I have two books and a record signed by Katharine Susannah Prichard, but I recently acquired my first item she once owned. It came up for sale on Ebay, a copy of Alfred Deakin’s The Federal Story, published posthumously in 1944. It was a reasonable price and I liked that it was a book which would have held significance for her. Deakin befriended her when he was prime minister in about 1908 and would sometimes walk into the Melbourne city centre with her. They shared a love of the novelist George Meredith and it was thanks to his letter of introduction that she got to meet her literary idol when she visited England. After her conversion to communism, she was easier on Deakin than other liberals and wrote an undistinguished play about him in 1951. At the time she knew him, she shared his middle-class progressive politics. She also had a melancholy appreciation for the autumn of his aging generation of mid-Victorians. They were fading away while she was burning brightly. She was filled with a sense of destiny as a talented young woman coming of age in a ‘new’ nation. There’s a second association for the copy – after her death, it passed to her old friend, Annette Cameron. The friendship was significant in Katharine’s life; Annette was one of her confidants. I wish I’d met Annette before she died and had been able to understand her better – but she was a private person and would have hated the idea of my biography. At the end of Katharine’s life she was urging her to burn everything, all of her papers.

I’ve proudly added it to my KSP collection but I confess I have some ambivalence about whether I should have bought this book. I’m not inclined to read it, at least at this point. And I sometimes think that despite the significance some of us invest in provenance and the magical touch of a famous figure, it is perhaps illusory, or at least largely invisible. I shouldn’t think about these things so much, I suspect, that’s not what collectors are meant to do.

  • Glimpses of KSP series: this month is the first birthday for The Red Witch: A Biography of Katharine Susannah Prichard and I’m marking the occasion with some posts throughout May offering random glimpses of KSP.