Turning the Century, Christopher Lee ed.

Australian Women Writers Gen 2 Week

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Among the books sitting unread on the shelves behind me, most of them second-hand acquisitions lost in the mists of time, I have discovered patiently waiting its turn, and months too late for AWW Gen 2 Week, this anthology of Australian 1890s writing edited by Christopher Lee (author of the Henry Lawson biography City Bushman, another on my shelves I’m yet to review).

I see, for the first time ever in my life, a short story/piece by Miles Franklin, plus many, many others. For this review I’ll stick to the women. But first some words from the Introduction.

This new collection of 1890s writing represents the ways in which Australian literature responded to a set of social, cultural, and political problems that were typical of empire and yet richly inflected by local experience.

The predominately British Settler culture was inevitably preoccupied with domesticating the exotic spaces of the ancient continent and writers were imaginative about rethinking their new home and its relation to the Old World.

The emergence of a self-consciously Australian sentiment in the decade preceding Federation [1901] soon became the stuff of legend …

[The Bulletin] was racist, misogynist, socialist and republican … In art and letters it displayed its editor’s preference for forms of Realism compatible with the new journalism … The controversial French realist, Emile Zola, was a significant role model.

Lee also cites William Lane’s The Worker and of course Louisa Lawson’s Dawn as journals which took the workers’ side but were opposed to the Bulletin’s misogyny. Interestingly, Lee claims that chapters espousing socialism were edited out of both Such is Life and Catherine Martin’s An Australian Girl.

The rights of Aborigines were barely considered: “The original inhabitants of the continent were represented throughout the nineteenth century by a set of recurring tropes that justified exploration, invasion and then settlement.”

Miles Franklin: A Governess in the Bush

I droop with disappointment. It’s just an extract from My Brilliant Career. The Mitchell has reams of Franklin’s shorter pieces, won’t someone resurrect them?

Ada Cambridge: Leaving “The Nest”

Cited as “from The Perversity of Human Nature” which is not a novel listed under Ada Cambridge in Wikipedia (here) but which is available from Project Gutenberg (here).

Lexie Brown and her husband have argued and she is sure that he no longer wants her. Over a couple of days she gets her money from the bank, purchases a second class ticket ‘home’, smuggles a suitcase past her servants, packs and leaves. This is very unexpected of Ada Cambridge, and with poor Lexie sobbing in her bunk as the ship pulls away from Williamstown (Melbourne) we can only imagine Robert following post-haste to England, all misunderstandings forgiven. (Now I’ll have to read the whole book).

Louisa Lawson: Marriage Not a Failure

Lawson argues that women must be protected from “free unions” because they will be abandoned by their husbands when they become unattractive in their forties, while men remain vigorous for one or two more decades:

For centuries woman has sighed under the inequalities which beset her in every relation of life as compared with men, but it is only now she is rousing herself to remove them… In a hundred years her economic dependence, which is one of the chief causes of trouble in our present marriage law will have given place to a recognition and accordance of her proper place in the monetary and social relations of the community.

Stirring stuff! Lawson was poorly educated and in her forties herself before she left her husband and the little bush block at Eurunderee to come to the city.

┬áMrs EA Chads: Woman’s Opportunities and Home-Influence

I don’t know from whence this nonsense was taken, here’s a sample –

It is useless to deny that there are cruel and neglectful husbands in the world, but it is equally true that there would be far more happy homes if women only used their God-given power of influence in the right direction.

Tasma: Monsieur Caloche

A story of 15 or so pages which may also be found in her collection, A Sydney Sovereign (my review).

This is a difficult story to discuss without entirely giving away the ending, which in any case is foreshadowed almost from the beginning. Tasma only lived in Victoria – in Melbourne and on her first husband’s property at Malmsbury – for 10 or 12 years but her descriptions of country and people are detailed and accurate.

The sparse gum leaves hung as motionless on their branches as if they were waiting to be photographed. Their shadows on the yellowing grass seemed painted into the soil. The sky was as tranquil as the plain below. The smoke from the homestead reared itself aloft in a long thinly drawn column of grey. A morning of heat and repose, when even the sunlight does not frolic, and all nature toasts itself, quietly content.

A slight boy, his delicate features scarred by smallpox, applies at the offices of Bogg & Co. with references from France:

Homme de lettres! It was a stigma that Bogg, of Bogg & Co., could not overlook. As a practical man, a self-made man who had opened up new blocks of country … what could be expected of him in the way of holding out a helping hand to a scribbler … He was probably a ruffianly Communist. The French could not get hold of all the rebels*, and here was one in the outer office of Bogg & Co. coolly waiting for a situation.

Bogg, a bully, instead of giving M Caloche office work, sends him up the country where he unexpectedly distinguishes himself as a horseman. A year later, Blogg making the rounds of his properties, strikes the young man across the breast with his whip …

 

There’s plenty more, apart from the men (men outnumber women 90:24) – a gruesome piece about a young wife on a Victorian station who does battle with her husband’s cook (Chummy); Rosa Praed; an extract from An Australian Girl; more Cambridge; the usual Bayntons; poetry by Louisa Lawson, Louise Mack, Mary Gilmore and others.

 

Christopher Lee ed., Turning the Century: Writing of the 1890s, UQP, Brisbane, 1999

Reviews of quite a few of the works and authors mentioned here can be found on this site’s AWW Gen 1 and Gen 2 pages.


*The uprising known as the Paris Commune took place in the Spring of 1871. Monsieur Caloche was probably written in the late 1870s.