As some of you will know Karen (Kaggsy’s Bookish Rambling) and Simon (Stuck in a Book) have been running for some time “reading weeks, which involves their choosing, somewhat randomly, a year from which “everyone reads, enjoys, posts and shares wonderful books and discoveries from the year in question”. The next one is 1936, and happens from 12-18 April.
Despite my best intentions, I’ve not yet managed to take part, though I know several of my blogging friends have. I might this time – we’ll see – but, regardless, I’ve decided to focus on that year in my Monday Musings, a week in advance, to provide some inspiration perhaps?
1936 was a pretty tumultuous time in Europe with, for example, the Spanish Civil War, the 1936 Summer Olympics and Hitler’s aggressive display, not to mention the Nazis amping up their power and control. Things were generally quieter in Australia, with Joseph Lyons our Prime Minister.
However, it was a busy time in literature, with several writers we know publishing novels (and other works but my focus here is novels). Here is a selection – links on names go to my posts on that writer:
- Capel Boake’s The dark thread
- Martin Boyd’s The painted princess
- Dymphna Cusack’s Jungfrau (my review)
- Eleanor Dark’s Return to Coolami
- Jean Devanny’s Sugar heaven (Lisa’s review)
- Henrietta Drake-Brockman’s Sheba Lane
- M. Barnard Eldershaw’s The glass house: apparently about shipboard life on a Norwegian boat travelling to Australia. I wonder what inspired this one?
- Miles Franklin’s All that swagger (Bill’s review)
- Joan Lindsay’s Through darkest Pondelayo: according to Wikipedia this is a satirical novel – on English tourists abroad – that Lindsay, best known for Picnic at Hanging Rock, published under a clearly satirical pseudonym, Serena Livingstone-Stanley!
- Christina Stead’s The beauties and furies (Lisa’s review)
There weren’t so many literary prizes then, as now, but Miles Franklin’s All that swagger won the 1936 SH Prior Memorial Prize for Australian Literature, and Eleanor Dark’s Return to Coolami won the ALS Gold Medal.
The state of the art
Of course, I checked Trove to see what newspapers of the time were saying about Australian literature, and it’s pretty much as I’ve written in my other Monday Musings posts on the era – the ongoing concern about lack of recognition of Australian writing, of Australian writers having to go overseas to make a living, of most publishing of Australian authors happening overseas.
Perth’s Western Mail, announcing the publication of the Australian writers annual, starts with:
Too long have the Australian public been kept in ignorance of the wealth of literary work that is and has been done by Australian writers, the ranks of whom are increasing every year. Perhaps the fault lies with the reader, perhaps the reason can be found in a lack of publicity.
Rockhampton’s Morning Bulletin focuses on the the quality of what is being produced, arguing that Australian literature, while naturally looking to England, “is gradually tending towards a measure of independence”. Indeed, citing Henry Lawson and CJ Dennis (admitting “he may not touch greatness”), this writer says that “brief as is our history, it has developed its own romanticism”.
The Hebrew Standard of Australasia also argues that things are improving, but names women writers. It says:
It is not so many years ago since the prefix ‘Australian’ when applied to anything literary, artistic, or cultural, provoked the ire of editors and the sneers at would-be highbrows. Yet, even then, much, had been done by writers here in our midst to put Australia into a very appreciable place on the literary map.
It then names Ethel Turner (whose writing for children avoided “the stilted and moral” stories common at the time). It continues to say that, what Turner did for children’s literature, others are “endeavouring to do for literature in general”. Unfortunately, though, confirming my opening paragraph, it says that “many of our best have had to go abroad to achieve fame, such as Henry Handel Richardson and Helen Simpson”. However, confirming Western Mail’s supposition, it suggests that “we still have many people with us whose work, given proper publicity [my stress], would make the term ‘Australian’ respected in any part of the world”. One of these is Eleanor Dark.
Apparently, someone was listening to all these woes, and it was a politician! Many newspapers around the country wrote about the Budget statement made in Parliament by then ex-PM, James Scullin. Melbourne’s The Herald starts its report with:
It is doubtful whether “the life austere that waits upon the man of letters here” can be given more than a suggestion of comfort by the helping hand of Government. Yet the generous speech for which Mr Scullin caught the Federal Speaker’s eye yesterday will be approved and possibly have influence.
It describes Scullin as a “book-lover … who earnestly desires the advancement of his country in things of the mind and spirit.” Scullin identified the minimal support the government had given to literature, and then, as Melbourne’s The Age and Hobart’s Mercury outline, he named various ways in which the government could help, such as:
- increased payments to struggling authors (rather than the minimal pension currently offered);
- the establishment of a literary prize for the best Australian works;
- supporting/undertaking/providing grants for the publication of nationally significant books now out of print, of works of national value, and of new works struggling to find a publisher.
Interestingly, the Mercury reports that he suggested that “wealthy people in Australia might follow if a lead were given by the national Parliament”, while The Age shared that Scullin believed that with more time for leisure available “in the machine age”,
Literature offered the best scope to utilise this added leisure with profit to Australian culture.
The Sydney Morning Herald’s report is also worth reading.
I’m not sure that much happened immediately, but Wikipedia (linked on his name above) says that, with the Fellowship of Australian Writers, Scullin was responsible for a dramatic boost to the Commonwealth Literary Fund‘s budget in 1939. A start!
And, of course, it was another Labor politician, Kevin Rudd, who created the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards, in 2007.
- 1936 in Australian Literature (Wikipedia)
- Joy Hooton and Harry Heseltine, Annals of Australian literature, 2nd ed. OUP, 1992
Meanwhile, do you plan to take part in the 1936 Club?