A Marked Man, Ada Cambridge

Australian Women Writers Gen 1 Week 15-21 Jan. 2018

The author of this guest post is Narelle Ontivero who caught my attention last year with her essay “As Nature Bade Her”: Sensuality in Tasma’s Bush Stories (here). Narelle is a doctoral candidate at Western Sydney University in the Writing and Society Research Centre. Her current research explores the relationship between space, gender and identity in the works of Tasma, Rosa Praed and Ada Cambridge. Narelle, thanks for taking part.


Across Both Worlds: Ada Cambridge’s A Marked Man (1890)

Cambridge Marked Man

When published in volume form by William Heinemann in 1890, A Marked Man garnered its author, Ada Cambridge, considerable attention. Contemporary reviewers praised the literary style of the novel as “remarkable”, “easy and vigorous” with a perfect blend of “[h]umour and pathos” (The Speaker: The Liberal Review, 20 September 1890: 335). The protagonist, Richard Delavel, is described as “a great and original creation […] one of the most striking and touching figures in contemporary fiction” (Westminster Review, February 1891: 218). And the Manchester Guardian assured its readers in its review that “[w]ith such power and finish Miss Cambridge ought to command popularity of the best kind for anything she will bestow on us in the future” (Manchester Guardian, 23 September 1890: 6). More than one hundred years later, there is still much to celebrate in Cambridge’s successful novel.

A Marked Man is cleverly presented in two parts: The first part is set in Dunstanborough “the ideal English village” lorded over by the aristocratic Delavel family (2). The youngest son of this family, Richard, is a rebellious Oxford seminary ‘drop out’ who impulsively pursues and marries Annie Morrison, “the village maid of romance—the ideal farmer’s daughter” (31). The perfection of this village is often pointed out. Even the “beach at Dunstanborough was spacious and level and firm—everything that a beach should be” (21). Alongside Richard’s romantic pursuit of Annie, Cambridge intelligently draws out many of the class structures and traditions which unfairly governed the lives of nineteenth-century British people.  The reader is warned, for example, that in Dunstanborough “[t]he lower classes knew their place and kept it, dropping the loyal curtsey to their lord and lady and the young sirs and misses, not only in the street but in the church” (2).  But on a more intimate scale, to prove his worth as a true gentleman, and not some common farmer, Richard hastily agrees to marry Annie and is disinherited when the elopement is revealed. As fate would have it, before a fortnight of marriage is through, Richard realises that he and Annie are entirely unsympathetic as a couple, but that they are legally bound to each other in unhappy marriage.

The second half of A Marked Man takes place twenty-five years later in the burgeoning city of Sydney, Australia. Now a self-made businessman, Richard’s sole comfort in his loveless marriage is his daughter, Susan. Together they read Matthew Arnold, question religious precepts, enjoy boating and time at their secluded camp on Middle Head; while driving the ostentatious and principled Annie wild. Notwithstanding the apparent stalemate in the Delavel marriage, the romantic quests continue in the second half. Noel Routledge, an ex-minister without pedigree pursues Susan; and Richard pines after Constance Bethune, his helpmate in his first years in Sydney and “the woman whom nature had intended to be his mate, but whom circumstances had denied to him” who suddenly returns to Sydney a widow (220). It is only once Annie drowns in a boating accident on Sydney Harbour that Richard and Susan are free to marry their respective partners for love.

The novel’s overarching exploration of love, marriage, tradition and modernity is made possible first by the transference to Australia; and, second, by the weight of Annie’s staunch traditionalism. In A Marked Man Australia is a testing-ground in which marital and religious traditions can be challenged and where people like Annie—who doubted “the use of being Mrs Delavel in a wild country where the name had no significance”—become stumbling blocks to the liberal spirit forging the new nation (130). We are told that,

In middle age [Annie] was—what she had been from her youth—the evenest-tempered woman that ever a well-meaning husband found it difficult to get on with […] She had conformed to the customs of a country wherein birth was disestablished like its ancient friend the church, and had no dependent ‘lower orders’ to take off the loyal hat and drop the humble curtsey to it as in the good old times […] Those customs, and all the fundamental changes in social state that they implied, had never ceased to be repugnant to what she called her instincts  […] People and things might change with changing times and circumstances, but [Annie] never changed” (145).

So while Annie’s death is a hefty price to pay to secure the happiness of the remaining Delavels, it is symbolically important for Annie with her ‘Old-World’ values to disappear in A Marked Man.

Of course, it is also through Annie and Richard that A Marked Man questions the British laws that bound men and women to unhappy marriages. As is likely well-known by the readers of this blog, the ‘Marriage Question’ was generating a substantial amount of controversy in the 1890s when the novel was published. And it was certainly an issue addressed by the Gen. 1 writers of this blog series—authors like Rosa Praed, Tasma, Catherine Martin, Catherine Helen Spence and Ada Cambridge, to name only a few.  Marriage as a source of women’s forced economic dependence and sexual labour were two central issues raised and protested by these admirable and talented women writers through their fiction.

In the Australian colonies, the view of marriage was particularly dim. For first wave feminists, it seemed ineffectual to enforce strict marriage laws in Australia where the unattached, roving, drinking and licentious bush man was idealised with fervour. A country where male domestic violence was a common occurrence, and

It was [still] quite common for men to bash up their wives and the strange thing was, if you were to kick a dog, another man would kick you. But if you were having an argument with your wife, nobody would interfere (McCalman, 1984: 26; see also: Lake, 1986).

And where “marriage made no difference to a man’s life [but] all the difference to a woman’s life” who was enjoined to live for her husband and children’s happiness (Magarey, 2001: 37). While there is no abuse in Richard and Annie’s marriage, it is a penance to the former.  And over his entire life there lingers one question: why suffer the bond of wedlock when love is not in it? Richard’s last regret, as he lays dying, is that in fifty years of life, he was only allowed three happy years with Constance, his true love.

Cambridge Marked Man map

In contrast to Annie—who cannot swim or row and only leaves the house to pay social visits—Richard, Susan and Noel are continually moving from Double Bay, on one side of the harbour, to Middle Head on the other.  Their mobility, proficiency in navigating the waters of Sydney Harbour and rowing skills analogise their intellectual and spiritual progressiveness. Indeed, the core complaint of the three ‘black sheep’ is “the inadequacies of that inelastic integument to the growing soul” that longs to be free of customs, practices and beliefs that hold no relevance to its personal life (169).  Susan, of the three, is particularly obstinate and rebellious;

She was full of schemes for a working life; she wanted no bridal tour, she said, and her heart was set on living at the camp, where and her husband [Noel] would be unmolested by the world of fashion, which would surround and absorb them if they established themselves in a brick house (312).

Despite Susan’s tenacity, she materialises and achieves what her father only dreamed of—autonomy in early life, the right to marry for ‘true’ love, and a life unbridled by time-honoured customs. In doing so, however, she becomes the antithesis to her mother, Annie. To the point where their mother-daughter relationship is full of bitterness and misunderstandings, and Annie dies before they reconcile. Though not perfect, Susan represents the ‘next generation’ in her family and the ‘next’ Australian generation. As Elizabeth McMahon (2010) suggests, colonial Australia offered itself as a place where “range of possibilities” was possible, and as a “measured counterweight of the northern hemisphere”—just as Susan is the counterbalance to both her parents (McMahon, 2010: 181).

Then, as now, Cambridge’s most popular novel, A Marked Man reveals important truths about ideals, faith, tradition and rebellion. And, set as it is, across both worlds, it will not fail to capture your imagination. And as Richard would advise Susan, I encourage you to discover these truths for yourself.

 

Cambridge, Ada. 1987. A Marked Man: Some Episodes in His Life.  London, UK: Pandora Press. [first pub. 1890]

References:

Magarey, Susan. 2001. Passions of the First Wave Feminists. Sydney: UNSW Press.

McMahon, Elizabeth. 2010. “Australia, the Island Continent: How Contradictory Geography Shapes the National Imaginary”. In, Space and Culture 13, no.2: 178-187.

Lake, Marilyn. “Historical Reconsiderations IV:  The Politics of Respectability: The Masculinist Context”. In, Historical Studies 22, no. 86 (1986): pp.116-131.

McCalman, J. 1984.Struggletown: Public and Private Life in Richmond, 1900-1965. South Melbourne: Hyland House.

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The Three Miss Kings, Ada Cambridge

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Ada Cambridge (1844-1926) was English-born and came out to Australia as the young wife of a Church of England vicar, George Cross, who went on to serve in a number of parishes around Victoria. She took up writing she says to supplement the family income, and her serials in the newspapers under the initials ‘AC’ soon proved popular. “Overall she wrote more than twenty-five works of fiction, three volumes of poetry and two autobiographical works” (Wiki). In the “hastily suppressed” volume of poetry, Unspoken Thoughts (1887) she apparently expresses “religious anxieties, thoughts on the limitations of sexual love and concern for the under-privileged” (ADB).

As you can see by the cover above, The Three Miss Kings (1883) has been republished by Virago, but the version I read was on my kindle, courtesy of the AWW Challenge, Books by Australian Women page (here) and Project Guthenberg (here) – where I see her autobiography, Thirty Years in Australia is also among the titles available.

The three Miss Kings (shouldn’t that be the three Misses King?) of the title, Elizabeth, Patty and Eleanor, are sisters, young women in their twenties, orphaned following the early death of their mother and the recent death of their father. They live outside a town on the Victorian west coast, a town unnamed but which has both a steamer service and access to a rail service to Melbourne. The Rev Cross’ list of appointments does not include such a town and I’m guessing it is a composite of Port Fairy, Warrnambool and Port Campbell. At one point the action includes a visit to a ‘limestone’ cave. Port Fairy and Warrnambool in particular are in volcano/basalt country but geology daughter assures me that even there it might be possible to find sandstone caves, though not limestone, which takes longer to form.

Although the girls were brought up in relatively impoverished circumstances, their parents, and especially their mother, had been well educated and the girls were home schooled with special attention to their music.

The parents of the three girls had been a mysterious couple, about whose circumstances and antecedents people knew just as much as they liked to conjecture, and no more…. But the greatest mystery in connection with Mr King was Mrs King. He was obviously a gentleman, in the conventional sense of the word, but she was, in every sense, the most beautiful and accomplished lady that ever was seen …

On the death of their father the Misses King decide to sell up, realising a few hundred pounds, and move to Melbourne. This coincides with the opening of the Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton in 1880, which forms the background for much of the remainder of the novel.

Assisted by their local solicitor’s son, Paul, they take rooms in a quiet street in East Melbourne from whence they can walk through the Fitzroy and Treasury Gardens into the city. They are slowly introduced into society, aided by their poise, their beauty (though Cambridge is at pains to tell us that Elizabeth is classicly-built) and by Patty’s excellent piano playing.

Each finds a man, and is eventually married; it is the setbacks and hurdles to be negotiated which of course are what makes a love story. Elizabeth and Patty are serious young women and concerned to find a man whom they respect sufficiently to accept being dominated by. This is something they discuss, and Patty specifically rejects any claims to independence. Eleanor is a bit empty-headed and is pursued by a young man who is likewise, but sufficiently well-off for her to finally accept him.

The mystery of their parents’ origins and their exile in Australia is explained satisfactorily, though it initially complicates Elizabeth’s plans for marriage. But the biggest hurdle for Elizabeth to overcome is that her lover (in the old sense!) is a pantheist, while she is devoutly orthodox C of E. Cambridge’s discussions, and Elizabeth’s eventual acceptance, of this, allow Cambridge to air concerns she must have had herself. Amusingly, in light of Gaskell’s beliefs in the previous review, Elizabeth on first being told cries, “Oh no, you’re not a Dissenter!”

Elizabeth ends up “rich beyond the dreams of avarice in all that to such a woman is precious and desirable”, her husband-to-be an Englishman using his wealth to provide opportunities for the very poor. Interestingly Cambridge thinks that the wealth should both be enjoyed – there is a magnificent family seat in the country whose parks are eventually, but not immediately, turned into fields – and disbursed wisely. For instance, she discusses the problem of building homes for the very poor where, if the homes were attractive enough, the intended beneficiaries would be forced out by workers a class above them.

Cambridge is not the writer that her fellow chronicler of  C19th Melbourne, Tasma, is. That is, she is not as ‘literary’. But her writing is straightforward, the story itself is enjoyable – I of course love her descriptions of Melbourne, and of the Melbourne International Exhibition – and as with Gaskell, she is concerned to describe the process of finding a husband in both moral and religious terms. And that is something I find surprisingly acceptable, in the nineteenth century at least.

 

Ada Cambridge, The Three Miss Kings, first published 1883

see also:

Elizabeth Gaskell, Cousin Phillis (review here)
My post, Early Australian Women Writers (1) (here)