way into a case by absorbing all the details, though of course Bony is the better tracker, and allowing intuition to build. Over the days he works on the fence, felling timber, splitting posts, drinks (sparingly) at the pub, goes to the local dance, gets to meet all the locals.

I don’t know what I enjoy more, the gentle progress of Bony’s detectings, or the descriptions of a way of life not so long gone that I don’t have my own memories of harvesting and carting bagged wheat, of an Australia, particularly in the bush, before widespread mechanisation. You can take it as read that Bony makes friends with Mrs Poole, the Wallaces, the Jelly girls, his workmates. That he uses his tremendous powers of observation and deduction to come up with solutions to both the mysteries and to a third – who milks Mrs Poole’s cow in the early mornings? My interest today is the implied racism.

To Bony, used to the solitudes of the eastern side of the great heart of Australia, the bustle and noise [of the harvest] seemed to push him spiritually farther away from his aboriginal ancestry than at times had the roar and bitter grimness of the cities. Here was the white man’s life in all its naked virility, all its indomitable courage, its inventive genius. From the spot on which he was standing he could see mile beyond mile of land, which had been abandoned in its desolation by the hardy nomadic aborigines and now was one huge chequered garden. This morning Bony was proud that he was half white and wistfully longed to escape the environment of the mid-race for the upper plane of the white.

What is left unsaid? First of course that the Queensland and West Australian police forces were and are hotbeds of institutionalised racism, in which Bony could not possibly have survived. That in the Depression when all workers (in this town) other than returned servicemen had been sacked, there would have been active hostility to an Aboriginal man employed ‘out of turn’. That the Noongar people didn’t abandon their land, they were forced off it. That it was illegal to serve alcohol to Bony unless he produced his citizenship papers. That most white women wouldn’t have danced with Bony however well he spoke.

Michelle/Adventures in Biography and Sue/Whispering Gums, with posts on respectively Maxine Beneba’s The Hate Race (here) and the Boundless ‘multicultural’ festival (here) earlier this week, have also been discussing who should speak for Indigenous people and perhaps, how should white authors speak about Indigenous people. Whether Upfield was right or wrong to write in the way he did all those years ago I’m not sure. Certainly his heart was in the right place, as they say. I think he is still worth reading, but critically. I don’t read anything unquestioningly any more, but questioning is doubly important in this fraught area of race relations.

 

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Sunrise, Burracoppin, 2 Nov. 17 (looking south from highway over former railway easement and Goldfields pipeline to hotel)

Arthur W. Upfield, Mr Jelly’s Business, first published 1937. Audio version, Bolinda, 2012, read by Peter Hosking. My library’s paper copy was published in 2013 by Read How You Want which I think must be print-on-demand.

Drawing Sybylla,Odette Kelada

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Odette Kelada is a lecturer in creative writing, with a PhD in literature researching the lives of Australian women writers. Drawing Sybylla, winner of the 2016 Dorothy Hewett Award for an unpublished manuscript, quite obviously draws on Kelada’s background teaching post-modern writing and on her researches.

‘Sybylla’ of course references the heroines of Miles Franklin’s My Brilliant Career and My Career Goes Bung, two young women with the same name, one the author of a mock autobiography of the other, each mistaken for the other and for Miles; but Sybylla is also from the “Greek Σιβυλλα (Sibylla), meaning prophetess, sibyl. In Greek and Roman legend the sibyls were ten female prophets who practiced at different holy sites in the ancient world.”

Sibyl Jones stands on stage reading from Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper (1892) a short story in which the writer, forced to remain in her bedroom, descends into psychosis and imagines herself and other women to be trapped inside the patterns of the wallpaper. The I of Drawing Sybylla is seated on the stage behind Sibyl Jones, drawing:

I pick up my pen and dribble ink onto the page. Flowers grow either side of the red margin. Monstrous petals with goblin faces leer from the middle of them.

From her random scribblings and leaking pen Sybil’s face emerges – “Now the figure I have drawn peers out from the ropes of vines” – names herself Sybylla, takes us on a journey through time. “I have landed in a red country, red dirt, the land of girt by sea, a great island between Asia and the Arctic (sic). Gold rays of a hot sun burns the eyes.”

Lucy, 1901. We become a young woman with a strict mother, brighter than her brothers but not permitted to share their tutor, scribbling at night on scraps of paper, contemptuous of women romance writers, “I’m going to write about my own country for a start … I’m going to write about the bush like Lawson and Joseph Furphy.”

[Lucy is a Miles Franklin figure, although younger, and this is, deliberately of course, set in the year of the publication of My Brilliant Career, but Kelada is wrong to go along with the characterisation of C19th Australian women writers as ‘Anglo-Australians’ and writers of mere romance.]

Sybylla leads us on:

‘Did you like Lucy? In walking through the gaps between the words of The Yellow Wallpaper, we have crept behind the pattern. Lucy is only the first of the women we must meet who have been lost inside it.’

Vera 1929. A young woman, a poet in Sydney Bohemia, in a cafe on the night of the Artists’ Ball shows Jack a poem she has written. Jack asks, “Are you going to be topless, Vera?”.

[I don’t recognise ‘Vera’, apparently the daughter of poet and alcoholic Christopher Brennan. I have read that women could only enter the Sydney art scene at this time by offering their bodies to the men. Jack “down from Brisbane” is probably Jack Lindsay (son of Norman).]

Layers upon layers. Sybil on stage reading The Yellow Wallpaper. Sybylla her ‘shadow’ leading us behind the wallpaper. We travel with her through land and sea. Peer into the water for the stories of women writers.

Stella 1932. A history teacher in her mid thirties is given cause to reflect on Captain Cook’s reception when he raised the Union Jack at Botany Bay. She asks the school’s indigenous charwoman who of course does not know. At home she must care for her aged parents, Father home from the Great War, only able to write late at night, and getting letters from ‘Nettie’.

[‘Stella’ refers to Miles Franklin, but also to Marjorie Barnard who I think also had the care of her parents. To confuse us, Kelada brings in Flora [Eldershaw] as a sister. Dates are all over the place, so: Miles was 53 in 1932 (Barnard was 35) and ‘Father’ would have to have been over 40 in 1914. And so on. Jack Lindsay, above, was in London in 1929. But the author is having fun with these constructs, while making her case about the difficulties facing women writers.]

We move on. “We are passing through a dark time. The Depression is over but the war has started. Nothing can touch us here. It is beyond the horizon.”

Eve 1954. A caricature of (American) middle class life, dinner parties and martinis, incongruous in Australia. A wife and mother whose ‘scribblings’ interfere with her wifely duties, whose husband controls her drinking, but still she is led astray by ‘Judith’, her muse.

[I have no idea who this might be, though I think Kelada has seen too much American TV. Australian middle class life in the 1950s was much poorer, even for doctors’ wives].

Sybylla pushes a little girl on a swing, high into the sky. When we see her again she is …

Susanne 1979. Susanne is a good Catholic girl who goes up to uni with a bursary to study teaching, moves to Arts, falls into the women’s movement, has unhappy experiences with men, takes a woman lover, goes down to Melbourne to stage a play at La Mama.

[Susanne is everywoman. All the men she meets are 1950s stereotypes. I know when I started this blog I wrote I am not a feminist, but that’s only because I believe socialism means equality for everyone. After the 60s guys were trying as hard as their girlfriends to do sex right. Any woman who thought she should “lie back and think of England” wasn’t being fair to herself or to her partner.]

The journey has been hazardous to say the least. I hope they are out, those women – Lucy, Vera, Stella, Ruby, Eve … Susie. I hope they feel the fresh air on their skin and breathe in their freedom.

I have a theory about lecturers in Creative Writing who write novels, and that is that they try too hard to be  post modern, stories within stories predictably leaking into each other. But Kelada has a lighter touch, is playful as well as purposeful.  And if at times I felt I was the dart board in a game of darts, still it was a book I enjoyed reading (and decoding).

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Odette Kelada, Drawing Sybylla, UWAP, Perth, 2017

See also: Theresa Smith, whose review (here) led me to this book, and her interview with the author (here) which as you will see in the comments, I had overlooked.

Laughter, not for a cage, Miles Franklin

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Truly there are no nightingales to enchant the night, but the mellow carillon of the magpies enlarges the spacious sunlit days and the mocking laughter of the kookaburras is not for a cage. Miles Franklin, 1956.

In 1950 Miles Franklin, approaching her 72nd birthday and not in good health, travelled across Australia – by plane from Sydney to Adelaide and train across the Nularbor – to give a series of lectures at UWA, Perth, which were subsequently expanded into the book Laughter, not for a cage: Notes on Australian writing, with biographical emphasis on the struggles, function and achievements of the novel in three half-centuries, and which came out in 1956.

In the background was the introduction by the Menzies Liberal government in April of that year of a bill to outlaw the Communist Party of Australia. Miles wrote to Katharine Susannah Prichard that “People seemed unaware of the danger of ceding freedom of association and expression to a conservative government. No doubt it would take the restriction of beer, tobacco or cheap women to arouse them.” Miles was not a member of the CPA, though Prichard was, but was generally of the left.

Miles arrived in Perth on 1 July, breakfasted with Henrietta Drake-Brockman and was taken to the Highway Hotel, Claremont (which would be near UWA but it’s not a hotel I know) where she had a room “next to the bathroom”. “The following day, Sunday 2 July, Henrietta and her mother, the pioneer feminist Dr Roberta Jull, took Miles to see a frail-looking Katharine Susannah at [her home in the outer suburb] Greenmount.” KSP, four years Miles junior, had had a heart attack, though as it happens she carried on for another couple of decades.

Miles gave four lectures over two weeks before her voice gave out and she went to stay with Sylvia Pallot, the daughter of Joseph Furphy (1843-1912). After a week she gave the remainder of the eight lectures she had planned, the last on 2 August (all of the above is from Roe, 2008).

D.S. in the West Australian of 5 Aug 1950 (here) wrote:

MILES FRANKLIN, probably the most controversial figure in the Australian literary field today, has been in Perth lecturing to members of the public and university students … She is a controversial figure because she has written and published in Australia one of its most brilliant novels, “All That Swagger”; one of its cleverest satires (with D. Cusack) “Pioneers on Parade”; two enchanting autobiographical books, “My Brilliant Career” and “My Career Goes Bung,” and a slender pioneering novel, “Old Blastus of Bandicoot.” Yet between each of these books are years of silence, a silence which is not consistent with her genius for story-telling, her ready and edgy wit, her passionate enthusiasm and support for giving tongue to the Australian story. Her long silences are only accounted for by crediting her with being Brent of Bin Bin …

Her lectures at the University were probably some of the most brilliant delivered there and this brilliance lay not so much in the subject as in the manner of Miles Franklin’s delivery and of the subtle exercise of her own judgment. Her wit kept the audience in a constant simmer… Challenging from the start those who say there is no such thing as Australian literature and that there are no Australian writers, she began her lectures with: “I stand before you, an illiterate, to lecture to you on a subject that doesn’t exist.”

I’m not sure what the (8) lecture titles were but her chapter headings are:

1. Invasion of Aboriginal Australia. The convict brand.

2. The forerunners: Henry Savery, Major William Christie, Charles Rowcroft, Mrs Francis Vidal, Alexander Harris, W.C. Wentworth.

3. First Novel by a Native-born: Gertrude the Emigrant. First four novels of adequate tonnage.

4. The Anglo-Australians: Mrs [Rosa] Campbell Praed, Ada Cambridge, Tasma, Catherine Edith Martin; also Simpson Newland, Fergus Hume, and Nat Gould.

5. The Nineties and the Bulletin. Vigorous self-assertion in politics and writings. Short stories and ballads run ahead of the novel. Minor novels. Steele Rudd.

6. The new century. The established trend. My Brilliant Career. Such is Life. Human Toll. Jonah. Mr Moffat. Norman Lindsay. Other novels.

7. Relapse into old ruts. Anzac – the Australian’s Baptism of Blood – writings by Anzacs. The Australian novel goes into recess. The interim with The Fortunes of Richard Mahoney,The Escape of the Notorious Sir William Heans. A Miscellany: Paul Wenz writing in French, DH Lawrence, Havelock Ellis.

8. Reappearance of the Australian Novel in force. The Bulletin’s first literary competition. Flesh in Armour and Her Privates We, Seven Poor Men of Sydney. Work in progress by Brent of Bin Bin, Brian Penton, John K Ewers, Jean Devanny and Others. Some expatriates – The Montforts and Lucinda Brayford, Pageant.

9. Aborigines as a theme: Desert Saga, Coonardoo, Capricornia, The Timeless Land, Others.

10. Novels by younger writers. Avoidance of the present tense. Kylie Tennant, Margaret Trist, H. Drake-Brockman.

11. Where does the Australian Novel stand today? Not yet regional. Criticism. Old Australia: New Australians. Whither now? Swan song or advance the Commonwealth?

Well! There are a lot of names of books and authors there which I haven’t heard before, or about which I know nothing. I will have to follow these up. Where I have already written I have put links. Franklin’s ‘first four novels of adequate tonnage’ are: Geoffry Hamlyn, Henry Kingsley; For the Term of His Natural Life, Marcus Clarke; Robbery Under Arms, Rolf Boldrewood; and Clara Morrison, Catherine Helen Spence.

Despite that promising title for Chapter 1 she writes very little about ‘Aboriginal Australia’, regretting only the squandered opportunity to record languages and stories, particularly in the “area around Port Jackson, where the tribes, being the first to meet the Europeans, were the first to become extinct.” Later, in Chapter 9 she writes more fully while discussing those novels with Aboriginal protagonists. Desert Saga (1933) by William Hatfield is one of those which I haven’t previously heard of. It is the story of a tribe of ‘Arunta’ in the NT, who are displaced by fossickers, the Overland Telegraph and cattle herders but who finally make a place for themselves under the leadership of Grungunja and an anthropologist who knows their language.

Desert Saga came early in a rising flood of books which contradict an embedded theory that the first Australians were among the most backward of primitives … Today it is conceded that the aborigines had high codes of artistic sensibility and skill.

Other novels discussed in this chapter include The Timeless Land (1941) and Storm of Time (1948) by Eleanor Dark, ‘one of our most brilliant writers’, which stand apart ‘in the attempt to capture what might have been the emotions of the aborigines when the first sail flecked the Pacific.’; Katharine Sussanah Prichard’s The Roaring Nineties (1946): ‘Only a poet could have concentrated so much of their distress under invasion as this writer does in the first chapter’, and Coonardo (1929); and Xavier Herbert’s Capricornia (1938) of which Franklin writes:

On walkabout with [Herbert] the reader can be lost in gilgais, lagoons, anabranches, billabongs and estuaries, each equally lush, and all leading back to the main river or theme, which is the arraignment of the author’s own race or nation for their relations with the aborigines.

Overall, what is her conclusion? We are a new, little nation without the population or the traditions yet to produce truly great writing: “Being so few in a wide clean land we have not had time to develop those fetid jungles and ancient sinks of poverty and vice which writers in other lands have grown notable by exposing.”

Joseph Furphy’s Such is Life (1903) she discusses in terms of its Australianness but not what I regard as the revolutionary nature of its discursiveness, so that is something I will have to return to later.

Of Christina Stead she writes, “[Brian] Penton and Miss Stead brought here some belated latest cries in regurgitations of psychoanalysis and James Joyce, since widely diffused in fiction… Christina Stead has since been lost to Australian novels… Abroad she has written fiction as impressive as any of the top shelf… Will she, one day, like Henry Handel Richardson return to her birth soil to reach full stature?”.

Patrick White, who by 1950 had written Happy Valley, The Living and the Dead and The Aunt’s Story, she mentions not at all.

 

Miles Franklin, Laughter, Not for a Cage, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1956
Jill Roe, Stella Miles Franklin, Fourth Estate, Sydney, 2008
For other Miles Franklin posts and reviews go to Miles Franklin Central (here)

Miss Herbert, Christina Stead

 

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Miss Herbert (The Suburban Wife) (1976) was the twelfth of Christina Stead’s 13 novels – if you count her first, The Salzburg Tales as a novel, which I do, or 14,15,16,17 depending how you count The Puzzleheaded Girl: Four Novellas (1965), but anyway it was the second-last published; and the second set mostly in Britain. Cotter’s England was the first (not the ‘only’ as it says in Wikipedia, today at least) and For Love Alone, probably the most biographical of her works, ends up there as well. In fact, Miss Herbert in a way continues on from For Love Alone in that it uses the everyday details of Stead’s struggles to support herself in London before and after WWII, on the fringes of the publishing industry.

Christina Stead (1902-1983) was born in Sydney, moved to London, where she met her life-long partner Bill Blake in 1928. They lived for a while in Paris, spent the war years in the USA, sailed back to Europe in 1946, initially to Belgium. In 1948 Stead was in England working on Cotters’ England and some time after, but certainly by 1952, began work on Miss Herbert, which remained unpublished – I don’t know why – until 1976.

Miss Herbert is an odd book, or at least a book about an odd woman as she makes her way through her adult life. In some ways it is as though Stead set out to write an English Lettie Fox  (1946). Lettie Fox is a young American woman who knows what she wants – sex and marriage – and sets out to get it. ‘Miss Herbert’ wants to get married, to become a suburban wife, but has no real self-awareness and falls into sex almost by accident. The writing does not have the virtuoso quality of Lettie Fox or even of Cotters’ England but that is not to say it is not well written, but rather that it reflects very well the unreflective and maybe even stolid mental processes of its protagonist.

I should say the ‘Miss Herbert’ of the title begins life as Miss Eleanor Brent. Herbert is the name of an old county family from whom her mother is descended. Eleanor feels herself to be a Herbert and later in the novel when she is in need of a name this is the one she adopts. The novel starts with a reunion of school friends, old girls of Miss Appleyard’s academy. Some of the girls have gone on to university or commenced careers but Eleanor, living on a small allowance from her father

… was different. A nobly built beauty, playingfields champion, excellent student, loved at home, admired at school and by men, she had been happy and confident always. Her future was planned too; she was “an engaged girl.” But with all this, she was unsettled; she was only quite happy with women friends.

Her fiance, Robert, a doctor, is in a hospital ‘up north’ making his way through residency and so on. Eleanor takes a world cruise, becomes engaged to one or two other men while she’s away, and on her return lives with a young colonial businessman for a month in his London flat.

But she felt too active and intelligent for the idle mistress life and began taking correspondence lessons in writing with a Mr Beresford Banes who ran a Fleet Street literary agency.

She resumes her engagement with Robert and telling him that she is on a walking tour, gets menial work in a country hotel where she makes out with all the men, before returning to London, to a student hostel, getting by on odd writing jobs. And all the time talking about sex and free love with her girl friends, having men back to her room, holding herself out as inexperienced. Later, I had to re-read these early pages because when Eleanor, at age 30 or so, does finally fall into the suburban marriage she had dreamed of, she blanks out any recall of these encounters or holds them out to herself as innocent.

Eleanor is fascinated by the relationships of her friends, particularly those in de facto marriages or with long-term sexual partners, questioning them without regard to their embarrassment, maybe reflecting on her own status, as it was around this time, after many years living together that Stead and Blake were finally able to marry. Eventually she breaks with Robert for the last time and becomes engaged to Heinz, a Swiss who is an organiser for her mother’s church or religious society (I never did work out exactly what it was). She admits to him that she has had one or two lovers and he wants to know what they did, she must do for him what she had done for them. When he admits to lovers of his own “she ran wild with men, resentful and jealous: a fury burned in her; for a moment she wanted to go to the devil, roister, never marry – her heart burned. She would never marry the wretch.” But she does.

And settles down, has children, a girl and a boy, works hard in the house her in laws had bought, lodgers in the upper floors for a little extra income. Over time Henry – he insists on Henry rather than the foreign ‘Heinz’, dreams of a distant knighthood – works more and more away from home until at last he tricks her into going to live on her brother’s farm and claims to have been deserted. She never thinks of herself as not married, even when Henry begins to suggest divorce, but looks again to writing and to supporting herself and her children as a reader for publishers.

Life drifts on. She moves back to London. Me are still interested in her but she seems to have got out of the habit. Late in the piece she thinks she has fallen in love with her daughter’s boyfriend:

In the night, awake, she rose and fell, like a floating swimmer, on easygoing great waves of voluptuous joy, while thinking, Not for me, no,no, it’s all nonsense; it’s all past, not for me, no longer; how can it come now when it never came? It’s an illusion.

But it passes, she’s fifty after all, “Soon I will have my pension and then I am going to write the story of my life; then I will really get down to it; and it will open some eyes.”

 

Christina Stead, Miss Herbert (The Suburban Wife), Random House, New York, 1976. Virago Modern Classics No. 97 (pictured above), 1979

see also:
Lisa at ANZLL’s Christina Stead page (here) for a full overview of Stead and her work, including links to reviews by Lisa, me and others.
Chris Williams, Christina Stead: A Life of Letters,1989 (Biography – here)


The British did it hard in the decade after World War II, with shortages of many basics and ongoing rationing. Sue at Whispering Gums a week or so ago discussed Australians sending food parcels ‘back home’ (here), and I noticed this in Williams while looking up background material for this review:

Christina’s family back in Australia helped her in those ration-stricken times in England. Her cousin Gwen and her sister Kate sent parcels of tinned meat, woollens, dripping and other essentials to her and her friend, Anne Dooley [the model for Nellie in Cotters’ England]. Christina wrote to Gwen in June 1949 that “… for those who need it most, the hard constant workers, the food is grievously, wickedly insufficient. Meat, that strength-builder, is in terrible shortage.”