Monday musings on Australian literature: Trove treasures (1), Reading novels

During my Trove searches for specific topics, I come across – serendipitously – other articles that are interesting and worth sharing. So, I have decided to create an occasional sub-series called Trove Treasures. My first group comprises some random little pieces, particularly jokes, that I’ve come across about reading novels.

Humorous snippets

Woman reading with cushion

The interesting thing about all these is what the humour tells us about the values of their time particularly regarding novel reading … see what you think. The ones I’m sharing here all relate to women reading novels, and the dangers that may or may not ensue!

From 21 December 1892, in Townsville’s The North Queensland Register, comes this one titled “Worse than novels”:

Father (impatiently): Where is your mother?
Little pet: Upstairs, reading.
‘Hush! Reading novels, I suppose, when she ought to be–‘
‘No. She’s readin’ a perfumed letter she found in your inside vest-pocket.’
‘Hem! Tell her I’ve gone out to buy her some new novels.’

My next one comes from 27 May 1905 in Sydney’s The World’s News. It’s titled “Silly fellow” (though I also found it in an earlier paper, Melbourne’s Leader of 26 December 1903, titled “Unpardonable”):

He: So the engagement is broken off?
She: Yes; he told her he thought she should stop reading novels and read something more substantial—something that would improve her.
He: Well?
She: Well, the idea of a man intimating to his fiancee that she could be improved in any way!

Then, there’s this one that particularly made me laugh from 4 February 1909 in Melbourne’s Table Talk. It’s a cartoon caption, and is titled “The Cause of the Trouble“:

Mistress (entering suddenly): Mary, how is it I find you reading novels instead of doing your work?
Mary: Oh, it’s ‘cos you wear them sand shoes, mum.

I’m interested in Mary’s “mum” not “ma’am” for her Mistress?

Finally comes this one from 19 March 1926 in Hurstville’s The propeller. It is headed “Flapperism” with a subheading, “Reading novels”:

He: Do you read all the popular novels of the day!
She: Gracious, no! I have only just time to see how they end.

In a future Trove Treasure, I plan to share a piece about impatiently reading endings!

A little more serious

On 2 April 1928, Perth’s The West Australian ran a paragraph headed “Reading novels!” with the subheading “Admiral’s calmness“. The same story was run in two Kalgoorlie papers, Kalgoorlie Miner on 5 April 1928, and the Western Argus on 10 April 1928. Here is the text from The West Australian:

GIBRALTAR, March 31.— Before the court-martial opened the calmest figure seemed to be Rear-Admiral Collard, who, clad in flannels, spent hours in reading novels in hotel lounges. Commander Daniel and Flag-Captain Dewar spent yesterday conferring with their counsel aboard the warship Valiant, which is moored off-shore, preparing a reply to the charges. Meanwhile their wives show plain evidence of the strain.

I found an article in Trove about this far-flung event written before the court-martial – in Brisbane’s Daily Standard of 28 March 1928. It provides some background. (I have not fully edited it, so it’s quite messy to read.) There are a few articles about the court-martial, including this one that I have edited from The Sydney Morning Herald on 6 April 1928. Read them if you are interested in naval history – my interest is in the Admiral’s novel reading!

My next Trove Treasures post might be one on novel reading and men.

Meanwhile, do any of these grab your attention?

    14 thoughts on “Monday musings on Australian literature: Trove treasures (1), Reading novels

    1. ‘Mum’ in this instance doesn’t mean ‘mother’; it’s simply an attempt at representing a [working-class] way of pronouncing ‘ma’am’.

    2. Sue, I don’t think ‘mum’ in this instance means ‘mother’; it’s an attempt at representing a working-class accent for ‘ma’am’.

    3. Trove is such a delight to peruse isn’t it. I’ve been amazed by the level of detail in the old papers about soldiers injured – we got a day by day update on their condition.

      • Yes Karen .. it’s fascinating to see what news was thought worth reporting. A lot more local and personal news , which I guess Is understandable when there were fewer opportunities for communication.

    4. The joke about the wife reading the perfume letter reminds me of something LM Montgomery might write! I have read “mum” instead of “ma’am” in old British novels, but I don’t know the difference in use, expect maybe to emphasize pronunciation over meaning.

    5. ‘Mum’ I think is a working class ‘m’am’. Next time I see one I’ll let you know (and it may well be where our usage of ‘mum’ came from).

      Surely there aren’t any jokes about men reading novels, we’re too busy improving ourselves.

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