Time for another post on a short story available online, but not, this time, from the Library of America. Indeed, it’s not even American, but one of our own – Katharine Susannah Prichard’s (KSP) “The bridge”. As far as I can tell it has been published at least three times: in 1917 in the Weekly Times Annual; in 1940 in The ABC Weekly, which is where I found it; and in 1944 in a collection titled Potch and colour, about which Prichard biographer Nathan Hobby has posted.
Writing about Potch and colour, Hobby says that
Katharine wrote some incredible short stories. I would go as far as to say that I think the form suited her better than the novel, even if she is not as remembered for it. This collection mainly includes stories originally published in journals after her first collection, Kiss On the Lips (1932), but the first appearance of some of them still needs to be established. One story, at least, is quite early – “The Bridge”; I found a newspaper copy of it on Trove from 1917 (unfortunately, it’s not one of her “incredible” stories…).
Hobby then identifies three short stories from the collection as particularly worth commenting on. The first is titled “The siren on Sandy’s Gap” and Hobby says it “manages to be both humorous and an astute critique of marriage.” It’s about Susan – the siren – and her refusal to do “what they [men] say.” The second, “Flight”, is about the forced removal of mixed-race Aboriginal children from their homes, and the third, “The Christmas tree”, is about banks failing wheatfarmers during the Depression.
Now, before I get to “The bridge” a little from KSP herself. In 1967, Angus and Robertson published Happiness: Selected short stories by Katharine Susannah Prichard. It includes two of Hobby’s favourite stories from Potch and colour, but not “The bridge”. Most interesting, though, is Prichard’s Foreword. She talks of her various inspirations, including Thomas Carlyle, and says that Guy de Maupassant’s “Contes Normands” gave her “the short story technique, which, more or less unconsciously” influenced her story telling.
Defending herself against a criticism of her “loose and slipshod English”, she says that she purposefully used “the living speech of our people … making the context of a sentence give the meaning of an unusual word or phrase.” She quotes a Professor Holme who praises her style as responding to the need of her characters, and Nettie Palmer’s statement that her writing “made us remember that there was nothing so well worth writing about as the loves, conflicts, and sufferings of our own people”. Including all this in her short Foreword suggests that she felt the need to defend herself. Anyhow, she concludes with:
All the stories were inspired by an intimate sympathy with men and women in the comedy and tragedy of their lives.
So, “The bridge.” It’s not, perhaps, “incredible”, but it is moving – and reminds me, a little, of some stories by Kate Chopin and Edith Wharton. It’s a brief story about the building of a bridge in southeast Victoria by a young man called Bryant and his off-sider Charley. The main action concerns the opening of the bridge, and the wedding that takes place immediately afterwards.
The story commences with Bryant and Charley reminiscing about some of the challenges they faced in building the bridge. It had taken a year to build, and without any loss of life:
“They’ve got a notion in some parts of the world, a life’s got to go into a bridge if she’s to going to wear,” he [Bryant] mused. “I’m mighty glad no one’s been killed or hurt on our bridge, Charley … and she’s a good bridge … as good a little wooden bridge as there is in the country.”
However, a flood crisis had threatened the bridge. To save it, Bryant needed horses but local farmer Joe Gaines would not help out – until Bryant tried a bit of psychology involving a pretty young woman working in Gaines’ kitchen. He got his horses, but at a great cost to that young woman, unbeknownst to him but discovered by Charley later at the wedding.
It’s a tight little story – about single-minded ambition and sexual jealousy set against female generosity and sacrifice – with a sting in the tail that ironically comments on Bryant’s belief about his bridge. I can see the influence of Guy de Maupassant here – and Prichard’s interest in the lives of women. You can read it at the link below.
Katharine Susannah Prichard
First published: Weekly Times Annual, 3 November 1917
Also published in The ABC Weekly, 24 August 1940, and in the collection,
Potch and colour, Angus & Robertson, 1944
Available: Online at Trove