Uncle Piper of Piper’s Hill, Tasma

Australian Women Writers, Gen 1 (1788-1890)

Uncle Piper

When Uncle Piper came out, in 1888 it was very well received and writers of the time likened Tasma to George Eliot (1819-1880). My own impression was to note the similarities with Elizabeth Gaskell  (1810-1865), maybe because I have read her more, and more recently (here).

The similarities are in the frequent references to church and religion, a questioning tone, though Tasma seems more Agnostic than Dissenter, the predominance of female over male interests, and a general overall seriousness. Some critics mention Jane Austen, but Tasma does not have the great JA’s lightness of touch, or whimsy.

The novel is set in Melbourne, fictional Piper’s Hill is in South Yarra, a rich Melbourne inner eastern suburb; a ship approaching Melbourne; and in ‘Barnesbury’, Malmsbury, a minor gold mining town on the highway (and railway) from Melbourne to Bendigo.  The period is the 1870s when Melbourne was the richest city in the world, following the gold rushes of the 1850s, and before the land boom and recession of the 1890s. The author mentions in passing Europe preparing for war. It is likely Tasma was in Belgium with her mother during the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71), so maybe she is referring to this or more generally to German expansionism.

Uncle Piper, now in his sixties, had come out from England as a young man, prospered as a butcher and then as a land speculator, and built himself a mansion in extensive gardens, with a tower from which he is able to see across the intervening suburbs of St Kilda and South Melbourne to discern with his telescope ships coming down the Bay from the Heads (map – Piper’s Hill is between Melbourne and St Kilda, beneath the ‘o’ say).

Piper has a son, George by his first marriage, and step daughter, Laura and much younger daughter, Louey by his second. Laura and Louey also have an older brother, a curate in London. Louey’s mother died in childbirth but Piper has promised to raise Laura as his own. Laura in young womanhood, accepts her step father’s support but not his rules and they are at daggers drawn, so when Piper realises George and Laura are in love he is seriously angry.

The cast is extensive and it is difficult to say if any one person is the protagonist, or even if we get to know any of the characters particularly well, though I like Laura, and it is likely she is the character Tasma has drawn to be most like herself. She and George are free thinkers. She is intensely loyal to George. She infuriates her step father by being beautiful, colourfully dressed, and by showing him the most studied indifference (Daughters! Who’d have them!). Laura and George also believe, theoretically anyway, in Free Love, which they discuss at length when Laura refuses to marry George on the grounds that he is not competent to support her if he is disinherited.

Piper’s sister was left behind in England where she married, above her station, Cavendish, an impoverished aristocrat. They have two daughters, the good, handsome Margaret and the thoughtless, impossibly beautiful Sara. They have lived poorly for many years on gifts to Mrs Cavendish from her brother, and at the beginning of the novel are at sea, outside the Heads, emigrants to Australia where Piper can more easily support them. Also on the ship is a curate, the Rev Mr Lydiat, who is of course Laura’s brother, coming out to minister to the colonies after wearing himself out in the slums of London.

The Cavendishes move into their own wing of the Piper mansion and the girls and their mother are introduced to a life of wealth and ease. Margaret though is insistent on supporting herself, and becomes Louey’s governess; Mrs Cavendish is induced to take over the reins of an extensive household; Sara – who has already rejected Mr Lydiat – keeps one eye George, despite his humble birth, and another on the main chance, a title, a return in triumph to Europe; while Mr Cavendish chafes at being supported by ‘a plebian’, talks vaguely of a government job, and researches fanciful family trees. He is clearly a type Tasma has met and doesn’t like (Notice that she occasionally talks directly to the reader).

Mr Cavendish’s aristocratic nature was not devoid of the commonplace tendency I once heard attributed to husbands in general – [that wives are] to be petted and made much of when things are going well, and to be severely knocked about when anything goes wrong.

The plot is simple enough but what Tasma does, brilliantly and in detail, is describe the fluctuations in mood as the various young people form and reform alliances. Mr Lydiat still has hopes of Sara; George has all his hopes, for rescue from debt and marriage to Laura, riding on a horse he has running in the New Years Cup; Mr Piper has every intention of forcing George to marry Sara; Louey is distraught that her family is coming apart; Margaret is headed for spinsterhood while quietly pining after Mr Lydiat.

On the night before he is to take up a position in Barnesbury, Lydiat makes a fool of himself in the conservatory with Sara. Laura decides to go with him to give George and Sara space. There is a day in the sun at the races …

I won’t give too much away, but Louey takes the train to Barnesbury to be with her brother and sister; there’s an accident; all the family except Sara and her father rush to Barnesbury where they are all crowded into one little cottage. There are happy endings during which Tasma very much enjoys herself giving Sara her comeuppance.

Eastern Hill Charles Troedel

My Thomas Nelson edition has as its front cover a Charles Troedel print of Melbourne in the 1860s. I couldn’t locate a copy so have put up this one of Eastern Hill which includes  St Peters, the highest of high Anglican churches, where Mr Piper maintained a pew “and slumbered therein every successive Sunday.”

And I’ll reinclude a picture from my last post just so I can add Tasma’s description

Carlsruhe Hotel

Hotel Carlsruhe c. 1865. Now Lord Admiral House. “The great bluestone public house, designed for a monster hotel, was completed as far as its first story, but as it was never carried any farther, it naturally possesses at the present time a somewhat squat appearance, with a suggestively make-shift roof, and a general air of having been stopped in its growth.”

 

Tasma, Uncle Piper of Piper’s Hill, first pub. 1888. My ed. Thomas Nelson, Sydney, 1969. Top picture, reproduction of original frontispiece.

Download pdf version of first ed. (here) The Thos Nelson text is based on the 2nd ed.
Tasma (here)
Whispering Gums’ review (here)

Advertisements

Tasma

Australian Women Writers, Gen 1 (1788-1890)

Madame_Couvreur_-_Tasma.jpg

I’ve been (re-)reading Uncle Piper of Piper’s Hill (1888) by Australian author Tasma, one of many notable women writers wrongly written out of the Australian canon. I read Uncle Piper maybe 15 years ago for my thesis, and may have read it first 15 years before that when Dale Spender, and the Nunawading library, first made me aware of the quality and quantity of works which make up what I have since labelled AWW Gen 1. The problem of reading for my thesis was that I was looking for a particular theme – women attempting to live adult lives without surrendering themselves to men – and so rushed through a work I saw as an ordinary romance.

In doing so I was unfair I see now, to the book and to the author. The 1969 Thomas Nelson edition I am reading contains an excellent introduction by Cecil Hadgraft and Ray Beilby (yes I know, more mansplaining) and I thought I would discuss that today, while I push on with what is proving quite a dense read  and I don’t intend that as a criticism.

Jessie Catherine Huybers was born at Highgate in London on 28 October 1848. She was the second child and oldest daughter to James Alfred Huybers, a native of Antwerp who migrated to Tasmania in the early 1850s.

There in Hobart, Huybers prospered as a merchant. His two sons attended Hutchins School (for rich boys). Jessie’s education is not recorded, but her father’s library when it was sold up in 1887 contained 850 volumes of French and English literature. Jessie was married at 18, in 1867 to Victorian ‘gentleman’ Charles Fraser who was 8 years older, and worked for his brother in law who owned the Montpellier and Riverview Mills* and the Hotel Carlsruhe near Kyneton, and ‘Pemberley’ at Malmsbury (both towns north west of Melbourne on the road to Bendigo).

The marriage was unsuccessful. Jessie spent some years in Europe with her mother and younger siblings, came back, began writing, living with but apart from her husband, returned to Europe, met Auguste Couvreur, a Belgian politician and journalist, was back in Melbourne briefly in 1883, to divorce Fraser who was by then living with his mistress, and subsequently spent the remainder of her short life in Belgium as Mme Couvreur. She died in 1897.

A site maintained by the Tasmanian Government says: “In 1877 she adopted the pen name ‘Tasma’, and began writing. She adopted this pseudonym to honour the colony where she grew up and continued to use it for the rest of her life. She enjoyed success from the start of her writing career and was regarded as a bright new talent, contributing articles and short stories on a variety of topics to the Australasian, the Melbourne Review and the Australian Journal.” Her ADB entry adds, “marriage [to Couvreur] gave her the opportunity to expand her writing beyond the fields of literary criticism and the short story.” And goes on …

In 1889 she published her first novel, Uncle Piper of Piper’s Hill, which remains the best and best-known of all her novels. This and A Knight of the White Feather (1894) are the least autobiographical of her novels. The others, In Her Earliest Youth (1890), The Penance of Portia James (1891), Not Counting the Cost (1895) and A Fiery Ordeal (1897), are in large measure so obviously autobiographical that Charles Fraser must have been recognized in them from one end of Victoria to the other.

Hadgraft & Beilby write (of the 1890s):

That part of Australian society described by such writers as Lawson, Paterson and Furphy tended to be seen as the whole of society. Tasma on the other hand, saw a part (the middle class) and quite accurately recognised it as only being part … In Uncle Piper she opens a window and allows us to look in on a part of the Australian scene that became increasingly overlooked as the belief took hold that the real Australia was to be found only in the bush.

The editors spend some pages discussing the ways in which Tasma and Joseph Furphy represent respectively the end of English Literature in Australian and the beginning of Australian Lit., and posit that the two may have met when both were living in Kyneton in 1867. Tasma was a French speaker, Furphy had a French wife. Both wrote verse and Furphy won a local prize with a recitation of his “The Death of President Lincoln”. Maybe. In Such is Life Furphy is critical of the generation of the popular women writers who preceded him, and in Rigby’s Romance the eponymous Rigby names his horse Tasma.

Tasma, like Rosa Praed, drew heavily on her unhappy marriage to describe young women struggling to escape from a husband who “is often a drunkard, a gambler, a dunce, a coward, emotionally unstable, prone to insanity, dishonest and occasionally effeminate.” Tasma uses her heroines to argue against the institution of marriage, and to discuss the possibility of Free Love (without ever, unfortunately, resorting to it, or surprisingly, to divorce). These are an almost constant theme in early Australian women’s fiction, constantly overlooked.

The 1950s with its idealization of the perfect marriage propagated by American film and television stands between us and a proper understanding of just how un-Victorian, intelligent Victorian women were. The gatekeepers who kept us from reading Come in Spinner or Lettie Fox with their promiscuous heroines, who kept unpublished and unstudied all women’s fiction from before WWI, also kept us, and to a large extent still keep us, from an informed reading of our own history.

 

Tasma, Uncle Piper of Piper’s Hill, first pub. 1888. This edition pub. 1969 by Thomas Nelson, Cecil Hadgraft & Ray Beilby ed.s

The painting of Tasma above is in the State Library Victoria collection and was painted by Mathilde Philippson in 1890 (here)

see also:

Whispering Gums, Tasma (aka Jessie Couvreur) (here)
Other reviews and essays in the AWW Gen 1 page (here)
Patricia Clarke, Tasma the life of Jessie Couvreur, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1994
Patricia Clarke, Tasma’s Diaries, Mulini Press, Canberra, 1996
Patricia Clarke, papers in the NLA (here)
Tasma as seen by the Tasmanian Government (here)
Obituary, Hobart Mercury (here)


*The Montpellier mill at Carlsruhe (here) and the Riverview mill at Kyneton (here) were steam powered flour mills built for pastoralist William Degraves in about 1860. The buildings housing the mills were impressive four story structures of local bluestone.

TheMillMalmsbury_5_1.jpg

One of the surviving mills in this area.

Carlsruhe Hotel

Hotel Carlsruhe c. 1865. Now Lord Admiral House. “The great bluestone public house, designed for a monster hotel, was completed as far as its first story, but as it was never carried any farther, it naturally possesses at the present time a somewhat squat appearance, with a suggestively make-shift roof, and a general air of having been stopped in its growth.”

Pemberley-24-1024x682.jpg

Pemberley at Malmsbury, now a wedding venue (do grooms emerge from the lake in wet shirts?)

Uncle Piper of Piper’s Hill, Tasma

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

12906665.jpg

Sue of Whispering Gums has been blogging since 2009 and is now followed by probably everyone who reads and thinks about Australian books. Tasma’s Uncle Piper of Piper’s Hill is an Austen-esque portrait of post-Gold Rush Melbourne society and I’m glad Sue chose it to review.


5196458931233f4484f27c9c6eed10e1.jpg  Whispering Gums

The first thing to say about Tasma’s debut novel Uncle Piper of Piper’s Hill is that it’s rather wordy, speaking to a literacy different from that of today’s readers. For this reason, Uncle Piper won’t appeal to readers who like short simple sentences, and a plot which moves along at a good clip with little reflection or commentary. Consider yourself warned, but know also that, according contemporary reports, this novel made Tasma famous in a week.

So, if you enjoy immersing yourself in the writing of different times, and are interested in late 19th century Australia, Uncle Piper has plenty to offer, starting with well-drawn characters who, in modern clothes, would be as real today as they were in 1888.

Take father, the Uncle Piper of the title, and his son George, for example. Uncle Piper is a self-made man. In his case this involved emigrating from England, where he was poor and with few prospects, to Australia where, starting as a lowly butcher, he worked hard to establish himself as the wealthy, successful businessman he is at the novel’s opening. Now, what often happens when parents struggle to establish themselves and create opportunities for their children that they never had? Why, those children take their easy, comfortable lives for granted. That’s what! Not a new story, is it?

Original post here. Thanks Sue!

 

see also: Delicious Descriptions, Tasma’s Country Town, Whispering Gums here

A Sydney Sovereign, Tasma

tasma-a-sydney-sovereign
‘Lady in Grey’, John Longstaff, 1890

If I were to attempt a PhD my subject would be Daisy Bates in Western Australia. She was here for a number of years at the beginning of the last century and there is lots of material to cover. But, I have to keep working so that’s just a pipe dream. I will however, as soon as I can fit it in, review her collection, The Passing of the Aborigines.

If I just wanted a project, I’d get together Miles Franklin’s bits and pieces, the best of her short stories, journalism and plays, and publish them as a book. The closest we have at the moment is the collection of essays arising from her lectures in WA in 1950, Laughter, Not for a Cage.

This slim volume is a collection of short works by Tasma, a novelist from the generation preceding Franklin, edited and introduced by Michael Ackland. A Sydney Sovereign was originally a novella, published with some short stories under the title A Sydney Sovereign and Other Tales in 1890 to take advantage of the author’s success with her debut novel Uncle Piper of Piper’s Hill a year or so earlier. In this edition, Ackland has in fact included just a few pages of the title story, to give an idea of the flavour of the original, while retaining the other short stories, written in the 1870s, plus a couple of new stories from 1890-91. All were published at the time in magazines such as the Australasian and The Australian Ladies Annual. Ackland has not taken the opportunity to include any of her other work, which is a pity as I would very much like to have read examples of her literary criticism.

Jessie Catherine Huybers (1848-1897) was born in England to parents of Dutch and French ancestry who migrated to Hobart in the early 1850s. Her father prospered and Jessie had the run of a fine, and presumably multi-lingual, library. Neither Ackland nor ADB mention her education. She married Charles Fraser in 1867 and they moved to Malmsbury, Vic, taking up a property with the auspicious name, Pemberley. Fraser however was a gambler and womaniser, and eventually a bankrupt, and in 1883 she divorced him. Jessie, who by this time was writing short stories under the pen name Tasma, had for some time been living overseas and had already met her next husband, Belgian journalist and politician, Auguste Couvreur. Her ADB entry says that some of her novels following Uncle Piper were “so obviously autobiographical that Charles Fraser must have been recognized in them from one end of Victoria to the other.”

Tasma is a lovely writer, Jane Austen-ish (dare I say it) in her elegant writing and sly wit. You know I don’t read more short stories than I can help, but she is completely at ease with the form, unlike Vance Palmer (here), say, whose struggles with both getting underway and bringing the thing to a neat conclusion are ill-concealed. I enjoyed every one of these stories, not just because their endings were difficult to anticipate and often amusing, but for their descriptions of lovely Hobart Town, Melbourne’s dirty smelly lanes, crowded Parisian streets, and wide open Australian bush.

In What an Artist Discovered in Tasmania, a young man wishing to discover the ‘perfect’ model of an evil face, leaves his sister behind in London to travel to the end of the world. ‘”Where’s that?” cried Polly’:

Kind Tasmanians – whose blossom-garlanded isle is the original Eden of the Anthropophagi; whose aromatous breezes greet the pallid stranger, and efface from his recollection the haunting odours of Yarra bank noisomeness – do not stigmatise Polly as an imbecile for her ignorance.

In another, The Rubria Ghost, the 80 yo owner of Rubria Station brings home a much younger bride:

I think the most terrible thing connected with [the groom] was the pale reflection of passion that flickered in his dulled eyes every time they rested on his wife…. And, notwithstanding, she appeared to cherish him!

The ‘ghost’ which appears to the bride in the moonlight in the path through the Murray pines (sheoaks?) is her former lover, begging her to run away with him. But this is a tale with an anti-moral. She hesitates. The old man dies. She inherits.

So for anyone who is outraged upon hearing that Emily married the ghost, and that she and he are now in the springtime of their delight, I will offer this pale reflection of a moral: Who can forsee the end? Let us hope he will beat her.

Twenty years ago I was working in a largish fleet and a new driver was employed who quickly earned the sobriquet ‘Life of Brian’. Mr and Mrs Brian had allowed a temporarily homeless mate to stay; Brian of course was often away driving; inevitably, the mate ran away with the wife; and Brian, understandably, couldn’t stop telling us about it. In How a claim was Nearly Jumped in Gum-Tree Gully, a Lawson-esque tale of two mates clearing scrub in rough country – think Castlemaine, Vic – mate two realises before it is too late, that he is falling for mate one’s new wife. It’s a lovingly described story, both of the mates’ relationship and of the bush they are working in, the huge gums along the creek bed of Gum-Tree Gully.

Tasma’s theme is always, it seems, aspects of love, and surprisingly, with little consciousness of class or class differences. If I may be allowed to describe just one more story, the only one with a totally ‘European’ setting, in His Modern Godiva an artist is searching for a model with just the right amount of experience for an illustration of Hester, the heroine of A Scarlet Letter:

True, he could find in the Quartier Latin many grisettes of the type of the heroines in Murger’s Vie de Boheme  … [but] their experiences were too frequent and free to leave upon their faces such a stamp as he could imagine the Puritan maid-mother might have worn.

The artist eventually finds his model and over a series of sittings forms the desire to portray her as Lady Godiva.

It still remained, however, to make Freda hear reason, which is also a phrase that may be variously interpreted. How it came about neither was exactly aware; but before the dress – or undress – rehearsals for the pose were at an end, Edgar’s model had become his betrothed wife.

The picture is a success, but in being so, was also an advertisement for his wife’s charms, and Edgar becomes jealous. How it ends, I advise you to read and see.

 

Tasma, A Sydney Sovereign, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1993

see also this review by Narelle Ontivero (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.