Monday musings on Australian literature: 1902 in Australian literature

Why, you may be asking, have I chosen 1902 for this post? After all, it’s not a nice round number of years ago, like 100. I could tease you with hints, but I want to get onto the post proper, so I’ll just tell you: it was the year Christina Stead was born. And, as you’ll have realised if you read yesterday’s post, this week in Lisa of ANZLitLovers’ Christina Stead Week. Now, of course, Stead wasn’t particularly sentient that year, but I thought it might be fun to see what was happening in literature in the (Aussie) world she was born into.

But first, let’s look at who else was born in 1902. Most interesting to me is Dymphna Cusack, whose memoir of her teaching days, A window in the dark, and first novel, Jungfrau, I’ve reviewed here. My research of the National Library of Australia uncovered that Cusack and Stead corresponded with each other, though I think Stead had a closer relationship with Cusack’s literary collaborator, Florence James. Anyhow, also born this year were Alan Marshall, famous for his autobiography I can jump puddles, and a lesser known author, Dorothy Cottrell, who had two novels adapted for film, one of them in her lifetime, Orphan of the wilderness.

Now, what was published in 1902? I’m going to focus on novels and short stories, because these were Stead’s main forms, and I’ve selected names that are reasonably well-known (to my mind anyhow). Here goes:

  • Barbara Baynton’s Bush studies (my reviews can be found here)
  • Rolf Boldrewood’s The ghost camp or, the avengers
  • Henry Lawson’s Children of the bush, plus individual stories
  • Louise Mack’s An Australian girl in London (I have Mack on my TBR)
  • Rosa Praed’s The insane root: A romance of a strange country and her autobiography, My Australian girlhood (I’ve read her The bond of wedlock)
  • Ethel Turner’s Young love (I have reviewed her Juvenilia)

There are others, but most are writers who are not known now, such as Hume Nisbett and Ambrose Pratt.

The interesting question is whether any of these writers influenced Stead? Did she read them as she was growing up? Not having read any biographies of her, I can’t say. However, Baynton and Mack went overseas in the late 19th to early 20th centuries, seeing it as important for establishing a writing career. Expatriation could offer better access to publishers and “a freer life” (Carole Ferrier). Stead also went to England (and later the US) a couple of decades later. She may not have explicitly “followed” them,  but it was a popular path for serious writers. There is an argument – both in her time and now – that Stead’s lack of recognition in Australia stems partly from the lengthy time she spent overseas. You can, it seems, be away from “home” too long! According to Wikipedia, she ‘only returned to Australia after she was denied the Britannica-Australia prize on the grounds that she had “ceased to be an Australian”‘.

A significant person active at the time of Stead’s birth is Vida Goldstein, the politician and women’s rights activist. In 1902 she was the Australian delegate at the International Women’s Suffrage Conference in Washington, DC. Again, whether Stead knew of her, I don’t know, but she was a person worth knowing and was part of a long tradition of Australian women who cared about women’s rights and broader social reform. Stead’s first novel, Seven poor men of Sydney, documenting “the relentlessness of poverty”, demonstrates her interest in similar issues.

I know this little post doesn’t tell us much about Stead, herself, but I found it interesting to research and think about. More useful might be to look at literary life around the time she turned 21? We might then find and think about those who were more likely her peers. Hmmm …


  • 1902 in Australian literature (Wikipedia)
  • Hooton, Joy and Harry Heseltine, Annals of Australian literature, 2nd ed. Melbourne: OUP, 1992
  • Trove (various newspaper articles!)

22 thoughts on “Monday musings on Australian literature: 1902 in Australian literature

  1. 1902 also the year women first voted in a federal election, and the year Miles Franklin’s second published novel Some Everyday Folk and Dawn is about. Stead met Florence James in Sydney and then shared lodgings with her when she first went to London. Despite years of looking I have found no mention of C20th women growing up reading C19th women (Cambridge, Praed, Tasma) yet they all read Kendall, Gordon, Lawson, Patterson

    • Thanks for this Bill. Was Miles Franklin’s book published that year? It certainly wasn’t mentioned as such in either the Annals or Wikipedia. My brilliant career was the year before.

      So, it started even as early as then? The loss from sight of those wonderful writers. I mean. you would have hoped that Stead, James, Cusack, Prichard, et al would have known and read them.

      PS I hope you read my corrected version of this post. It was published a little hastily to meet my AEDST Monday deadline – as if anyone cares! – and I had to fix a few things up!

      • I like to publish to a schedule too, even if I am the only one who notices! Some Everyday Folk and Dawn came out in 1909. I suspect it was written or at least begun some years earlier. In 1902 MF wrote The End of My Career, which was rejected because of its too recognisable portraits of Sydney society people, including Banjo Paterson, and rewritten and published in 1946 as My Career Goes Bung.
        I’ve asked Nathan Hobby if he has seen any evidence of KSP reading Australian women, but he says no.

        • Haha, Bill … but you don’t have something called MONDAY musings do you? Of course, I often publish very late on Monday these days by which time it’s already Tuesday in NZ, but they don’t count do they!! (I hope no kiwis are reading this!)

          It’s hard, I guess, to know what people read, though if you have their letters you would expect to find there what they read wouldn’t you? I know I write about what I read in my letters, and Jane Austen did. It’s awful though to think that our own writers might have had a cultural cringe about their own.

  2. Pingback: Monday musings on Australian literature: 1902 in Australian literature | picardykatt's Blog

  3. It is fascinating (and rather sobering: so many forgotten books and writers) to look at the books published in a particular year.The book which probably introduced UK readers to Christina Stead was the Penguin paperback of The Man Who Loved Children with its famous introduction by Randall Jarrell. Many readers probably thought that Stead was a US author!

    • Yes, Ian, agree of course. And I enjoy every now and then looking at what was going on around the time of a favourite author. Like Jane Austen, for example. As I recollect, JMW Turner was born the same year she was. And Wordsworth was just 5 years older.

      Oh dear, though I suppose it’s not surprising that she was seen that way. I hadn’t heard of that introduction – but I will now have to check it out.

  4. A prize denied because she has ceased to be Australian? Ouch, that’s gotta hurt. Sad that so many authors thought they had to go abroad in order to have a writing career. I think that says more about Australian publishing than the authors themselves.

    • It does, Stefanie – and it’s also about Australian readers too, because Australians tended to have this idea that works (books, art, films etc) created overseas were better than ours. It’s taken a long time for that “cultural cringe” to work out.

        • “The media are also culpable in this process of normalising what should be utterly abnormal — and it’s not just News Corp, with their frothing over Turnbull’s phone call to Trump. “US President-elect Donald Trump has mentioned Australia in a series of tweets he posted on Wednesday,” a Fairfax article gleefully relayed yesterday. How awesome — the president-elect mentioning us! (He mentioned New Zealand too, and the New Zealand Herald ran a similar frothing piece). So much for the cultural cringe being finished — now we’re back to being thrilled when an American acknowledges our existence.” Guy Rundle, Crikey, 18 Nov 2016

  5. Pingback: Literary Influences on Christina Stead (1902-1983) | ANZ LitLovers LitBlog

  6. Pingback: 2016 Christina Stead Week, wrap up and thanks | ANZ LitLovers LitBlog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s