Lisa Hill of ANZ Litlovers has reviewed Katharine Susannah Prichard’s first novel The Pioneers as part of Australian Women Writers Generation 2 week, co-ordinated by Bill at The Australian Legend. Lisa quite rightly points to the influence of the romance genre on it and the silence on Aboriginal issues, especially as the South Gippsland area saw significant massacres. Perceptively, she writes, ‘So while the story does feature the obligatory bushfire, clearing of the land, home-building and the planting of subsistence crops, plus a proud declaration that It’s all ours, this land about here, the focus of KSP’s theme is redemption and the creation of a new society in which there were second chances for people who had fallen foul of unjust laws.’ It’s an interesting book for a number of reasons, from its depiction of colonial Australia to the developing voice of Katharine at the beginning of her career. It probably sold more copies than any other in Katharine’s lifetime but does not have the enduring literary interest of her best work. The Pioneers was the first book I read as I contemplated taking up the KSP biography back in January 2014; I wrote about it here and here.
This month I’m writing the circus chapter of my Katharine Susannah Prichard biography, chapter 24 in the current structure. It’s focused on the writing and reception of her novel Haxby’s Circus (1930). The novel was written at the end of her five year creative peak from 1924 to 1929 and is usually regarded as one of her better novels but less accomplished than the other two novels of this period, Working Bullocks (1926) and Coonardoo (1929). Whatever its flaws it’s an engaging and moving novel. I reviewed it in July 2014, writing that it ‘has the most powerful scenes I’ve yet encountered in KSP’s work, scenes of beauty, darkness and insight’. More recently, Lisa has reviewed it on ANZ Litlovers.
It’s a pity that the edition reprinted several times has always been the British one. The American edition, Fay’s Circus (Katharine’s original title) – published a year later – contains an extra section of 9700 words which scholar Carol Hetherington believes resolves the structural flaw late in the novel. Katharine was writing for a competition deadline and her sick child meant she didn’t write this section as planned in the first version. (Carol Hetherington, ‘Authors, Editors, Publishers: Katharine Susannah Prichard and W.W. Norton’, Australian Literary Studies 22, no. 4 (October 2006): 417–31.) Continue reading
I reviewed Katharine Susannah Prichard’s Coonardoo back in 2014 and stand by most of my comments. I’ve just finished re-reading it, and want to add some further thoughts.
It’s inevitable that literature is read in terms of its social relevance, praised or blamed for its handling of issues that matter to us as a society now. It’s one of the functions of literature, and it’s a significant one, but it shouldn’t be the only one. It’s a two-edged sword, of course. When Coonardoo was serialised in the The Bulletin in 1928, some readers wrote in angrily about the fact it depicted miscegenation between whites and Aboriginals. (This is an oft-repeated statement; if I get time I’d like to get behind it and see if these and other negative reactions are preserved in the archives anywhere – certainly not in KSP’s papers.) Later, Coonardoo was praised for its progressiveness in representing Aboriginal characters more fully. Continue reading
I reviewed Katharine Susannah Prichard’s fourth novel, Working Bullocks (1926), three years ago, and after reading it again, I largely agree with my first reading. It’s the story of the people of the timber country in the South-West of WA and follows a young man named Red Burke who has a way with horses and bullocks but not people, as he is torn between two women and struggles to make his way in that world. I have some new reflections – mostly biographical – to add: Continue reading
I wrote a short review of Katharine’s 1948 novel, Golden Miles, for my monthly column in the KSP Writers’ Centre newsletter and it’s now up on the centre’s website.
Katharine Susannah Prichard published two books in the 1950s – Winged Seeds, a goldfields novel, at the beginning of the decade in 1950, and N’goola and Other Stories at the end of the decade in 1959. It was a difficult decade for Katharine -she felt the sting of Cold War persecution as a Communist; her health was poor; her only son was living overseas and then interstate; and the writing projects she had envisaged in 1950 did not work out how she hoped. N’goola brings together this decade of troubled writing. There’s much in it which surprised and interested me. Continue reading
Katharine Susannah Prichard’s first collection of short stories, Kiss on the Lips, was published in 1932, the same year as her collection of poetry, The Earth Lover and Other Verses. It came at the height of her career, soon after her three great novels – Working Bullocks (1926), Coonardoo (1929) and Haxby’s Circus (1930) – as well as her underrated “children’s” novel Wild Oats of Han (1928). It was the last book she was to publish before the devastation of the death of her husband, Hugo, in 1933.
It’s a diverse collection, spanning two decades across genres, landscapes, readerships, and quality. The book offers no guidance to readers, not even an acknowledgement of previous publications, and I can imagine some of them feeling bewildered. Continue reading
I gave two papers on Katharine Susannah Prichard in July. The first was on 9 July at the Association for the Study of Australian Literature conference in Canberra and was called “History of a troubled autobiography: Katharine Susannah Prichard’s Child of the Hurricane”. I’m hoping to develop it further into a chapter of the critical section of my thesis and also as a standalone publication. It was a little scary presenting my paper to an audience of Australian literature academics, but they were generous in their responses and I think it went well. I have been encouraged toward some further reading in mid-century Marxist responses to auto/biography and Freudian thought.
My second paper was at the Limina postgraduate humanities conference at UWA on 29 July. The conference theme was “beyond boundaries,” and so I wrote a paper on the boundaries between fiction and autobiography in Katharine’s 1906 serial, “A City Girl in Central Australia.” I’d been looking at this serial for chapter six of my biography (“Outback: Tarella Station, 1905”), and it fitted neatly with some of the thinking I’d been doing for the paper on Child of the Hurricane. It’s pitched toward a general audience and I’m not reworking it for scholarly publication, so I present it here on my blog. Continue reading