Katharine Susannah Prichard, The bridge (#Review)

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.

AWW Badge 2018Katharine Susannah Prichard
“The bridge”
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

22 thoughts on “Katharine Susannah Prichard, The bridge (#Review)

  1. Hi Sue, just read The Bridge, I feel sorry for Molly. I enjoyed all the descriptions of the countryside. I can see why it was published in the Weekly Times. I have Katharine Susannah Prichard ‘s, N”Goola and Other stories. I must read them again.

    • Thanks Meg. It would have been good to know more about her, but that wasn’t Prichard’s point was it? Women as pawns in men’s games… Albeit not entirely conscious always which is almost worse!

  2. I love Katharine’s claim that it was through reading Guy de Maupassant’s collection of short stories that instilled for her the technique of short story writing – that’s a keen eye! Like a download. And fancy needing to defend her use of “loose and slipshod English.” It’s a great little story by a woman ahead of her time. And yes, sacrifice! Poor Molly. The voice of so many women.

    • Thanks so much Julie. I’m so glad you and Meg checked out the story. It’s short so I was hoping some would. I didn’t want to give too much away about the plot but there’s a lot to think about in terms of the different character’s motivations isn’t there? How much did Bryant realise at the time re what he was doing? Why did Molly decide to do what she did? We probably don’t need to ask much about Gaines though!

      While I read short stories as a young child – Enid Blyton’s Bedtime story books – it was Guy de Maupassant who really got me into short stories (at bedtime still!) in my late teens.

  3. “No lives lost on her” indeed! What a great little story. Of course I was as interested in the geography as in the fate of poor Molly. 100 miles east of the nearest railhead puts it well into East Gippsland, Eve Langley country, maybe up around the Snowy River. Nathan will tell us but I think KSP worked somewhere east of Dandenong (after outback NSW).

    • Thanks Lisa. Horribly true to life is probably right.

      My photocopy comes from the 1940 ABC Weekly. I must have photocopied it when I was researching the Argonauts at the NLA back around 2009. I added it to my now groaning folder of short-stories and it’s taken me until now to actually read the tiny thing!! (And, particularly since it’s available online I can guiltlessly declutter it.)

        • That’s true. It’s excellent reading, – as we’d expect from KSP, though I hadn’t read any of her short stories before… I just meant that if a printout is available, it would be better to read it that way. I read it on my laptop with its inbuilt mouse and the screen kept jumping over the text and I couldn’t get the picture out of the way without disrupting the flow of the text.

        • Haha, Lisa, fair point. However, if desperate I can save it out as text – which makes Trove articles easier to read. I do this a lot. As Bill says this one is clearer than some on Trove, but you still have to move around the screen a lot which is tedious, I agree.

  4. Great to read this post on “The Bridge”, Sue – you’ve given me a new appreciation of it. And thanks for the mentions! From memory (and in answer to Bill’s comment), it was inspired by notes she took on a trip in 1916 through Gippsland along the coastal route from Melbourne to Sydney (and ultimately to Lightning Ridge, to research what became her novel Black Opal). This story or another one was included in an anthology of Gippsland writing, published some time this century, I think.
    For anyone interested, the story I rate the best of Katharine’s early work (really the beginning of her mature period, her first Western Australian story) is now on Trove too, “The Christmas Tree” (1919): http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article140251409. Not to mention all her Bulletin stories, some of her best work!

    • A pleasure Nathan. I was pleased to see your post on Potch and Colour. Thanks for the background to The bridge.

      I’ll read The Christmas tree – and will try to do so sooner rather than later!

    • And now I’ve edited the story which had quite a few errors. In so doing, I’ve pretty much read it. You’re right, it’s good and I might post on it soon – since coming from 1919 it’s just out of Bill’s AWW Gen 2!

        • It would be interesting to compare the two versions. I’ve seen other short stories edited from a magazine published version to the later book collection. Always interesting to see what writers tinker with!

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