Confession one: this story was a chore to read.
Confession two: for the past week I have been trying to read three books that were a chore to read. Why, I hear you ask?
Confession three: I made myself finish one, but I have decided to abandon the other two.
Sometimes a book does not work. It could be bad timing or mood or tiredness or other stuff going on in one’s life. Or sometimes a book is just not for you. No matter what other people say about it, or love about it or admire about it, it could be that, for you, none of those things matter.
All That Swagger was one of those books for me.
The epub ebook format was riddled with spelling mistakes and typos. Some of it could just be Miles Franklin’s odd renderings of the Irish brogue, which she discussed early on by saying,
* The aim is merely to indicate the rhythm and poetic and philosophic idiom of’ the speech of the Irish characters, not to make a pedantic exhibition of Irish pronunciation word by word. Those acquainted with the deeply-placed voices, and rich unorthodox vowel sounds which distinguish much of Irish-English, despite disclaimers by thaw who adopt the haw-haw, flat-vowelled Public School English, are independent of phonetic reproduction, and to read dialect is a wearying and frequently an impossible exercise to all but those who specialize in linguistics.
I had read one of Franklin’s, Brent of Bin Bin books for the previous 1956 Club, Gentlemen at Gyang Gyang, with a great deal of enjoyment, so I had reasonably high hopes.
It started out okay enough, with a young couple, escaping the poverty of 1833 Ireland, to try and make their fortunes in the new colony of New South Wales. Danny was full of vim and vigour and keen for adventure. He saw himself as an explorer. Johanna preferred more sedate refinements, like a bed and a roof over her head and somewhere safe to have her babies.
Danny made friends easily and wasn’t afraid to deal (fairly) with the local Aboriginal tribes or call out other settlers who were behaving badly. Johanna was afraid to rock the boat and often confused status for genuine friendship.
It was not an easy life. Babies died and Danny was often away, leaving Johanna to basically fend for herself. But by the time the surviving babies had grown into adulthood, I was tired, so very, very tired of this story. And I was only halfway done.
After several days of making myself open the document to read another chapter or two, I finally questioned why I was doing this. My previous tagline, on my old blog, was Frank Zappa’s ‘so many books, so little time.’ I truly have so many books waiting to be read on my TBR pile, so why was I spending so much time on one I wasn’t enjoying? I often coach my colleagues to only read books that they want to read and are enjoying in some way; it was time to take my own advice!
Obviously, All That Swagger was better received in it’s day. The Sydney Morning Herald on the 24th December 1936, in an article entitled, ‘Miles Franklin’s Triumph’ said,
She is to be congratulated upon both the breadth and height of her achievement, she has produced a work of integrity, peopled with characters which are not giants or satyrs, but endearing humans, lit with the never-guttering flame of passionate idealism and an exultant devotion to the soil and soul of Australia.
For a far more generous and comprehensive response to All That Swagger, please see Bill’s thoughtful post @The Australian Legend.
- According to Australian Literature (Miller & Macarthy 1956), there were another two generations to come in this four generational saga.
- The story was set around the Murrumbidgee district – the area between the Murrumbidgee River and the Murray River – now known as the Riverina.
- In 1841 the white population of this area was 1139.
- In 1843 it was 1463.
- Won the S. H. Prior novel for 1936.
- Johanna. Her idealism never matched Danny’s. She was far more concerned with practical matters. Her disillusionment with love, marriage and Australia was realistically drawn by Franklin.
In the intoxication of passion she had chosen Danny against her family, her country and her God, and could not now rebel. She had no one behind her. Marriage was inviolable in her world, divorce a scandalous phenomenon, a woman who deserted her husband a social outcast. Johanna had to cleave unto Danny now though the allure was no longer potent. The thrilling enfranchisement of her husband’s early conjugal behaviour had degenerated to that sheepishness and self-consciousness irritating to a wife.
Favourite or Forget?
Unfortunate is more apt. Perhaps if Australia had actually been settled by more men like Danny, then maybe our history with our First Nations people would not have been so disastrous and our attitude towards our unique native environment would have been more respectful and caring. But it wasn’t. Even by 1936 this was pie-in-the-sky dreaming.
Australia is the most wonderful country in the world, but new ideas must be freed to save and develop it. Australians must do something better than copy any one else on the globe. There has been too much pioneering of destruction, trying to force Australia to the mistakes and achievements of Asia and Europe. Science must learn to take Australia on her own lines and let her remain different.
From the Vaults 1936:
- A Cat, A Man And Two Women | Junichiro Tanizaki
- Jamaica Inn | Daphne Du Maurier
- The Story of Ferdinand | Munro Leaf
- Gone With the Wind | Margaret Mitchell
Read for Simon and Karen’s 1936 Club.
Book: All That Swagger | Miles Franklin Publication Date: 1st March 2010 (first published March 1936) Publisher: Project Gutenberg Australia Format: epub ebook