An exhibition of material from the Monash University Library




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46. Travers, P. L. (Pamela Lyndon), 1899-1996.

Moscow excursion / by P. L. Travers. (New York : Reynal & Hitchcock, [1935])

Pamela Lyndon Travers — best known as the creator of Mary Poppins — was born Helen Lyndon Goff in Maryborough in Queensland. Travers began to have her poems published while still a teenager and wrote for The Bulletin and Triad at the same time as gaining a reputation as an actress. She toured Australia and New Zealand with a Shakespearean touring company before leaving for England in 1924. The publication of Mary Poppins in 1934 marked her first literary success.

Moscow Excursion began as a series of personal letters sent home while Pamela Travers was on holiday. Travers’ account of the Soviet Union sits in direct contrast to Prichard’s The Real Russia. Evincing a certain quality of detached scepticism, Travers finds the Soviet Union dull and drab.


47. Murdoch, Nina, 1890-1976.

Seventh heaven : A joyous discovery of Europe. (Sydney : Angus & Robertson, 1930)


48. Gaunt, Mary, 1861-1942.

Reflection - in Jamaica. (London : Benn, 1932)


When the early death of her husband left her ‘penniless, homeless and alone’, Mary Gaunt refused the option of returning to her parents’ home and instead embarked on achieving her childhood dream of exotic travel. She managed to support herself by writing fiction, journalism and travel books for over forty years.

49. Turner, Ethel, 1870-1958.

Ports and happy havens / by Ethel Turner (Mrs. H.R. Curlewis) (London : Hodder and Stoughton, [1912])


50. Gilruth, Margaret, 1910 - ?

Maiden voyage: The unusual experiences of a girl on board a tramp ship. (London : Jonathan Cape, 1934)


In her Foreword the author describes this book as “a collection of diary-letters written home to Australia during a five months' voyage on a little Norwegian tramp ship with a personality”. The daughter of a Melbourne society family, Gilruth initially had difficulty securing a passport for the trip as the mode of transport proposed was not though suitable for an unaccompanied young woman of her background. Gilruth later wrote of her European travels for the India Times & Herald (1932-34), conducted European tours for the Australian & Overseas Travel Service (1936-38), and worked as an Australian correspondent in UK & Middle East during WW2.


War


Flat Case 3


When war broke out in 1914 some feminists assumed that women would or at least should oppose the war because of their vested interest in the creation of life. Other feminists, while not going so far as to oppose the war effort in progress, nevertheless saw a special role for women in the prevention of future wars. Both strands were present in Australia and especially in Victoria, which was the centre of both movements of anti-war women in Australia. Australian women produced prolific amounts of poetry and verse about the Great War. Most was written to promote recruiting, to raise money for the Australian Wounded Soldiers’ Fund & other funds, and to eulogize Australian soldiers. Such poetry belongs to what Catherine W. Reilly calls the ‘white feather’ genre of war literature63


The question of war and appropriate responses to it troubled the writers of the next generation. Marjorie Barnard, for example, found herself at odds with Nettie Palmer over Spain: Barnard advocated pacificism which Palmer simply could not accept as an adequate response to the Spanish question. World War 2 left many writers questioning their role in the face of that conflict. Others such as Dymphna Cusack and Jean Devanny felt compelled in their different ways to document the challenges and changes they saw the war bring to Australian society.


51. Whiting, Mary Bradford.

A daughter of the empire / by Mary Bradford Whiting. (London : Humphrey Milford, 1919)

52. Cross, Zora, 1890-1964.

Elegy on an Australian schoolboy / by Zora Cross. (Sydney : Angus & Robertson, 1921)

Zora Cross’s Elegy of an Australian School-boy (1921) was published in a limited edition. In 1918, Cross had published a children’s long poem, The City of Riddle-me-ree as a pamphlet, dedicating it to her youngest brother Jack who had been killed in the Great War.64 Elegy would also emphasise Jack’s status as child and be dedicated to him. Its title poem suggests that his death has not been in vain:


Man that is born of woman may not die

Through the dear death of One

Who lived and breathed beneath our happy sky

Under our warm, sweet sun.

The resurrection and the light are here

O world redeemed of pain,

The Son of Woman through the halls of fear

Comes back to live again.


As this first stanza reveals, Cross makes an analogy with Christ’s own sacrifice. However, in foregrounding that this son is “born of woman” rather than of God, she emphasizes both the humanity of the soldier-boy and the significant role of mothers in bearing such heroic sons. The sacrifice is not divine but a human one and as such, will be writ in collective memory.

53. Meadows, Maureen C. (Maureen Clare)

I loved those Yanks / by Maureen C. Meadows ; cover design by Winifred Towers. (Sydney, N.S.W. : George M. Dash, [1948])


54. Kent Hughes, Mary.

Matilda waltzes with the Tommies / by Mary Kent Hughes (T/Major Thornton, R.A.M.C.) Third impression. (Melbourne : Oxford University Press, 1946)

55. Dark, Eleanor, 1901-1985.

The little company (New York: Macmillan, 1945)


Set in the Blue Mountains and in Sydney, The Little Company is the story of the writer Gilbert Massey and his family who are grappling with the impact of the unfolding events of the Second World War on their lives. The novel opens in 1941 with Gilbert suffering from writer’s block:


Yet when he tried to work again he was conscious of a drag somewhere. He had always written slowly, but steadily. Now he found himself floundering among innumerable false starts, discarding, beginning again, altering, revising until the thought he had begun with was entirely lost, and all was to do over again. He found himself continually betrayed by his own ignorance…So he went doggedly delving into what were nowadays known as World Affairs. He continued to question, to investigate, to read and think; he continued to discover and disbelieve, to rage and despair... (19)


While not a strictly autobiographical work, The Little Company nevertheless explored many of the issues that Dark herself struggled with in these years. As her biographers Barbara Brooks and Judith Clark note, the book is “a kind of intellectual memoir, recording, in fictional or partly fictional narrative, some of the events of the war, and the arguments she had with herself and others about politics, about propaganda and who or what they are writing for”.

56. Eldershaw, M. Barnard.

Tomorrow and Tomorrow. (1947, London: Phoenix House, in association with Georgian House, Melbourne, 1948)


M. Barnard Eldershaw’s fifth and final collaborative novel was their most ambitious and innovative, but it also represented their greatest disappointment after censors interfered with the final text, the publishers lopped one ‘Tomorrow’ from the title and readers seemed uncertain what to make of the novel. The censorship is usually thought of in terms of wartime necessity, but in reality it was probably the result of nervousness on the part of Georgian House who submitted the manuscript to the censors after their involvement in the scandalous obscenity case involving Robert Close’s Love Me Sailor. Tomorrow and Tomorrow was written across the war years when the authors’ were both vitally concerned over prospects for peace and the direction of post-war reconstruction. The novel takes the form of a fiction-within-a-fiction and is suggestive of Barnard Eldershaw’s growing impatience with the limitations of the conventional realist novel and a search for alternative fictional form. Shifting between the 24th century and the 20th century, the novel on the one hand dramatises the dilemmas of the writer as an intellectual and social critic blazing a path through the "wilderness" of time and history, and on the other it captures the plight of ordinary citizens prey to the vicissitudes of war and profit. The portrait of Harry Munster and his family set against the background of Sydney in the Great Depression and Second World War represents some of their most compelling writing. In the early 1950s when William Wentworth sought to attack the Commonwealth Literary Fund for allegedly supporting Communists, Tomorrow and Tomorrow would be denounced by him in Parliament and the press as a “trashy, tripey novel, with a Marxist slant”.


57. Palmer, Nettie, 1885-1964.

Spain: The Spanish people present their case : Australian nurses' response, with special article by Nettie Palmer. (Camberwell, Vic.: Spanish Relief Committee, 1936)


Nettie and Vance Palmer and their daughter Aileen had rented a house outside Barcelona in May 1936, anticipating a quiet year of writing. They were interrupted in July of the same year by an attempted Falangist coup and the beginning of the Spanish Civil War. “Into the bright morning some evil seemed to have suddenly entered, violently shattering the quiet, threatening all the future”, Nettie wrote. While Nettie and Vance left Spain within a week of the outbreak of hostilities (Aileen Palmer remained behind), Nettie in particular was to continue to publicise the Spanish cause, stressing that the threat of Fascism extended well beyond Spain and that the international community needed to be engaged: “We Australians should try to help ravaged Spain, believing that her fight is our own”. Back in Melbourne, she continued to speak publicly and to write about the war and to help raising funds through the Spanish Relief Committee.

58. Cusack, Dymphna, 1902-1981 and Florence James, 1902-1993

Come in spinner (London: Heinemann, 1951)

The manuscript of Come in Spinner won the 1948 Daily Telegraph novel prize but would wait three years before appearing in print in a severely abridged form. The full version of the text only appeared in 1988, around the same time the successful ABC television mini-series was screened. Cusack and James had met as undergraduates at the University of Sydney and began working on the novel while sharing a house together in the Blue Mountains during the latter stages of the Second World War. As James later reflected:


Now we had time in the Blue Mountains, why not tell the Sydney war story? Why not write about the women’s world we knew, where men’s labour was in short supply and women were “man-powered”? We would keep within the range of our own and our friends’ experiences. We would tell the story of Sydney as we knew it, pulling no punches…we were both pretty steamed up about the problems of women on the home front.


Set at the fictional ‘South Pacific’ hotel in the centre of Sydney, the action revolves around three women – Guinea, Deb and Claire – who work in the hotel’s glamorous Marie Antoinette beauty salon. Their lives are each complicated by war-time romance and a world where, as James observed, the war ‘had thrown decent people off balance and exploitation had become the name of the game’. The novel’s frank account of sex in wartime (prostitution, pregnancy, abortion) guaranteed a certain sensationalism attached to its publication.


59. Devanny, Jean, 1894-1962.

Bird of paradise / by Jean Devanny. (Sydney : Frank Johnson, 1945)


Devanny received a fellowship from Commonwealth Literary Fund to support the writing of Bird of Paradise, a work she considered to be her most important contribution to winning the war. In her introduction she talks of how the book she wanted to write “is a story about the national integrity of the Australian people during wartime. I want to tell the world what our people think about the war and the kind of society they would like to see arising out of it…” The book is a form of oral history and begins in North Queensland and finishes in Sydney. Devanny noted, however, that conditions in North Queensland were not conducive to work: “I can’t work during the day for the heat, and the mosquitos dive one mad when the light is on, unless one is under a net”. Bird of Paradise includes a chapter, “Writers at Home” which profiles Eleanor and Eric Dark.

Writers on Writing


Flat Case 4

At a time when Australian literature was not taught in universities and the question of whether a distinct national literature could be said to exist was still being debated, a surprising contingent of women were contributing some of the very earliest sustained critical commentary on local writers and historical accounts of the development of Australian writing. Some were also actively exploring these issues in their fiction. M. Barnard Eldershaw and Eleanor Dark, in particular, used writers as protagonists in order to explore the role of the writer in a new culture and particularly in times of cultural crisis (see also ‘War’ above). (Also on display in this case is an original letter from Flora Eldershaw to Ruth Bedford explaining her decision not to continue as a member of the writers’ organization, PEN International.)


60. Eldershaw, M. Barnard. [Marjorie Barnard, 1897-1987 and Flora Eldershaw, 1897-1956]

The Glasshouse. (London: George G. Harrap & Co., 1936).


The Glasshouse, M. Barnard Eldershaw’s third novel, drew on the experience Barnard and Eldershaw gained on their separate grand tours of England and Europe in the early 1930s. Indeed, following her voyage home from England in 1933, Barnard wrote longingly to Nettie Palmer of the possibility of another, more congenial lifestyle:


I've even had a wild fleeting idea that I could live by my pen if only I kept travelling on the sea, on small boats, going anywhere so long as it was a long way. I might do good work, first class work, even now at the eleventh hour, if I had the courage to throw up my job & go adrift.


Both Barnard and Eldershaw had chosen to travel on Norwegian cargo ships and they set their novel on one too. While the dustwrapper portrays a rather jaunty figure, Stirling Armstrong, the writer-protagonist describes herself in the opening pages as one of those “middle-aged spinsters with small but steady incomes” whose acquaintances are “mostly women as detached and lonely as herself”. Stirling's "years of steady mild success as a novelist" have developed in her a sharp eye for detail and a taste for the comic, the absurd and the satirical. Rather than risk direct acquaintance with other passengers and have them recount their life stories, Stirling pre-empts them by writing their stories for them. In the course of the voyage from Antwerp to Perth, Stirling also has a brief affair with the ship’s captain. As her relationship with the Captain develops, Stirling increasingly betrays traces of the 'lady writer' whose traditional domain is (here quite literally) romance. Barnard Eldershaw were themselves uncomfortable with the 'lady writer' as the paradigmatic figure of the woman of letters, often using it as a source of self-deprecating humour and irony. Replying to Vance Palmer's praise following the publication of The Glasshouse, for example, Barnard wrote: "Especially is it a relief that you think the ship's company succeeds. One is horribly afraid of showing the hoof of the lady novelist in a man's world". The writing of the novel wasn’t plain sailing, however, with Barnard confessing to Nettie Palmer that “we’ve rowed the old tub every inch of the way”.

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