Finally, having reviewed three stories in Barbara Baynton’s collection Bush studies, I start at the beginning with the story “A dreamer”.
This story is a little different to the three* I’ve reviewed to date, primarily because men do not play a significant role in the action or denouement of the plot. The plot is a simple one: a young pregnant woman arrives at a remote railway station, at night, expecting to be met by someone with a buggy. When that proves not to be the case, she decides to walk “the three bush miles” despite the windy, rainy night because it was “the home of her girlhood, and she knew every inch of the way”. Except …
… as it turns out, on a dark rainy night, she doesn’t. Baynton recounts the drama of the young woman’s walk – a wrong choice at a fork, near drowning on a creek crossing – and in the process idealises the mother-child relationship against hostile nature:
Her mother had planted these willows, and she herself had watched them grow. How could they be so hostile to her?
How indeed? This story is another example of Baynton’s gothic, of her non-romantic view of the Australian bush which is, for her, alienating and forbidding, particularly for women. If the language of the opening paragraph is unsettling – “night-hidden trees”, “closed doors”, “blear-eyed lantern” – it only gets worse as nature seems to conspire against the woman. The wind fights her “malignantly” and the water is “athletic furious”, but the woman sees “atonement in these difficulties and dangers”. Atonement for what is not made quite clear but it might simply be that the young woman has been away for some time: “Long ago she should have come to her old mother”. Visions of her mother and memories of her childhood keep her going: “soft, strong arms carried her on”. To avoid spoilers, I’ll leave the plot here. You can read the story at the link below.
In my last post on Baynton, I wrote briefly on reading short story collections in the order they are presented, rather than in the ad hoc way I’ve done with this collection. Mostly, I do read collections from beginning to end. Had I done so with this collection, I would have had, with this story, an effective introduction to Baynton’s style and themes without being confronted with her full fury. In other words, “A dreamer” is the perfect first story in a collection which ends with “The chosen vessel”*.
in Bush studies
Sydney University Press, 2009
Available online: in Bush studies at Project Gutenberg.
This review will count towards my Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013.