I really like Nettie and Vance Palmer, the Australian literary power couple of the first half of the twentieth century. (And lifelong friends with Katharine Susannah Prichard.) Last year I read both volumes of their published letters – a tiny fraction of the massive archive in the National Library. I was too busy to review the first (old) collection but my review of the new collection of love letters, edited by Deborah Jordan, is now up on the Westerly website.
On 28 January 1919, the day the Spanish Flu hit Melbourne, Katharine Susannah Prichard and Hugo Throssell were marred in the registry office. Coincidentally, on 28 January 2006, Nicole and I were married at Claremont Baptist Church. I wrote about it for the KSP Writers’ Centre here.
Leonard Cohen, George Johnston, Charmain Clift, and Mungo MacCallum walk into a bar on the island of Hydra… no it’s not a joke, it’s a fine group biography by Western Australians Paul Genoni and Tanya Dalziell and my review is on the Westerly website.
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.
It’s always a beautiful shock to see Katharine Susannah Prichard in colour. This photo comes from my KSP Writers’ Centre column in May. I’ve written four columns about the heritage of the house itself, with more to come later when I’ve done further research. Katharine lived at the house in Greenmount for nearly fifty years, and the centre hopes to install a series of heritage plaques. The columns are available to read on the KSPWC website:
Biographers are vastly outnumbered by novelists, poets, and probably playwrights. We need to stick together more. I’ve started a new Facebook group called Biographers’ Forum – ‘The art, the joys, and the woes of biography. A place for those writing researched biographies to converse and share resources, tips, reviews, stories, and news.’ https://www.facebook.com/groups/571559926526111/?hc_location=group … It is already trans-Pacific with its first two members, Laura and me. Michelle and Janine and other biographers who read this blog – if you’re on Facebook it would be great to have you there! And for everyone else, if you know any biographers, please do invite them.
Over at “The Australian Legend”, Bill has an interesting interview with biographer Sarah Goldman, author of Caroline Chisholm: An Irresistible Force. I started out my biography in fear someone else would publish one on my subject before me; that actually happened to Goldman, and it was still okay, as she explains in answer to one of Bill’s questions.
Caroline Chisholm: An Irresistible Force by Sarah Goldman is the recently released biography of one of the most interesting and influential women in Australia’s early history. My review copy arrived with a letter suggesting Sarah would be happy to be interviewed, so I sent her some questions to which she has been kind enough to give extensive answers. I didn’t let on, but this is my first interview.
Lisa Hill of ANZ Litlovers has reviewed Katharine Susannah Prichard’s novel, Haxby’s Circus (1930). It’s a sympathetic and astute review, giving a good sense of its themes and characters.
It comes the same week I’ve been writing about Haxby’s Circus in my biography. In the comments on Lisa’s review, Fay Kennedy mentions the origins of the novel in an incident when Katharine was at her brother’s surgery comforting a trapeze artist with a broken back. She writes about it in her autobiography, Child of the Hurricane. The incident was reported in a number of newspaper digitised on Trove, including the last paragraph in this article “District News” Cohuna Farmer’s Weekly (Vic), 23 November 1917, 3:
It comes right in the middle of the second conscription campaign, and an intense time in Katharine’s life. So much happened in Katharine’s life in 1917 – two deaths, a broken heart, and political development. It’s been a big month trying to cover it all.
In the midst of the many disturbing social, environmental and economic policies of the incumbent federal coalition government, its treatment of writers has not been prominent in the national consciousness. But Mr Brandis, the arts minister, has taken away millions from the Australia Council for the Arts to administer himself. This includes all the funding for writers, and writers of Australia have now been living in uncertainty for a considerable time while the new arrangement has not been announced. Kate Forsyth has written a “A small and very polite rant about the importance of writers to the world” directed at Mr Brandis. It concludes with some innovative additional ways forward for funding writers better, including letting writers write on the dole, and exempting writing income from tax. Two ideas well-worth considering.
As you may know, I have a separate biography blog, A Biographer in Perth, concerned with the life of Katharine Susannah Prichard and the art of biography, topics slightly more specialised than this present blog, which aims at a more general audience. But some topics fall between the stools, like perhaps Miles Franklin’s My Brilliant Career. You can read some stray thoughts on it from me, which add up to a partial review; and also a post on its connections with Katharine Susannah Prichard. There’s also a link on the other blog so you can follow it by email.