Fay’s Circus is the greatest Katharine Susannah Prichard novel almost no-one alive today has read. Or at least in one sense. It was published in the USA in 1931 by William Norton and is the complete version of the novel better known as Haxby’s Circus. Through an unfortunate mistake, the full version has never been republished.
In 1917, Katharine held the hand of an acrobat who had broken her back at a circus performance, trying to comfort her. They were waiting for Katharine’s brother, Dr Nigel Prichard, to return to his surgery and treat the woman. The incident stayed with Katharine and finally bloomed into a novel a decade later after she travelled with Wirth’s Circus for two weeks through the Wheatbelt and Mid West of WA. Haxby’s (or Fay’s) Circus follows Gina the acrobat after a terrible accident as she is transformed into a worldly and world weary middle-aged woman, adept at the business of circuses and reinventing herself.
Katharine called it Fay’s Circus and was finishing it to enter in a novel competition in 1929 when her son and nephew (who was living with her) got measles. To meet the deadline, she left out a big chunk from her plan and sent it off anyway. It was short-listed and contracted for publication, but the publisher insisted the name be changed to ‘Haxby’s Circus’ and wouldn’t give her the time to finish the missing section. It was hard to negotiate by post to London, and the book appeared like that despite Katharine’s unhappiness.
When US publisher William Norton wanted to publish it, he gave her time to write the missing section and allowed her to keep her original title. She was much happier with the result and grateful to Norton. However, in 1945 when the novel was selected for reprinting in a cheap Australian war edition to be sent to troops on the frontline, Katharine forgot to send the publisher the US edition to reprint from. The many reprints since have followed the mistake. I ordered in Fay’s Circus on inter-library loan, and the missing section truly does improve the novel, taking away the abrupt change of fortune and mood late in the story.
The full story is in Red Witch chapter 23, “The Circus”. Carol Hetherington wrote a great essay on Fay’s Circus and Katharine’s relationship with Norton – https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A158838200/LitRC…
Denise Faithfull said:
Hi Nathan, I too read ‘Fay’s Circus’. Read it at the State Library of NSW. I wasn’t keen on that boxing match that went on & on between Sailor & Jack but I loved the description of the storm on the way to Wee Waa. KSP writes good storms!
Looking forward to joining the on-line launch tomorrow night.