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Barbara Baynton, A dreamer (Review)

January 23, 2013
Barbara Baynton.

Presumed Public Domain: via Wikipedia

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”*.

Barbara Baynton
“A dreamer”
in Bush studies
Sydney University Press, 2009
ISBN: 9781820898953

Available online: in Bush studies at Project Gutenberg.

This review will count towards my Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013.

*For my first three reviews of stories in this book, click the appropriate title: Scrammy ‘and, Squeaker’s mate, The chosen vessel.

19 Comments leave one →
  1. iukaslim permalink
    January 24, 2013 13:12

    Enjoy your site.

    I’m embarking on a new course of study and reaching out for guidance
    Trying to break out of a reading rut.

    I am looking to read 12 non-fiction works by-for-or about Eastern Australia from the dawn of history to 1966 CE (“Eastern Australia” defined for my purposes as Northwest Territory, Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania and their associate islands)

    I am not looking necessarily for the “Greatest Works of Non-Fiction” related to this corner of the world. I am looking for 12 rewarding works of non-fiction that taken together paint as complete a portrait as possible of Eastern Australia (The totality of the people and the place). I know it is impossible. But I ask your indulgence.

    Here are my criteria:

    1. At least 2 of the 12 works must be written about or during each of the following four epochs:
    pre-857 CE

    2. At least one of the works must be a first hand account.

    3. No author can be represented more than once (although subjects can be)

    4. At least 3 works must be written by a native

    5. At least 1 work must be written by an outsider looking in.

    6. At least 1 work must be written by an insider looking out.

    Any suggestions would be appreciated.

    I’m not looking for 12 doorstop history tomes. 1 or 2 maybe (if they’re a good read), but I’m looking for a more varied and unconventional list. memoir, long form journalism, etc

  2. January 25, 2013 04:29

    Another good story. Sometimes reading them out of order, especially when you are familiar with an author, can help one see things that might otherwise be missed. Is this the last one for you to read in the collection or are there a few more?

    • January 25, 2013 08:30

      Yes, that’s a point, Stefanie. I could certainly see now how this leads into the others. There are two more, I think. I reAd somewhere someone saying there were 7 but I’ve counted and counted my copy and I only see 6!

  3. January 25, 2013 04:58

    Good post! I left an earlier comment, but something must have eaten it. I love hearing about authors I hadn’t known of before. Book blogs are the best source! Thank you for the link. I’ll definitely try it.

    • January 25, 2013 08:27

      Thanks Grad … Glad you tried again … Do let me know if you read any of the stories. Would love to know what you think.

  4. Isabel permalink
    January 28, 2013 11:18

    When was the story set? Buggies could be 1800s to early 1900s. I admire women who survived the Bush. It’s such a tough place to go. Maybe the American West of the 1800s was a similar place to the Bush.

    • January 28, 2013 13:25

      Thanks for commenting Isabel … It was published in 1902 and my guess is that it’s set in the late 1800s.

  5. February 3, 2013 03:59

    I loved this story – I read it a while back with the others and it is still in my head. The river crossing. The wet garments. The dark. Very glad you’ve introduced me to these works though I can’t helping thinking of my grandmother’s life on the farm in southern Queensland!

    • February 3, 2013 16:23

      I’m so glad Catherine that I’ve contributed something to your reading life. It would be interesting to know if your grandmother knew these stories and what she thought, wouldn’t it!

  6. Tara permalink
    February 19, 2015 22:25

    I’m having trouble understanding the ending of the story, I want to use this story in an English essay. Would you be able to clarify the ending of the story for me?

    • February 20, 2015 07:26

      Hi Tara, I can’t really do that – in blog reviews we don’t like to spoil the end of the story for other readers. I think you’ll just have to work through the story and think carefully about what’s happening … good luck.

      • Tara permalink
        February 20, 2015 14:07

        Oh okay, thank you nonetheless, this was a helpful review!

  7. May 12, 2020 11:24

    i love the story A Dreamer


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