Sadly, on the 26th June 2022, Frank Moorhouse passed away aged 83. He was born on the 21st December 1938 in Nowra, NSW. He was a journalist, writer, novelist and screenwriter. Please see Lisa @ANZ LitLovers lovely farewell here and Sue @Whispering Gums here. As you will see in both posts, Moorhouse’s influence has been felt deeply and gratefully far beyond the pages of his books.
A serious illness at aged 12 saw Moorhouse bedridden for months. During this time, he discovered the joy of reading, especially the delightful, quixotic world of Alice in Wonderland. Keen observors of the Edith trilogy will have noticed that Moorhouse also gives a love of Alice to his best loved protagonist, Edith Berry Campbell.
When Edith arrives in Geneva and the League of Nations for the first time she refers to Alice a number of times, equating her own bemusement at all the rules and social protocols of life in the League with the Queen of Hearts rule-bound world. For Edith, entering the Palais Wilson for the first time was much like falling down a rabbit-hole.
But now it’s time to move onto book two in the Edith Trilogy Readalong, Dark Palace. (see Master Post and start of book one, Grand Days here).
Dark Palace was originally published in 2000, seven years after Grand Days. It went on to win the 2001 Miles Franklin Award. After the brouhaha surrounding Grand Days and the Miles Franklin award, Moorhouse made sure he included some Australian scenes in his second book.
The 2001 Miles Franklin judging panel wrote:
In Dark Palace, the companion novel to his earlier Grand Days, Frank Moorhouse takes the twinned histories of the League of Nations of Edith Campbell Berry, his Australian heroine, through to the demise of the League after World War II. As its title suggests, this is a more sombre novel than its predecessor, a song of experience rather than innocence, with Edith’s earlier idealism and optimism repeatedly challenged by failures in her private life as well as by the League’s failure to prevent a world war. Even her trip home to Australia has its darker moments, as she discovers that Canberra has a yet no room for a woman like her. Moorhouse’s effortless control of his historical material is matched by his remarkable insight into his character lives.
However Dark Palace was not without its own awards controversy.
The 2001 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award accidentally, and incorrectly, leaked that Moorhouse had won the award and the $20, 000 prize money. In fact, Peter Carey had won for his book, True History of the Kelly Gang.
Patrick Barkham in his article Prize Fight for The Guardian | 16 Oct 2001 describes Moorhouse as being ‘impoverished’ and therefore thrilled at the thought of the prize money and how he could pay off some debts. Whereas Carey comes off as being ungracious and unsympathetic.
Unlike Grand Days, which I have now read three times, Dark Palace has only been read the once – way back in 2000. My memory of the second book is much hazier as a result. Whereas Grand Days is full of innocent idealism and hopefulness, Dark Palace is about decline and regression.
It is 1931 and the League is failing to live up to expectations. Married life is not what Edith thought it would be either. How will she manage this double disillusionment?
It’s time to find out.
- The Literary Life of Frank Moorhouse, a Giant of Australian Letters | The Conversation | 27 July 2022
As I was reading Grand Days though, I began to wonder if there were other novels also set in Geneva and the League of Nations. It’s a fascinating time in history and many authors have set stories in this time between the wars. But were any of them centred around life at the League?
With a bit of researching I unearthed these few titles. If you know of any more, please let me know.
The League of Nations Book List
- Geneva, a Fancied Page of History in Three Acts (1938) | George Bernard Shaw (play)
- Hilary Aidar St. George Saunders & John Leslie Palmer (writing under their joint pseudonym of Francis Beeding) published over 30 books together mostly set in and around the League of Nations (where they both worked). Some of the books include:
- The Six Proud Walkers (1928)
- The League of Discontent (1930)
- The One Sane Man (1934)
- The Erring Under-Secretary (1937)
- There Are Thirteen (1946)
- Mystery at Geneva. An Improbable Tale of Singular Happenings (1922) | Rose Macaulay
- This post was written on the traditional land of the Wangal clan, one of the 29 clans of the Eora Nation within the Sydney basin. This Reading Life acknowledges that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are this land’s first storytellers.