The Penguin Anthology of Australian Women’s Writing edited by Dale Spender (1988) made its way onto my bookshelves back in April last year. I discovered it tucked away on the Literature shelf in the second hand bookshop attached to Gleebooks in Blackheath.
Dale Spender’s Acknowledgements and Introduction were fascinating on several accounts. I enjoy the many connections within Australia literary circles. Spender thanks Debra Adelaide who was one of the major researchers on this book. Adelaide went on to edit her own anthologies of Australian writers Women Writers: A Bibliographic Guide (1988) and A Bright and Fiery Troop: Australian Women Writers of the Nineteenth Century (2008) as well as several novels and short stories. Spender marvels that Adelaide included 450 women authors in her Bibliographic Guide, not because she is surprised to see so many, but that so many have fallen away from mainstream view due to ‘their refusal to conform to the masculine image‘.
Right from the early days of the new settlement in NSW, women were writing, but their concerns and issues were different to the men and ‘they were even writing about the men in a way that men rarely wrote about themselves‘. Mateship, from a female perspective was not always the positive thing it was for the men. Romanticising the bush legends and outback stories was not something the women writers felt obliged to engage in. They tended to deal with the realities of isolation, child birth, fear and the lack of agency in their own lives.
She sees the early letter and journal writing by these women as expressions of ‘migrant literature‘ and even a form of therapy – women far from home, in exile, trying to make sense of this new experience and ‘make sense of their new selves and their new lives‘. Their writing revealed the struggle to reconcile the values of ‘the old country‘ with those found in the new.
As the new colony grew, not all of these new values were an issue. In fact, many of the women coming to Australia in the 19th century embraced the freedom and independence this new life could provide. Marriage and child bearing were often criticized or shown to be detrimental to women. Female writers showed that it was the women who paid the higher price for making a mistake in picking the wrong kind of husband.
One aspect of life that many of these women referred to time and again was the exploitation of the Aborigines, especially the black women by the white men. Spender claims that white women did not fear Aboriginal women or wish to subdue them. They were not the ‘enemy‘. It was the power imbalance between men and women that created the problems. It was ‘co-existence rather than conflict’, humanity rather than inhumanity and the strength that could be gained from shared experiences that most women writer’s were seeking.
At the time, these female voices were usually writing alone and isolated and they were often ridiculed by the established male writers. Spender hopes that by collecting them together that it makes it possible to see that these women writers were not in fact isolated examples of female rebellion, but part of a long line of continuous experience of women authors raising ‘their voices against female subordination.’
The collection includes letters, diaries, journals, short stories and chapter extracts from larger works. Many of the early pieces can now be found on Project Gutenberg or Gutenberg Australia as well.
|Louisa Anne Meredith||My Home in Tasmania During a Residency of Nine Years||1812-1895|
|Catherine Helen Spence||Afloat or Ashore||1825-1910|
|Ellen Clacy||A Lady’s Visit to the Gold Diggings of Australia 1852-1853||1830-1901|
|Mary Fortune||Kirsty Oglevie||1833-1911|
|Ada Cambridge||A Girl’s Ideal||1844-1926|
|Louisa Lawson||Editorials from The Dawn||1848-1920|
|Jessie Couvreur (Tasma)||An Old Time Episode in Tasmania||1848-1897|
|Rosa Praed||My Australian Girlhood||1851-1935|
|Catherine Langloh Parker||Australian Legendary Tales||1885-1940|
|Barbara Baynton||Squeaker’s Mate||1857-1929|
|Mary Gaunt||Dick Stanesby’s Hutkeeper||1861-1942|
|Henry Handel Richardson||The Bathe: A Grotesque||1870-1946|
|Edith Lyttleton||Why Mollie Wouldn’t||1874-1945|
|Mollie Skinner||The Witch of Wellaway||1876-1955|
|Mary Grant Bruce||How I Became A Writer & Overtime For Wives||1878-1958|
|Miles Franklin & Dymphna Cusack||Call Up Your Ghosts||1879-1954 & 1902-1981|
|Katharine Susannah Prichard||Brumby Innes & The Cooboo||1883-1969|
|Nettie Palmer||Fourteen Years||1885-1964|
|Eleanor Dark||Sweet and Low||1901-1985|
|Dorothy Cottrell||Cabbage Roses||1902-1957|
|Christina Stead||A Writer’s Friends||1902-1983|
|Sarah Campion||Mo Burdekin||1906-2002|
|Kylie Tennant||Speak You So Gently & The Face of Despair||1912-1988|
|Nancy Cato||The Olive Stealers||1917-2000|
|Nene Gare||A Good Job||1919-1994|
|Olga Masters||The Home Girls||1919-1986|
|Oriel Gray||The Torrents||1920-2003|
|Antigone Kefala||Sunday Lunch||1935-|
|Germaine Greer||The Female Eunich||1939-|