Bloodfather, David Ireland

fourtriplezed  The author of this guest post is John who comments here and posts on Goodreads as Fourtriplezed. He wrote to me recently about my 2019 David Ireland project: “I have read all of Ireland’s novels up to City of Women and am at present half way through Bloodfather. I have The Chosen and World Repair to go and then I am a completist.” He has since completed Bloodfather of which he says: “I thought it a work of art. I suspect I am on my own there lol.”


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As the baby was born on a butchers slab his mother sang religion. He was the leader, she the led. The baby, unless there are exceptional circumstances, is the great dictator in all households. The baby’s aunt Ursula said that when the baby arrived in the house ‘A lord of atmosphere had taken up residence’…. Aunt Mira asked, “ ‘Who’s a bornless child then? Here’s a fine kettle of kitsch. What’ll he be when he grows up? A gifted bus driver with a stern view of things?’ A few Sherries shut her up.” Author David Ireland is an observer of the human condition.

The writer can get the reader hooked by words. The word “God” is one such hook. That one word plays a part in the life of the baby, Davis Blood. From the beginning he is imbued with his mother’s songs of religion, Aunt Ursula through her thoughtful dialog with her gifted young nephew and Aunt Mira with wordplay that challenges him. He listened to them all. This young boy was listening from the time he was a babe through to his endeavour to discover his inner self at the ripe old age of 16.

If one is looking to read a Bildungsroman along the lines of the customary life of a young man then they will be disappointed. Ireland writes of this boy as a sponge of all that is around him. Sport and girls? Yes a little but so tiny as to be almost missed. Learning is beyond important in this Bildungsroman. The reader looking for the predictable should read no further. This is a deep look at the boy as an individual struggling with what makes him what he is and what he intends to be. He is learning from all sources be that physical, scholastic or spiritual. This is a pursuit, a pursuit of a hopeful future.

Hope is the key to what is Ireland’s most optimistic of novels. There is a strange uplifting demand of the reader to get inside the boy’s thoughts and be part of the world around him. From birth to his 16th birthday he is no ordinary child, he is listening and learning. He is both objective and subjective with his thoughts, be that his need for his individuality or his requirements for spirituality. The words of this book demand that the reader take that journey. Read and ponder.

Most of Ireland’s previous novels had the inner city ramparts as a constant. The closed walls of Puroil, Merry Lands and The Southern Cross Hotel were inner city and tribal. This is different; rural with descriptions of an almost homely paradise surrounded by nature. Did his readership want that? Maybe not. He failed to have another book published for nearly 10 years. His readership had passed him by. They had found new literary fashions. So be it.

This is a long read and not for the fainthearted. It will not be for everyone so I do not recommend it. But then who cares, I loved it.

 

David Ireland, Bloodfather, Penguin, Melbourne, 1987

Other David Ireland posts/reviews:
Fourtriplezed’s David Ireland shelf on Goodreads (here)
David Ireland (here)
The Unknown Industrial Prisoner (here) Lisa/ANZLL (here)
Burn I found intolerably racist and could not finish.
John writes: I am of the opinion that Ireland, as a writer is not right wing, nor left for that matter. I take on-board your thoughts about Burn but must respectfully disagree. Burn as a novel morphed from a play he wrote called Image in the Clay. He wrote of that play “No opinions are presented: my interest in aborigines is no more than anyone else’s, except that they are people. That is my interest” and in my opinion that was the same for Burn and all his other works. He, from what I have read elsewhere, was describing a situation that he witnessed while working out west [in NSW] just after WW2. Burn is a strange novel in that it is more conventional in delivery than the rest of his output.
The Glass Canoe (here) Lisa/ANZLL (here)
A Woman of the Future (here) see Bonny Cassidy Sydney Review of Books (here)
City of Women (here)
The World Repair Video Game (here) Lisa/ANZLL (here)

Jungfrau, Dymphna Cusack

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By coincidence I’m reading Jungfrau straight after All Passion Spent. Both are modernist works by women authors, both pose the question, Should intelligent women marry or pursue careers? (and both see the question as either one or the other), APS came out in 1931, Jungfrau in 1936, both writers were in their thirties, but…

Sackville-West was at the height of her powers, living not just England but in Bloomsbury, and with a number of novels over the previous decade under her belt; Cusack (1902-1981) so ten years VSW’s junior, was in Australia, a school teacher, first out west in Broken Hill then in Sydney, with limited exposure to the modernist movement sweeping England, Europe and the US. And this was her first novel. And then there’s class – Sackville-West was the daughter of a baron and the wife of an MP; Cusack was the daughter of store keeper, Catholic, and though employed, was much closer to the Depression which amongst other things, depressed wages and limited the distribution of new books.

Sackville-West’s writing is sublime, Cusack’s is awkward. Lady Slane in APS finds herself married at 18, steamrolled by her parents and her husband, but as she comes to love Henry she willingly subsumes her self for the sake of their children and his career. Only after their long marriage ends with his death does she allow her real self to emerge. I think by presenting the story in this way Sackville-West is asking: Is this what you would do? It’s certainly not what she did herself. Cusack’s three women are already in their mid to late twenties, in careers, unmarried, none of them Vicereine of India surrounded by servants, but living small, comfortable lives in bed-sits in inner Sydney. Their question is: How do I deal with love?

The three women are Thea, a dreamy, pretty teacher, Eve, a doctor and devout Catholic, and ‘Marc’ (short for Marchesa) a red-headed, bohemian, psych student/social worker. Thea is friends with Terry who wants to marry her, but she is in love with a 49 year old English professor. Eve is friends with another doctor, John. Marc, may be ‘loose’, or maybe she just flirts a lot; Eve is angry that she doesn’t wear a bra. Cusack adopts the point of view of whichever protagonist she is dealing with at the time.

Eve is actually quite a sympathetic character and her rigid Catholicism creeps up on us. Thea is the ‘jungfrau’ of the title, virginal and childish (Cusack makes too much of the Swiss mountain of the same name, having Eve come up with a clumsy metaphor about a lover taking the trouble to ‘climb’ Marc only to find other men had been up before him on the funicular railway).

A lot of the early part of the book is setting up discussions about relationships. Each of the women take their job seriously but what they are talking about and thinking about here is their relationships with men. Eve, who works in a maternity ward, has opinions very similar to Miles Franklin’s (and Cusack’s next novel was written jointly with Franklin) – that chastity is to be valued and that the consequence of marriage is endless child bearing.

Thea has chaste little meetings with her professor in the grounds of the uni and is consumed by her growing infatuation. Marc meets an Antarctic explorer at a party, becomes close to him, and says she will sleep with him before his upcoming two year expedition, but, only if he has complete faith in his ability to trust her –

“There’s only one worthwhile relationship as far as I’m concerned, and that’s the chosen companionship of two perfectly free people. We’d never have that till you had faith – in both of us.”

Eve goes from an exhausting shift on the wards to mass and reflects on chastity (to contrast with what follows). Thea has one perfect night with the professor. Marc has dinner with her explorer. We’re at the halfway point, and the novel is about to change direction.

Thea drops round to Eve’s to ask for help, she’s pregnant. Eve is devastated, spends a sleepless 24 hours crying at Thea’s loss, and planning how to help her have the baby. They meet. Thea is incredulous. The help she wants is an abortion, which Eve is morally unable to perform.

Thea drifts, for weeks it seems, then goes to Marc who arranges for her to see an abortionist, but she loses her nerve at the last minute and runs out of his office. Jungfrau is apparently “the first psychological exploration of women’s sexuality and aspirations” in Australian fiction, and the remainder of the novel deals mostly with Thea’s internal monologue.

A decade later Cusack gave up modernism for social realism, writing with Florence James the gritty war-time (WWII) story of women working and quite actively sleeping with one or more men, Come in Spinner. In that novel, and in a number of others of that time, there is a “backyard” abortion which ends in the death of the pregnant woman.

So does Cusack answer the question I ascribed to her at the beginning? I think she does, partly anyway. Single women clearly should work. But. They also are driven to pair bond, and that means marriage, eventually.

 

Dymphna Cusack, Jungfrau, first pub. 1936 (in the Bulletin), Penguin Australian Women’s Library, Melbourne 1989. Introduction by Florence James. The cover painting is by Grace Cossington-Smith, “Interior with Blue Painting”, 1956.

see also:
Australian Women Writers, Gen 3 Page (here)