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
23 thoughts on “All That Swagger | Miles Franklin #1936Club”
I’m sorry All That Swagger didn’t grab you. It’s the story of the Franklins (the Brent of Bib Bin books are mostly the story of her mother’s family) and is set further east than you say, in the high country around Tumut and across the mountains to the Monaro high plains. Franklin had to give up a lot of her feminist ideals to write it, and most men at the time read and applauded it as mainstream Bush Lit around the adventurous Danny, though the important part played by Johanna in holding it all together was acknowledged in passing. It’s not my favourite MF – that would probably be Cockatoos – but it still reads well IMO
A big part of my struggle was the ePub format. I simply prefer a real book.
I was often confused about the setting, as I assume she made up the names of places – at least I had never heard of any of the places she mentioned. She was in the mountains, by rivers & in the plains. Yackandandah was the only place I knew. And at one point Danny was off to Bathurst when he had his accident. Keebah and Burrabinga may have been property names instead, but I was never sure.
I really wanted more of Johanna’s story I guess.
I misspoke in my first comment. Sorry, I was at a party (another party! – my grandson’s 1st). MF’s mother’s people were from Talbingo near Tumut. The Franklins were from Brindabella, just south of Canberra. Despite what I wrote in my own review I think Danny’s Beewuk is Brindabella and the second property, Burrabinga is higher up in the Alps, but where I don’t know. MF liked to obscure things for no real reason.
I like what you say about the Indigenous population. I think MF would have liked it to be true but whether it was we have no way of telling. I think anyway that smallpox and measles ravaged the NSW coastal and mountain populations and so squatters didn’t experience the opposition they did out on the plains.
I think I should read Jill Roe’s bio. I would like to be able to situate MF’s stories better in future, esp since I have travelled in & around many of these places at different times. A literary map of her stories would be great…something I was also thinking about Eve Langley & The Pea Pickers as I drove through Gippsland recently. And then HHR and Ada Cambridge closer to Ballarat, Beechworth & Chiltern.
I love owning Roe’s SMF but I wouldn’t advocate reading it, it really is just a collection of facts, 600pp worth, in chronological order. But check Lisa’s review, I have an idea she liked it. What would I recommend instead? Maybe Marjorie Barnard’s bio, which has a lot of gaps, but has the advantage that she actually knew MF. And Verna Coleman’s (Her unknown brilliant career, I think) which is an excellent coverage of MF’s time in the US.
Meanwhile, I’ll think about a post called Miles Franklin’s Geography, which I sort of made a start on here –
That was really interesting Bill and when I have more time, I will go back and read your other MF posts too. I’m starting to find this fulltime work gig a drag on doing all the other things I’d rather be doing!!
I know what you mean. Here I am keeping my blogging up to date when I should be tendering for work (when I really should have gone back to Melbourne last Friday, but you know, birthday parties!).
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It’s a shame the format didn’t work well and you didn’t find it engaging. I’ve just skimmed through the end of a book which, as an autobiography of a gay man who is a luminary in gay history and sociology writing, should have been fascinating …
That’s a shame Liz, but we all have those reading moments where things don’t click for whatever reason.
To break my bad reading week, I’ve picked up a bio about Woolf & the square she lived in for a year in Bloomsbury. Just what I needed today 😍
I think we’re often tempted to keep going with a book that should be jettisoned (for whatever reason, it’s just not working) because we’re trying to support various reading weeks, challenges and so on. But at the end of the day, reading is for pleasure and if you’re not enjoying it, then abandoning it is the best thing to do.
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I never used to abandon a book, and I certainly gave All That Swagger a much longer period of grace than I normally give a book I’m struggling to get into. I kept making allowances for the ePub format… and I did enjoy the descriptions of the scenery and found the interactions that Danny had with the local Indigenous groups surprisingly modern.
The problems occurred for me as we moved into the second gen – I never felt connected to them or like I really knew them or cared about them. Franklin spent so much time fleshing out the details of Danny and Johanna’s early life in the colony, the others just felt like strangers plonked down suddenly in the middle of the story.
I believe that the literary community owes a lot of Miles Franklin, but she was not IMO a great writer, and I’m not the only one. Jill Roe says in her bio that her lack of education and her refusal to engage with modernism held her back and that she needed a mentor to help with problems like the ones you’ve described. It’s a pity because she’s a person I really admire, but my attempts to read her have only ever been desultory because I’m just not interested in the kind of books she wrote.
I’ve struggled with MF too, which is why I was so delighted when I read Gentlemen at Gyang Gyang last year & found it rather delightful. I will approach my next one more cautiously.
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It is very distracting to get a bunch of typos in an ePub book, and then to not even know what was deliberate and what wasn’t! I have punted on ePubs that I subsequently liked in a print version. (That may not be the case with this…)
If I ever spotted some older Franklin’s in a second hand bookshop, I would certainly be very tempted to gather them in. I enjoy seeing Australia through the eyes of previous generations, but you’re right, maybe not this one.
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Oh dear – so sorry this didn’t work! I don’t like to abandon something either, but I wish you hadn’t had to punish yourself! I’ve read and enjoyed Miles Franklin, but not this one. I shall avoid….
Normally I love a multi-generational family saga, but gen one was the only one that came alive enough to capture my attention here. I think I need to read her bio before I dive into any more of her stories.
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Miles Franklin is an author I’d like to try at some point, but probably not with this one, especially given your experience with it – I’m sorry it didn’t fly for you. My Brilliant Career is the one that’s been on my radar for a while, so I guess it would be best for me to start there?
Her stories certainly convey a wonderful sense of Australian life and our environment, so she will always be worth reading for that alone.
Miles Franklin got her writing mojo back with the Brent of Bin Bin books (not counting Prelude which is part of her woeful ‘Mayfair’ period) but the first time in 2 decades Australians saw her name again was with Old Blastus of Bandicoot (1931) which is lots of fun. I have a spare copy of a 1945 edition if you want me to post it to you Bron. Save you from more horrors of epub.
Thank you so much for your generosity Bill. I would love to say ‘yes’ but my TBR pile is in an extreme state again, so I will pass for now…as I vow once more to only read the pile and add nothing new to it….ba ha ha!! It’s an unavoidable occupational hazard!
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