[At the State Library of Victoria, I found some extraordinary letters between Leon Brodzky (pictured) and Hugh McCrae, friends of Katharine Susannah Prichard, which are remarkably frank about sex and dating in 1909. It’s such an underground subject that it gives some important background to the lives of twentysomethings at the time. Leon was in London and interested in another friend of Katharine’s – Ethel Robson, or Robbie. She taught Katharine about the ‘wicked ways of men’ and the risks of VD, revealing she had gonorrhoea. It was hard to delete this scene and I’m glad to be able to share it now.]
Katharine’s new lodgings included a sitting room which became the meeting place for a circle of expats
to compare experiences, and go out for dinner together in the evening, often joined by Robbie… and Leon Brodsky [Brodzky], an Australian journalist on the staff of a weekly newspaper. Sometimes, when funds were low, we dined on a pot of spaghetti, cooked over a spirit stove in my room, and yarned about art, literature, and our future brilliant careers. Leon was more sophisticated than the rest of us. He liked to stride about talking of Ibsen, and the plays he himself was going to write. Robbie, a theosophist despite her red hair and the sex appeal she wielded so gaily, was sure that the Great Heart, her guide would reveal to her some important work she had to do in the world.[i]
Leon—later known as Spencer Brodney—had come to London after working as Reay’s subeditor at the Herald.[ii] In a letter to Katharine years later, he couldn’t recall if he first met her at the Herald office in Melbourne or later in London. She and Leon wrote to each other every decade or two, and each time—in 1933, 1956, and 1962—Katharine recounted the same memory of him striding around talking about Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen.[iii]
In 1956, Leon wrote, “But one thing I remember [is] that with you was a girl named Ethel Robson and that one night I took you and her around London till daybreak and that we visited Manning at his coffee-stall and pulled his leg.”[iv] Six years later, when they wrote to each other again, Katharine decided it was time to finally explain what happened with Robbie.
I haven’t heard of her for years. Did see her when she came back to Australia. Later, she went into a sanatorium for TB [tuberculosis], met a man there, she married & wrote to me, once, from Auckland, saying she was happy. But I’ve forgotten her married name, & that was years ago. Poor Robbie, she did so want to find a man who “really loved her.” She thought it might be you, once. I thought she sh[oul]d tell you something about her own health wh[ich] I thought you ought to know. She refused to do this; I threatened to tell you—if she didn’t. But, only suggested to you I think that [if] you weren’t serious it w[oul]d be better not to go on with the affair. A belated explanation! As a friend, whose ability I valued, I thought I owed you some defence against VD risk—& Robbie, too, if you had no intention of marrying her.[v]
In 1909, at about the same time Katharine was arguing with Robbie about telling Leon, Leon was corresponding about sex with Hugh McCrae—a future friend of Katharine’s. Hugh wrote:
But you get in Australia the curious spectacle in addition of the growing class of young women who are in “business” in the city and becoming addicted to “bachelor-girl” life sow their wild oats cheerfully like men, and who are almost of a masculine type of mind in these matters. Quite recently I had a love-passage with a girl-secretary to a politician. She seems to be making a hobby of various “literary” freaks in turn, and in turn I was “seduced”—you can’t call it anything else. Tomorrow a new flame, the next, another. Melbourne is swarming with such, if you go about with eyes open.[vi]
Leon, possibly reflecting on his situation with Robbie, observed that the situation was somewhat different in London.
Here in London I have noticed the same thing, but it is rather among the more professional kind of women that the female profligate exists. The typiste girl getting 15/- a week is chaste in most cases, her aim being simply a husband. But the girl who can afford a flat, who lives in a flat with others girls, whether she is an art-student, a secretary, or a journalist—she is more like the type you describe. As for the London Edwin & Angelina—they are nearly always “proper” in their relations, except perhaps during the summer holidays at the seaside… You see parks here are shut at sunset, & there are no open spaces, & most of the time the ground is too damp, while houses for the purposes are almost impossible under the regime of the London County Council & the Vigilance Committee. There are certain foreign restaurants where you pay almost 10/- a head for dinner worth 2/6 in a “private room” with a convenient sofa, & where the garcon always knocks twice before entering. But there are always police raids, prosecutions, and a sense of insecurity. No, fornication is difficult for those who have not rooms of their own, & there is naturally, a terrible amount of sex-hunger unsatisfied among the young men & women who are unable to marry or get married.[vii]
Katharine wasn’t looking for marriage, but nor was she one of the “female prolifigates” McCrae and Brodzky were talking about, even if the constraint of Christian morality was lost along with her faith at her father’s death. The new constraint was her relationship with Reay, who demanded fidelity from her, even though he was married himself.[viii]
[i] Hurricane, 121.
[ii] “In 1914 Lord Northcliffe appointed him editor of the Weekly Despatch in London on condition that he change his name from Brodzky to the less-Jewish sounding Brodney.” Cannon, “Brodzky, Leon Herbert Spencer (1883–1973).”
[iii] 8 September 1933, MS8053; 10 December 1956, MS7859; 5 January 1962, MS8700. Spencer Brodney Papers, SLV.
[iv] 27 November 1956, KSPP, MS6201/10/3.
[v] 5 January 1962, Spencer Brodney Papers, SLV, MS8700.
[vi] 7 March 1909, Spencer Brodney Papers, SLV, MS7737.
[vii] 13 April 1909, Spencer Brodney Papers, SLV, MS7782.
[viii] Hurricane, 217.
Lisa Hill said:
That is so droll, the idea that London’s damp lawns and closed parks frustrated young people in that way.
I’ve read somewhere that men who had the means to have a flat of their own, used to ‘lend the key’ to their friends…
Nathan Hobby said:
Yes it is rather droll!
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