D’Arcy Niland, The parachutist (#Review)

D’Arcy Niland has appeared in my blog before but not in his own right. He was the Australian-born husband of the New Zealand-born Australian writer Ruth Park. I have posted on their collaborative memoir, The drums go bang, and have written specifically about Ruth Park, but have never written specifically on Niland before.

Niland is best known for his novel The shiralee, but he and Park were working writers who made their living from their craft, which means they wrote a lot – radio scripts, journalism, short stories, and novels. My path to his short story, “The parachutist”, though is a bit complicated. Over a decade ago, when my mother-in-law was still alive, I would search for suitable audiobooks for her, by which I mean books that had straightforward narratives, and not too much explicit sex and violence. She was 97 (and legally blind) when she died. A collection of D’Arcy Niland short stories seemed a possibility, but I’m not sure she ever did listen to it. Regardless, it ended back with us after she died, and we finally started listening to it on a recent road trip. The first story is titled, “The parachutist”.

Now with collections, I like to know each story’s origins. I discovered that the audiobook was based on a collection of Niland’s short stories selected by Ruth Park and published by Penguin in 1987. A start, but when did Niland, who died in 1967, write the story? The Penguin book might provide that information, but I don’t have it. However, given that back in Niland and Park’s heyday, newspapers were significant publishers of short stories, I decided to search Trove and, eureka, I found it. Well, that is, I found his story “The pilot”, which turned out to be the same story that was later published as “The parachutist”.

This discovery created another mystery: why the change of title? And when? Again, maybe Ruth Park discusses that in her Penguin introduction but … so, let’s just get on with the story. The plot concerns a predator and its prey. It starts just after a hurricane. A hawk, “ruffled in misery” comes “forth in hunger and ferocity” looking for food, expecting to find some “booty of the storm”. However, there is none, so it widens its search. Niland beautifully captures the devastation of the “ravaged” landscape and weakened hawk’s situation: “Desperate, weak, the hawk alighted on a bleak limb and glared in hate”. It’s vivid, visceral writing – and we feel some sympathy for this hawk.

It spies a dead field mouse, and gobbles it “voraciously”, but it’s not much as food goes, and just makes “the hawk’s appetite fiercer and lustier”. Niland, at this point, also introduces us to the hawk’s real nature, to the way it would normally “sup …. on the hot running blood of the rabbit in the trap, squealing in eyeless terror”. It will eat creatures still alive, in other words. Anyhow, still “frenzied with hunger”, this hawk spies something in a farmyard – a kitten playing, “leaping and running and tumbling”, completely “unaware of danger”. Life is fun. After checking for human presence, the hawk swoops, and suddenly the kitten finds itself “airborne for the first time in its life”:

The kitten knew that it had no place here in the heart of space, and its terrified instincts told it that its only contact with solidity and safety was the thing that held it.

It latches on for dear life. This is a powerful story that keeps your attention from beginning to its – hmmm – somewhat surprising end, which I won’t spoil. Instead, I will briefly return to the title. Niland describes the hawk and kitten doing battle in the sky, writing that, with the hawk now descending, the kitten “rode down like some fantastic parachutist”. Soon after, when the kitten’s claws are digging into the hawk’s breast, he says that “the kitten was the pilot now”.

So, “pilot”? This could suggest that the kitten is in control, but is it? “Parachutist”, on the other hand, seems more subtle, implying a somewhat mutual relationship between the two. It is not the sort of freely chosen relationship that parachutists traditionally have, but this later title introduces an ambiguity into the narrative.

I found the story compelling. It is told third person limited, with our point of view, and sympathy, shifting between the two protagonists. Its subject matter might be nature, but its themes are more universal, encompassing predator and prey, the powerful and the powerless, experience and innocence, and of course survival, given at different points in the story both the hawk’s and the kitten’s survival is at stake. What to do?

Also, this might be a long bow, but Niland apparently said about his 1955 novel The Shiralee, that “it is a Biblical truth that all men have burdens. This is the simple story of a man with a burden, a swagman with his swag, or shiralee, which in this case happens to be a child. I have often thought that if all burdens were examined, they would be found to be like a swagman’s shiralee – not only a responsibility and a heavy load, but a shelter, a castle and sometimes a necessity.” “The pilot” was published two years earlier, but we could argue that for the hawk, the kitten, with its fierce frenetic claws, turns into a burden. The storyline and outcome are simpler, of course, but was Niland playing with this idea too in his story?

Whatever, “The pilot” or “The parachutist” beautifully exemplifies Niland’s ability to capture and hold his reader’s attention with a strong narrative and expressive writing. I hope to share more of the stories in future.

D’Arcy Niland
“The parachutist” in Short stories collection
(Read by Dennis Olsen)
ABC Audio, 2007
ISBN: 9780733390616

D’Arcy Niland
“The parachutist” in The Penguin Best Stories of D’Arcy Niland
Penguin Books, 1987
ISBN: 9780140089271

D’Arcy Niland
“The parachutist” The Oxford book of animal stories
London, Oxford University Press, 2002 (orig. pub. 1994)
ISBN: 00192782215

D’Arcy Niland
“The pilot” in The Mail (Adelaide), 28 March 1953
Available online

Elizabeth von Arnim, Expiation (#BookReview #1929Club)

I cannot remember when I last laughed out loud – a lot – when reading a book. The book that broke the drought is Elizabeth von Arnim’s Expiation. Even in her darkest, grimmest novel, Vera (my review), Von Arnim managed to make me splutter several times, albeit ruefully. Expatiation, though, caused no such qualms.

I have loved Elizabeth von Arnim since I read Elizabeth and her German Garden in the early 1990s when Virago started publishing her. I went on to read several more of her books over the next few years, but then had a big gap until this year, when I read Vera. It reminded me how much I enjoy her. So, when I saw she had one published in 1929, I selected it for Karen and Simon’s 1929 Club. I finished it more or less on time, but the last couple of weeks have been so busy that I didn’t get to post it until now.

The edition I found was published by Persephone. They describe publishing it as first for them, because “it’s a novel by a well-known writer that has been entirely overlooked”. While most of Von Arnim’s books are in print with other publishers, Expiation, which they were now publishing ninety years after its first appearance, had been ignored. Why, they ask? Good question. I admit that, not having seen it around, I did fear it might be lesser.

Persephone offers some reasons. Firstly, the title “is not very catchy”. True, it’s not. They also suggest that its adultery theme would have been “faintly shocking” in 1929, and further that, although we now read it as a satire, at the time “the characters and their milieu may have seemed rather tame”. Would the satire have been missed? Anyhow, they quote from the novel’s opening chapter, which describes the novel’s central family and the London suburb they live in:

That important south London suburb appreciated the Botts, so financially sound, so continuously increasing in prosperity. They were its backbone. They subscribed, presided, spoke, opened.

This last sentence, Persephone says, “was what deliciously and instantly convinced us that this was a book for us”. I am so glad they did because from the first few pages I could tell it was a book for me too. It truly is delicious.

So now, the book. As you’ve gathered, the plot centres around adultery, which is made clear in the opening chapter. Milly has just been widowed, and her wealthy husband, Ernest Bott, has only left her £1,000 of his £100,000. The rest he has left to a charity for fallen women, with the cryptic note that “My wife will know why”. She does, of course, but thought she had got away with it. What is remarkable about this book, which chronicles how both Milly and the Botts react to the situation, is that we remain sympathetic to Milly. She’s a sinner, she knows she’s a sinner, but she wants to expiate. How, is the question?

The Botts, meanwhile, don’t know what to do. They do not want scandal to ruin their good name, and, anyhow, the male Botts in general rather like round, plump Milly versus their “bony” wives. Moreover, they are not known for meanness: “The family had always behaved well and generously in regard to money, and it would never do for Titford to suspect them of meanness.” Hmmm, a bit of appearance-versus-reality going on here. So, having decided, Jane-Austen-Sense-and-sensibility-style, not to give Milly some of their money, they agree to take her into their homes, in turn, until it all dies down, after which she can go live with Old Mrs Bott, who is perfectly happy to have her. Old Mrs Bott is the voice of reason in the novel. Experience has taught her

that in the end it all wouldn’t have mattered a bit what Ernest had meant or what Milly had done, and that they might just as well have been kind and happy together on this particular afternoon, as indeed on all their few afternoons, and together comfortably eaten the nice soup and sandwiches.

However, a spanner is thrown in their works when the shocked and mortified Milly disappears the day after the funeral. To say more about the plot would give too much away – even though the plot is not the main thing about this book.

What Von Arnim does through this plot is take us on a journey through humanity. Milly’s attempts at expiation often fall flat, either because she doesn’t manage to do what she plans or because others don’t behave towards her as she expects, even wants, them to do. For example, on one occasion, she has “no doubt at all that here at last she was in the very arms of expiation” and yet it comes “to her so disconcertingly, with a smile on its face”. Can this really be expiation? Milly’s not sure. One of the book’s ironies – and points – is, in fact, that the greatest sinner, technically, is among the kindest in reality.

The thing I like about Von Arnim is her generosity. It is on display throughout this novel as Milly, seeking expiation (but also to survive) moves between people she knows, from her previously sinning sister and her obliviously self-centred lover to the various Botts who range from the puritanical and pompous to the warm and lively. Most of these characters, like Austen’s, may come from a narrow realm of society but they represent a much wider spectrum of human behaviour. Like Austen, too, Von Arnim’s targets are not just the personal – greed, selfishness, narrow-mindedness, silliness, pride, self-importance, ignorance, and so on – but the societal, particularly gender, marriage and money. “Too much worldly prosperity”, she writes for example, “deadens people’s souls”.

So, in Expiation, Von Arnim skewers human nature and her society much like Jane Austen does. Sometimes the situations may be a little dated as they can also be in Austen, but human nature itself doesn’t change much – and this is so knowingly, so inclusively, and so generously, on display. There are some less than stellar people here, of course, but as in Austen, they are treated with respect for their humanness by the author, while also being exposed for exactly who they are. I’m going to – with difficulty – choose just a couple for you, one touching on the theme of sinning and morality, and the other on money.

Here is the eldest Bott, Alec, trying to avoid hosting Milly first, because of his wife’s puritanical approach to life:

He stopped, an undefined idea possessing his mind that Milly might be purer after having passed through the sieve of other visits, and more fit to stay with his wife …

Von Arnim’s language – so fresh and funny. And here is another Bott, Fred, telling his sons they will be helping Milly:

“Do you mean financially?” inquired Percy, his eyes still on his paper.
“Kindness,” said Fred.
“Kindness! Well, that’s cheap, anyhow,” said Dick.
“And easy,” said Percy, turning the pages. “I always liked Aunt Milly.”

Finally, I will leave you with one more bon mot from Old Mrs Bott who reflects, at one point during the novel:

It seemed as if these poor children had no sense whatever of proportion. They wasted their short time in making much of what was little, and little of what was much.

With a wit and a sense of humanity that is a joy to read, Expiation encourages us to think about what is important to living both a good life, and a kind and fair one.

Elizabeth von Arnim
London: Persephone Books, 2019 (orig. pub. 1929)
ISBN: 9781906462536

Frederic Manning, The middle parts of fortune, Ch. 1 (#Review, #1929 Club)

I had identified two novels for my 1929 read, M. Barnard Eldershaw’s A house is built and another. With Lisa also considering A house is built, I decided to go for the other. I started it, and am loving it, but I won’t finish it in time, so I thought I’d check my Australian anthologies for a 1929 offering, and found one. In the Macquarie PEN anthology of Australian literature is the first chapter of a book I’d been unaware of until I wrote my 1929 Monday Musings post this week. The book is The middle parts of fortune: Somme and Ancre, 1916, by Frederic Manning.

It particularly caught my attention because the title sounds more like a nonfiction book. So, I checked it. Yes, it is fiction, I clarified, and has an interesting history. I’ll start, though, with the author…

Frederic Manning (1882-1935) was born in Sydney. An apparently sickly child, he was educated at home, and when a teenager he formed a close friendship with Rev. Arthur Galton, who was secretary to the Governor of New South Wales. When Galton returned to England in 1898, Manning went with him, but returned to Australia in 1900. However, he returned to England in 1903 – when he was 21 – and there he remained. He produced all his writing from there, but the Australian Dictionary of Biography (linked on his name) claims him as Australian.

That’s all very well – for us to say now – but at the time of his death, according to Nicole Moore who wrote his entry in the Anthology, he was “largely unknown in Australia”. And yet, she continues, “his novel, The middle parts of fortune: Somme and Ancre, 1916 (1929) is cited around the world as one of the most significant and memorable novels of the First World War”. Indeed, she writes, it is “often grouped” with Ernest Hemingway’s Farewell to arms and Erich Remarque’s All quiet on the western front.

Manning served in the war from October 1915, first as Private (no. 19022) and later as a second lieutenant, though apparently the officer’s life did not suit him. He drank, and resigned his commission in February 1918. Wikipedia explains explains that, with increasing demand through the 1920s for writing about the war, and his having published some poems and a biography, he was encouraged to write a novel about his wartime experiences – and so The middle parts of fortune was born.

The story does not end here, however. The first edition was published privately and anonymously, under subscription, says Moore. Soon after, in 1930, an expurgated edition was published under the title Her privates we, with the author now identified as Private 19022. This version, Moore says, “removed the soldiers’ expletives that strongly punctuate the text”. Acceptable, apparently, for the private edition, but not for the public one! Wikipedia says that Manning was first credited as the author, posthumously in 1943, but the original text wasn’t widely published until 1977.

Wikipedia identifies the book’s admirers as including Ernest Hemingway, Arnold Bennett, Ezra Pound, and T. E. Lawrence. Lawrence is quoted as saying of The Middle Parts of Fortune that “your book be famous for as long as the war is cared for – and perhaps longer, for there is more than soldiering in it. You have been exactly fair to everyone, of all ranks: and all your people are alive”, while Ernest Hemingway called it “the finest and noblest novel to come out of World War I”. How could I have not known it?

Now, the book … Wikipedia says that each chapter begins with a quote from Shakespeare – answering a question I had, because Chapter 1 so starts. The source of the quote, however, is not cited, but a quick internet search revealed it to come from Act III, Scene 2 of Henry IV Part 2:

By my troth, I care not; a man can die but once;
we owe God a death. … and let it go which way it will,
he that dies this year is quit for the next.

It basically says that we can only die once, and that we’ll all die one day – so, we may as well accept our fate? A soldier’s creed?

Before I say briefly discuss the first chapter, I’ll add that Nicole Moore says that the protagonist’s nationality is not “made explicit” which is “in keeping with the novel’s deflation of military hierarchies and nationalism”. She goes on to say that it explores “the effect of war on reason and selfhood” and is thus “an existentialist study of the extremes of human experience”.

I’ve read several novels, over the years, about World War 1, including – to share another Australian one – David Malouf’s Fly away Peter. It too powerfully evokes the terrible impact of that war.

So, Manning’s Chapter 1 introduces us to a soldier stumbling back to the trenches after some action during which many men had been lost. Soon, he – named Bourne, we learn – is joined by a couple of Scottish soldiers – not from his battalion – and then an officer from his. The rest of the excerpt chronicles his moving through a “battered trench” to join his compatriots in their dugout, before setting off again to meet their captain and retire to their tents in the ironically, but truthfully, named “Happy Valley”.

The tone is one of desperate resignation. Faces are blank (despite “living eyes moving restlessly” in them); no energy is wasted in unnecessary talk; and whiskey is a necessary support after “the shock and violence of the attack, the perilous instant”. The description of their progress from the dugout to the camp above ground beautifully exemplifies the writing:

they saw nothing except the sides of the trench, whitish with chalk in places, and the steel helmet and lifting swaying shoulders of the man in front, or the frantic uplifted arms of the shattered trees, and the sky with clouds broken in places, through which opened the inaccessible peace of the stars.

The “frantic uplifted arms of the shattered trees” and the “inaccessible peace of the stars” conveys it all – and this is only Chapter1.

If you would like to know more about this novel, you can check Lisa’s blog, as she knew of this book and reviewed it back in 2015!

Read for the 1929 reading week run by Karen (Kaggsy’s Bookish Rambling) and Simon (Stuck in a Book).

Frederic Manning
The middle parts of fortune: Somme and Ancre, 1916 (1929)
in Macquarie PEN anthology of Australian literature (ed. Nicholas Jose)
Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin, 2009
pp. 365-369
ISBN: 9781741754407

Monday musings on Australian literature: 1929 in fiction

As many of you know by now, Karen (Kaggsy’s Bookish Rambling) and Simon (Stuck in a Book) run “reading weeks” in which they nominate a year from which “everyone reads, enjoys, posts and shares wonderful books and discoveries from the year in question”. The current year is 1929, and it runs from today, 24 October to 30 October. For the third time now, I have decided to devote a Monday Musings to the week (my previous two being 1936 and 1954).

1929 is a meaningful year for me, because that was the year my dear mum was born. It was, however, meaningful more universally too, given, as most of you will know, the Wall Street Crash came late in the year and ushered in the Great Depression. But, of course, this happened at end of 1929, so won’t be reflected in the books published that year.

My research located books published across all forms, but my focus is fiction, so here is a selection of 1929-published novels:

  • Arthur H. Adams, Lola of the chocolate and A man’s life
  • Martin Boyd, Dearest idol
  • Bernard Cronin, Toad
  • John Bead Dalley, Max Flambard
  • Jean Devanny, Riven
  • M. Barnard Eldershaw, A house is built (John Boland’s review)
  • Arthur Gask, The lonely house
  • Mary Gaunt, The lawless frontier
  • William Hay, Strabane of the Mulberry Hills: the story of a Tasmanian lake in 1841
  • Fred Howard, Return ticket
  • Jack McLaren, A diver went down
  • Frederic Manning, The middle parts of fortune: Somme and Ancre, 1916 (Lisa’s review)
  • Myra Morris, Enchantment
  • Katharine Susannah Prichard, Coonardoo (Posts by Lisa and me)
  • Effie Sandery, Sunset Hill
  • Henry Handel Richardson, Ultima Thule (Brona’s review)
  • Alice Grant Rosman, Visitors to Hugo
  • James Tucker (as Giacomo di Rosenberg), Ralph Rashleigh (Bill’s review)
  • Arthur W. Upfield, The Barrakee mystery
  • Arthur Wright, Gaming for gold
Book cover

By the late 1920s, there was quite a flowering in women’s writing, which continued through the 1930s. This is reflected in the above list, which includes Jean Devanny, Marjorie Barnard and Flora Eldershaw (writing collaboratively as M. Barnard Eldershaw), Mary Gaunt, Katharine Susannah Prichard and the already-established Henry Handel Richardson. Effie Sandery (Elizabeth Powell), Myra Morris and Alice Grant Rosman also appear in the list, but are new to me.

There were very few literary awards at the time, but two that were established in 1928, made awards in 1929: the ALS Gold Medal went to Henry Handel Richardson’s Ultima Thule and The Bulletin’s (unpublished) Novel Competition was won by Vance Palmer’s The passage.

Writers born this year included poet Peter Porter, and novelists Kenneth Cook, Catherine Gaskin, Ray Mathew, and Glen Tomasetti (though she was better known as a singer-songwriter and activist). Deaths included Barbara Baynton, who continues to be the subject of some of my most popular posts.

The state of the art

Of course, I checked Trove to see what newspapers of the time were saying about Australian literature, and fiction in particular.

One of the things that shone through the newspaper articles I read was great enthusiasm to support and promote Australian literature. The papers reported on the meetings of many organisations, including the Australian Literature Society (which originated the ALS Gold Medal), the Queensland Authors’ and Artists’ Association, the Henry Lawson Literary Society of Sydney, and The Royal Australian Historical Society. The papers noted the issues they raised, and what guest speakers discussed. These included:

  • holdings of Australian literature in school, university and public libraries. There was clearly concern about either lack of good holdings and/or lack of promotion of those holdings. Brisbane’s The Telegraph (8 February), for example, reported that the University of Queensland had approved the purchase of books by Australian authors for the University library from the proceeds of Authors’ Week. Further south, Tasmania’s Mercury (6 December) reported that the Australian Natives’ Association* had decided to write to the Launceston Public Library committee, asking them to set aside a section of their library for “works of all descriptions by Australian authors” and to so identify them.
  • support for Australian literature. A couple of papers reported that organisations had expressed appreciation for the support given to Australian literature by newspapers. Melbourne’s Argus (19 March) quoted a speaker at the Australian Literature Society saying that “the best newspapers of the Commonwealth were making a definite attempt to create a literary tradition, and the standard of professional writing was high, despite the fact that writers appeared to be paid in inverse ratio to their qualities” [my emph]. The Sydney Morning Herald (11 June) repeated similar praise from the Henry Lawson Literary Society which said that “opportunities for Australian writers had been greatly extended by the interest displayed by Australian newspapers and journals prominent among which were the Sydney Morning Herald and the Bulletin. On the other hand, Melbourne’s The Age (16 March) wrote of Australian Literature Society’s point that “more is required of the public than a passive loyalty”, while the above quoted Argus wrote of the public’s “indifference”.
  • lectures on Australian literature. Papers also reported on various lectures given on Australian literature. The Australian Worker (28 August) promoted a series of three to be given by author, editor and critic A.G. Stephens. It was organised by the University Extension Board “in response to numerous requests for lectures on literary subjects”. His topics were Australian Poetry, Australian Humor, and Australian Literature.

This is just a small taste of the sorts of discussions of Australian literature that occurred throughout the year. The final recurring issue I want to share concerned the quality of Australian literature – to date.

Book cover

Journalist Firmin McKinnon had strong views about Australian literature, and I have reported on him before. Then, 1934, he was still speaking about what he was arguing in 1929, which was how “behind” Australian literature was compared with the settler societies like Canada and South Africa. Brisbane’s The Telegraph (6 August) reported on a lecture he gave, in which he pronounced that:

Australian novelists have failed in the main because they have no definite attitude towards life that is worth writing about, because many of the characters are unreal, and because they have failed to interpret the great soul of the real Australia.

He did, however, praise two novels from my list above. One was John Dalley’s Max Flambard, which he described as

the best novel yet produced of Sydney and suburban life, failing only because he had given his novel a tinge of satire which detracts from a true interpretation, and depicts snobbery as the dominating feature of suburban life.

Oh dear, we can’t be satirical about Australia? But, he saves his best praise for the one he sees as “the greatest Australian novel”:

“A House is Built,” by Miss Eldershaw and Miss Barnard. … while it may be too long and too particularised for the average reader, it was a story of the reconstruction of the past, covering the history of Sydney for half a century.

Overall, though, he argues that Australian literature to date was lacking a “definite constructive outlook towards life”. McKinnon was firmly of the opinion, as The Queenslander (6 June) reported on an earlier address, that

some writers unfortunately wallowed in the realism of misery, forgetting that misery was not a dominant feature of Australian life, but light-hearted optimism and courage.

Australian writers “must”, he told the meeting, “tell a story true to Australian life”. I think I’ll leave you with that little thought!

Additional sources:

* Natives, here, meaning “white” Australian-born, not First Nations people, an appropriation issue that was commented on by later historians.

Meanwhile, do you plan to take part in the 1929 Club?

O. Henry, Conscience in art (#Review)

Followers of the short story form will probably know of O. Henry, the pen-name of American author William Sydney Porter (1862-1910). Although he also wrote poetry and non-fiction, Henry was best known for his prodigious short story writing. His legacy, as Wikipedia says, includes the O. Henry Award, which is an annual prize awarded to outstanding short stories. The award was first made in 1919, and since then the winning stories have been published in an annual collection. I was introduced to this via the 2003 collection which includes stories by writers like A.S. Byatt, Anthony Doerr, T. Coraghessan Boyle, William Trevor, and Alice Munro. You can see the quality we are talking about. The 2003 issue also introduced me to another writer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, whose “The American Embassy”, I read from the collection, and whose novel, Half of a yellow sun, I went on to read as a result.

All this is to introduce the fact that Library of America (LOA) recently published an O. Henry short story, and I thought I’d share it here.

“Conscience in art”

LOA, as always, provides some introductory notes to the story, starting a bit mysteriously in this case, by referencing the turn of the century Pittsburgh millionaires, such as electricity magnate George Westinghouse, steel company executives F. T. F. Lovejoy, Andrew Carnegie, and Henry Clay Frick, and other wealthy industrialists. Many “were passionate collectors of art”. Then they make their point, because this fact, they say, “supplies the plot of O. Henry’s story”. It’s worth pointing out, too, that an article referenced by LOA, says that Henry disliked Pittsburgh.

LOA goes on then to say that in November 1906, the editors of McClure’s magazine, wrote that

“In five years of magazine writing, O. Henry has reached the top of current fiction. The quantity as well as the quality of his work is remarkable, and he grows with every story. More stories of New York, the field of his great book The Four Million, will appear in McClure’s in the coming year.” 

O. Henry, LOA continues, had signed a contract for a dozen stories at $300 each. This might sound a big ask, but he was famously productive, having published 121 stories in 1904 and 1905. However, as it turned out, not one O. Henry short story appeared in McClure’s that year, largely because his health was declining as his drinking increased. Henry did, however, write some stories that year, with nearly half of them, says LOA, featuring “an affable con man named Jeff Peters” who had debuted in a 1903 story. Some ten or so Jeff Peters stories were distributed nationally by the McClure Newspaper Syndicate in 1907 in a series they called “The Gentle Grafter.” 

Then came the information that surprised me, because I don’t know Henry’s story. LOA says that these Jeff Peters stories came out of Porter’s three years in prison – for embezzlement – at the turn of the century. He worked the night shift as the druggist in the prison’s hospital, and is believed to have first drafted some of these tales during that time. According to LOA, the prison’s head pharmacist Dr. John M. Thomas reported that many of the stories were told to Henry on his rounds. Thomas said that he would frequently “find a story written on scrap paper on my desk in the morning, with a note telling me to read it before he sent it out.” LOA says that “Conscience in Art” is perhaps the best-known story in the collection. In it, they say, “the criminal principles and linguistic malapropisms of the swindler Jeff Peters finally meet their match in the ethically challenged Andy Tucker.”

So, the story concerns two con men, Peters who has some conscience – “I never believed in taking any man’s dollars unless I gave him something for it” – and Tucker who had no such qualms. Tucker comes up with the idea of swindling the Pittsburgh millionaires, who, Tucker tells Peters, will be easy to meet because:

‘They are rough but uncivil in their manners, and though their ways are boisterous and unpolished, under it all they have a great deal of impoliteness and discourtesy. Nearly every one of ’em rose from obscurity, … If we act simple and unaffected and don’t go too far from the saloons and keep making a noise like an import duty on steel rails we won’t have any trouble in meeting some of ’em socially.’ 

Tucker comes up with an art fraud plan, and of course there’s a twist in which Tucker manages to succeed in a scam in a way that doesn’t offend his accomplice’s tender conscience! I’ve only read one other O. Henry story, “The gift of the magi” – which is often compared with Guy de Maupassant’s “The necklace”. It’s an intense story, and different to “Conscience in art”, which is lighter, more comic, in tone. However, behind the lightness is some insight into those heady turn-of-the-century times in the US when faith in rags-to-riches held rein, and perhaps, Henry’s attitude to the rich.

Have you read any O. Henry? If so, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

O. Henry
“Conscience in art”
First published: by the McClure Newspaper Syndicate (July 1907); then collected in The gentle grafter (1908). 
Available: Online at the Library of America

Ernest Hemingway, Cat in the rain (#Review)

As I often do with Library of America (LOA), I bookmarked their recent Story of the Week featuring Ernest Hemingway’s short story “Cat in the rain” to read later. “Later” came today. I have no Hemingway on my blog, so this seemed a perfect opportunity, and I do like short stories anyhow.

First ed. cover, from Wikipedia article. Public domain.

With many of my LOA posts, I need to start by introducing the writer, but this is not one of those occasions. However, if, perchance, you don’t know who Hemingway is, you can check his Wikipedia article.

Meanwhile, some background to the story. It was originally published in Hemingway’s first short story collection, In our time, in 1925. It is a very short, short story, but it has, according to LOA’s notes, garnered much critical interest. There is also a Wikipedia article on it. I’m not sure how much more I can add to what’s been said, given I am not a Hemingway scholar. However, I enjoyed reading it, partly because it felt more sensitive than macho, so I will say something!

“Cat in the rain”

The storyline is simple. An American couple is on holiday in Italy, and the story is set in and around their hotel. It’s raining, so they are stuck in their hotel room, she staring out the window and he lying on the bed reading. She sees a cat outside, hiding under a table, and she wants to rescue it. On her way outside, she sees the hotel-keeper (“padrone”), whom she likes. When she gets outside, however, the cat has gone, so she returns to her room and her husband. Wikipedia tells you exactly what happens, but generally I try not to spoil stories here, unless I know they are well-known (like, say, Pride and prejudice.)

The thing I like about Hemingway’s writing – though I’ve only read a little, and that was decades ago – is its spareness, and this is on display here. There are short, plain sentences, and simple repetition. These make it not only strangely beautiful to read but convey so much while seeming to say little. They convey a tone of lassitude, and also a sense of tension or lack in the marriage, though not a cross word is spoken.

Here is the wife, passing the hotelkeeper on her way out to find the cat:

He stood behind his desk in the far end of the dim room. The wife liked him. She liked the deadly serious way he received any complaints. She liked his dignity. She liked the way he wanted to serve her. She liked the way he felt about being a hotel-keeper. She liked his old, heavy face and big hands.

There is lovely rhythm to this – but there is also information about her character and about what she likes in people. Later, back in the room, her husband George asks her what happened. She tells him the cat had gone, then:

“I wanted it so much,” she said. “I don’t know why I wanted it so much. I wanted that poor kitty. It isn’t any fun to be a poor kitty out in the rain.”

George was reading again.

George, in other words, is not listening to her wants or, indeed, needs, because both are wrapped up in this statement. I love this: the repetition (again), the staccato-like rhythm, and the direct, plain statement about George conveys, almost paradoxically, such intensity.

David Lodge, according to LOA, has written a “thorough and now-classic examination of the story” noting conflicting interpretations. They quote him as saying:

“although it is a well-formed narrative, with a clearly defined beginning, middle and end, the primary action is not the primary vehicle of meaning.” That is, the story presents “a plot of revelation (the relationship between husband and wife) disguised as a plot of resolution (the quest for the cat).”

That makes sense to me from my reading of the story; I read it as being about the wife, her needs and her relationship with her husband.

The story also – and Lodge’s comment doesn’t contradict this – exemplifies Hemingway’s theory of omission (or “iceberg theory”), which is the idea that, as with icebergs, there is more below the surface than above. In this case, there is the idea, for example, that there is more to the cat than just being a cat, even though Hemingway doesn’t tell us what. That’s for us to consider – and the critics sure have.

There are other reasons this story interests critics and Hemingway aficionados, a major one concerning whether it is autobiographical. According to LOA, Hemingway, himself, wrote to F. Scott Fitzgerald saying that it wasn’t about his wife, Hadley, even though they thought it was. However, continues LOA, there’s evidence that she was at least the inspiration, and that biographers agree. Hemingway biographer, Michael Reynolds “admits … that Hadley must have recognized her own marriage in the portrait of the couple”, and Hadley biographer, Gioia Diliberto agrees that “it’s not hard to see Hadley’s vulnerability and loneliness in ‘Cat in the Rain.’”

I can see why this story has garnered such interest. Despite its seeming simplicity – the story itself isn’t hard to understand – there are multiple ways it can be thought about and interpreted, from the opening sentence to the intriguing last.

If you haven’t read it, do consider giving it a go at the link below – it really is short, and quick to read. If you have read it, what do you think?

Ernest Hemingway
“Cat in the rain”
First published: in In Our Time, 1925
Available: Online at the Library of America

Monday musings on Australian literature: Local colour, 1920-style

Back in June I wrote a post on the Australian Literature Society’s Women’s Night that they held in 1922. This Society, which was formed in Melbourne in 1899, has played an important role in supporting and promoting Australian literature for well over a century – first as itself, and then as part of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature (ASAL) with which it merged in 1982. As I’ve written before, ASAL continues to award the ALS Gold Medal which was established by the Society in 1928.

Now, I had in fact planned a different post for today, but I have had a busy weekend, and am still away from home, so have not had the time to work on that post. I therefore thought I would share another one of the delightful snippets I found some months ago about about the work of the society. The wonderful thing is, you see, that this Society’s meetings were often written up in the newspapers of the day, which provides us with an interesting insight into what the literati of the time were thinking and caring about.

And, one of those things was what made “Australian” literature. In 1920, Melbourne’s The Herald (July 10), reported on the meeting that marked the Society’s attaining “its majority”. That is, it turned 21! The meeting’s topic was “Local Color in Women’s Work”, with a paper was presented by Mrs Hilda Vroland. She argued that Australia’s women writers “did not portray very vividly those features of our life which were distinctive”. The report went on to explain what she saw as local color:

What was meant by local color was certain incidents, scenes and language which were characteristic of a particular country, and not only that, but a portrayal of an outlook on life which was typical of the class of people dealt with. Our local color was derived from incidents which immediately suggested Australian life — scenes that were truly Australian, and traits of character which had been developed by the freedom of this new land and the broader outlook.

Mrs Vroland named some writers whom she thought did produce good local colour – Doris Egerton Jones, Marie Pitt and Mary Gaunt (the last of whom Brona of Brona’s Books wrote about for the new AWW). Brona notes that some of Gaunt’s attitudes are problematical now, but nonetheless,

her short stories show a writer concerned with the role of women in society. Mary’s privileged colonial upbringing may be apparent in her writing at times, but her focus was clearly on how double standards, lack of agency and patriarchal practices negatively impacted on the lives of women.

Sounds like excellent local color to me …

Anyhow, the poet and journalist Bernard O’Dowd, who presided over the meeting, clearly agreed with the importance of Hilda Vroland’s subject, arguing that

Australians had as much right to see the universe in our honeysuckle and wattle blossom or even in the opossum’s burrow as the Englishman had to see his world in the oak-tree.

Furthermore, he was concerned, said The Herald, that Australian literature was not valued unless it “received the hallmark of the English papers”. (The old cultural cringe.) Local journals, he apparently said, “dealt almost exclusively with American literature, and ignored Australian writers”. Another speaker at the meeting, a Charles Carter, is reported as having “said that he “was gratified to know that the women writers quoted did not wholly rely upon the use of slang, horse-racing or bush-ranging for local color”. According to Brona, Mary Gaunt’s stories did include bush-ranging, among other topics. But was Carter being sexist about what “women” writers should write about, or simply complimenting them because these were not truly local color?

I will close here … and simply say that I enjoyed reading about the passion of these Australians for our own literature, even if (not surprisingly) the idea of First Nations people contributing to that literature doesn’t seem to have crossed their minds. I hope you all have enjoyed this little insight too.

Monday musings on Australian literature: The Australian girl’s annual

Some time ago I posted on an old School friend annual that I found during my decluttering. Today, I bring you a much older annual for girls, The Australian girl’s annual. It came not from my childhood, but from my aunt’s house when I was working on her estate, and it is undated. As far as I’ve been able to ascertain the series was published annually from 1910, when editions were apparently dated, until around 1935, when they weren’t. 1935 is the last time I found it mentioned in Trove’s newspaper index.

Trove’s cataloging records for it are incomplete. As far as I can tell, it was first called The Australian girl’s annual. It was then published as The Australasian girl’s annual (and perhaps The Australiasian girl’s annual), before returning to its original name. It was originally published by Cassell in London and Melbourne, but one Trove record notes that volumes from [1929]* on have the imprint “[Sydney] : Gordon & Gotch (A’sia) Ltd. for the Amalgamated Press Ltd.” My edition says “Published in Australasia by Gordon & Gotch (Australasia) Ltd.” but it also credits “The Amalgamated Press Limited Fleetway House, London, E.C.4”

So, I have two challenges. First, what is the date of mine? From Trove’s records, and from the contemporary-story illustrations, I’m guessing it comes from the 1929 to 1935 period. Second, who did it belong to? My aunt was born in 1930, when my grandmother was 37, making the book not really age-suitable for either – given it was geared, says The Australasian (21 December 1912), to “those who have passed childhood”. However, my aunt had a big sister who was born in 1918. Perhaps the book was hers?

I was intrigued when I picked it up, because here’s this book called The Australian girl’s annual, but it was clearly generated from England. In my search of the Internet, I found reference to some research published in 2014. It was done by Kristine Moruzi, and her paper is titled “The British Empire and Australian Girls’ Annuals”. The abstract says:

This article explores two series of girls’ annuals: the Empire Annual for Australian Girls (1909–30), published by the Religious Tract Society, and the Australian Girl’s Annual (1910–3?), published by Cassell. Although both series were seemingly targeted at Australian girls, they were published in Britain before being given a new title and sent to the colonies. This article examines the implications of these British models of girlhood for their explicitly colonial girl readers. The British publishers of these annuals addressed an apparently homogenous readership comprised of girls from white settler colonies and Britain without attempting to customize the contents of their books for different audiences. In both fiction and illustrations, the annuals simultaneously employed and produced a British model of girlhood that was attractive to Australian girl readers.

“Before being given a new title and sent to the colonies”? This suggests that the very same content was published for English girls under a different title. Certainly, the volume I have contains 26 stories with not one written by an Australian, though one author, Violet M Methley (b. 1882 in Kent), might have had some Australian connection. She is listed in AustLit, because, as a blogger writes, “she may have spent time in Australia, as many of her books are set on that continent”. Then again, as this blogger’s blog is “Tellers of Weird Tales”, Methley may just have had a vivid imagination! She has two stories in this volume, one being “Mademoiselle Miss: a story of the French Revolution”. (As little aside, this story is illustrated by H.M. Brock whose brother was C.E. Brock, famous for his Jane Austen illustrations.) Her other story is “Celia: A thrilling story”, which is set in the Hebrides.

Anyhow, the 26 stories are written pretty much 50:50 by male and female writers. None are known to me, but many were prolific writers in their day. Pleasingly, the illustrators are identified along with the authors in the table of contents. Most of the stories are fiction, and they include traditional “girls’ stories” like school stories, but there are also historical and adventure stories, and non-fiction, such as editor H. Darkin Williams’ travel piece, “On top of the world: Sun and ice at mid-summer on the heights of Switzerland” and naturalist Mortimer Batten’s “The adventure land of wild nature: And how YOU can become a Member of a Famous Camp Circle”. Batten’s heart is in the right place but how relevant were his “stories about hedgehogs, and stoats, and hares, and wildcats, and eagles, and deer …” to his Australian readers?

Of course, my next step was to see if the annual was written about in Australian newspapers, and it was, most often in end-of-year lists as a gift suggestion. Here are some of the mentions:

For softer tastes quieter themes are chosen; but the stories by Mrs. G. Vaizey, Katherine Newlin, Bessie Marchant, Doris Pocock, and others, are well written, and have nothing of the vapidity which was once thought a proper characteristic of fiction intended for girls [my emph]. – The Australasian (21 December 1912.

a very attractive and beautifully printed volume, with illustrations in colour and in black and white. It contains many short stories by writers popular with girls, and one complete book-length story, ‘The Girl from Nowhere,’ by Nancy M. Hayes. An excellent present for a girl. – Sunday Times, 13 December 1925.

… It has four color-plates, a profusion of other pictures, and as for the stories and reading matter, generally—well, a very high standard is reached. – The World’s News, 19 December 1925.

The “Australian Girl’s Annual” is another publication that puts the girls quite level with the boys in diversity of reading matter and illustration. It has all those features which girls like, and a lot of others that boys will turn to—on the quiet, of course [my emph]. It is really a very fine compilation of first-class serial and short stories. – The World’s News, 18 December 1926.

fills that very much-needed requirement of the girl-child who has passed the ‘toys’ standard, and is yet too young to be interested in the sentimentality of the average best seller in the fiction field, or carried beyond her age by the classics. – Sunday Times, 15 December 1929.

But what did the girls themselves think? Well, thanks to the letters section in some newspapers’ Children’s Pages, we do know something:

Dear Uncle Jeff … I have been reading a very interesting book, ‘The Australian Girl’s Annual.’ It is just the thing. – The Albury Banner and Wodonga Express, 10 October 1913.

Dear Aunt Mary … I had a book called “The Australian Girl’s Annual” given to me for my birthday. There are some nice stories in it. – Western Mail, 22 September 1916.

Dear Aunt Georgina … We got book prizes, and the name of my book is ‘”The Australian Girls’ Annual.” It has nice stories in it. – Toowoomba Chronicle and Darling Downs Gazette 25 January 1930.

You can see how these Children’s Pages worked. Some of the correspondents even signed off “your niece”! These writers aren’t exactly effusive about the annual, but these were spontaneous comments in letters to a newspaper, so may not mean much.

Meanwhile, I would love to read what Moruzi found.

* Square brackets donate the lack of date on the volume.

Monday musings on Australian literature: on 1922: 6, Great Australian novel (again)

The things you find in Trove! As l was trawling Trove for my 1922-project earlier this year, I came across a reference to the Great Australian novel. Just one. So, I put it aside, thinking it would be a neat, quick little post for a busy week like this one. Little did I know …

Before writing this post, I thought I should do one more quick little search. Nothing much came up, except that buried in one of the few articles my search retrieved was a reference to a book titled The luck of 1825 by Horace B. Pithouse. Launceston’s Daily Telegraph (18 November), wrote that “the rough draft of the MS was originally sent for sake of a criticism to the de Garis Great Australian novel competition”. The de Garis Great Novel Competition? Ever heard of it? I certainly hadn’t.

So, I decided to do an Internet search, and up popped the Australian Dictionary of Biography (ADB) with an article on one Clement John De Garis (1884-1936). Heard of him? I certainly hadn’t.

However, he was quite a character, and you can read about him at the link on his name above. In a nutshell, ADB lists his occupations as aviator, financier/investor, novelist, produce merchant, and short story writer, and describes him as “a man of effervescent charm and superhuman energy—a ‘prince of ballyhoo'”. Born in Mildura, he got involved in the dried fruit industry and was entrepreneurial in developing and promoting the product. But, it didn’t stop there. ADB writes that his “ambitions took on a manic quality and he began to see himself as all things to all men. A self-constituted patron of the arts, he launched a Great Australian Novel Competition”. This competition was advertised in 1919 with a closing date in early 1920. Hobart’s World (3 January 1920) promoted the competition, which had three prizes (£300 for first, £150 second, and £100 third). The goal was a “really great Australian novel”; the writer had to be Australian born; and “the story must be typically Australian”, which did not mean that ‘”local color” must be that of a shearing shed, or of the thirsty tracks in the Never Never.’

A humorist named “Dip-Tin” in Western Australia’s The Moora Herald and Midland Districts Advocate (5 May 1920) promoted it in verse, and included this on the potential subject matter:

There’ll be yarns about Ned Kelly. 
And Judge Bevan, and Oenpelli— 
Bet your life! 
And be sure each central figure 
Will become a dinkum digger, 
Plus a wife. 

Late in 1920, the winner was announced – Frank A Russell’s The ashes of achievement. Heard of it? No, nor have I! And that’s not surprising because the reviews, overall, were poor. Take this one (with an unreadable by-line) in Perth’s The Call (31 December 1920), titled ‘When DeGaris slept! The prize Australian novel candidly reviewed. A literary “Dud” – which isn’t brilliant – and isn’t even Australian’. You get the gist. The writer critiques the book’s failure at length, exposing its weaknesses in subject-matter, characterisation and language. If you’d like to know how to thoroughly pan a book, here is a good example, and if what he (I think it’s a Hector) says about it is right, his assessment is fair enough. Hector (?) concludes that:

With the publicity that has been given it The ashes of achievement will probably be widely read. But it will not be remembered.

The Queenslander (1 January 1920) agrees with The Call, albeit with brevity:

The C.J. DeGaris Publishing Company is worthy of commendation for its courage and confidence, because the work of publishing in these days is a very expensive business, but if the remaining novels are not better than The ashes of achievement the effort to enhance the literature of Australia will not be very considerable. There is more real Australian atmosphere in a few chapters of a score of other Australian novels than in the whole of Mr. Russell’s very long and mediocre production. The test of a novel lies in its atmosphere and character studies, but while in the 30 chapters of “The Ashes of Achievement” one is continually meeting new characters, and as suddenly dropping them, there is none of any outstanding merit …

I did find one positive report – in Perth’s The Southern Argus and Wagin-Arthur Express (8 January 1920) – but it was cursory:

Under such circumstances [that is, winning this prize] one would naturally expect a good novel, and one is not disappointed. The ashes of achievement is an Australian novel, by an Australian author, and not flavored with gum leaves to make it so. It maintains the reader’s interest from beginning to the end, and will rank amongst the best of international novels.

Fair point about the “gum leaves”, but …

I’ll leave De Garis here, and will get to the article from Smith’s Weekly (16 December 1922) that inspired this post. It starts by saying that ‘about once a week in our “esteemed contemporaries,” Australian authors are adjured to write the Great Australian Novel’ and goes on, tongue-in-cheek, to explain why it’s so difficult. It’s because, for example, Australian heroes and heroines can’t match the English versions with their titles and valets, and rose-leaf skin. Further,

No British hero or heroine has to work. Readers dislike working heroes and heroines. They know all about work without reading about it. 

Smith’s writer concludes:

Instead of picturesque characters, ivy-clad ruins and dear old London, we have galvanised-iron, bank managers, kerosene-tins, gum-trees, the golden wattle-bloom, shearers’ strikes, drought, the W.C.T.U., the blue, blue sky (over-worked), the last-lady-help-but-one, Old Pardon the son of Reprieve, Clancy of the Overflow, and dear old Woop Woop.

That is all the material we have. Personally, I don’t see how we can make the Great Australian Novel out of it. 

Love it … the less said about the Great Australian novel the better, I reckon.

This was the sixth post in my 1922 series.

Previous 1922 posts: 1. Bookstall Co; 2. Reviewers on Australianness; 3. ALS Women’s night; 4. Adventure novels; 5. Art books

Monday musings on Australian literature: on 1922: 5, Art books

As I wrote in my fourth 1922-themed post, some genres and forms kept popping up in the articles I was reading about Australian literature. One was the adventure genre which I featured in the last post. That wasn’t particularly surprising, but today’s topic, art, is another matter.

However, before we get onto that, a note about by-lines. I’ve had it in mind for some time to do a Monday Musings post on by-lines. I probably will one day, but I need to do more research. One of the issues is that many of the articles I read in Trove have no by-lines, while those that do are often pseudonyms – and my, are some of them difficult to identify. There are two relevant to this post – Narrung who appears in the Sydney Mail (and Smith’s Weekly) and J. Penn in Adelaide’s The Register. I haven’t identified either of them yet, so if you know anything, please say so in the comments.

Now, onto art … I was intrigued to see such focus on writing about art, but I suppose I shouldn’t be, as the 1920s was a lively time in Australian art when Modernism, along with other exciting new styles and approaches, was taking hold.

Art in Australia

Issue no. 4

It’s not often that whole journals are reviewed these days – though there are exceptions, like the Griffith Review. I was surprised then to see how often Art in Australia was featured in 1922. The journal, which was published from 1916 to 1942, had a chequered publication history. Wikipedia explains that it had four “series”: (1) No.1, 1916 – No.11, 1921; (2) New Series Vol.1. No.1. (February 1922) – Vol.1. No.2 (May 1922); (3) Third Series No.1 (August 1922) – No.81 (November 1940); (4) Series 4, No.1 (March 1941) – No.6 (June 1942).

Two of the articles I read came from early 1922, and they discuss Issue no. 11. Penn, writing in Adelaide’s The Register (7 January), starts by saying that the introduction to the eleventh issue of this “fine literary and artistic serial … confirms an opinion frequently expressed in The Register Literary Page that the publication of such beautiful works as have emanated from the enthusiastic publishers in Sydney must … have been largely a labour of love”.  Penn says this because after this issue the new version will be a larger (newspaper-style?) format and produced less frequently.

The eleventh issue “is one of the best”, Penn says. It contains reproductions from artists like the Lindsays, Arthur Streeton, and G. W. Lambert, and literary contents from people like Lionel Lindsay, Sydney Ure Smith (the journal’s editor), Zora Cross, A. G. Stephens, and Christopher Brennan. Those of you interested in the history of Australian literature will recognise some names here like Cross, Stephens and Brennan.

The writer in Melbourne’s The Argus (21 January) also talked about this issue, but focuses on describing some of the art works produced within its pages. S/he writes, for example, that:

George Lambert is represented by his head of Miss Mollie Dangar, a pencil sketch that most critics would probably prefer to his “Bush Landscape,” reproduced in this number, though one must make liberal allowances, of course, for the loss inevitable in all coloured process work. 

The issue also includes “Red Gum Tree” by George Streeton (presumably a typo for Arthur). The article concludes by advising of the changed format to come. It will be “in larger size, though there will be fewer plates. The price will be only half that charged now, but the publishers say that there will be no diminution in quality.”

Late in the year, Adelaide’s The Mail (2 December) wrote about the November 1922 issue of Art in Australia, from the third series, but starts by commenting on the journal as a whole:

Once in each quarter the soul of Australia is nourished and kept alive by the group of artistic and literary spirits who under the name of “Art in Australia, Ltd.,” register the vitality and departures of art and the arts in Australia to-day.

I love the belief that “the soul of Australia” is “nourished and kept alive” by a “group of artistic and literary spirits”. The writer argues that, while painting in Australia can’t “yet compare in range and extent of output with English resource”, this journal “can proudly take its place beside the older Studio“. Not only is it “accomplished in its colour reproduction” but it has “a freshness and virility characteristically Australian”.

Moreover, the issue is, the writer continues, “possessed especially of literary strength centring upon living and candid appreciations of Henry Lawson on the part of A. G. Stephens and J. Le Gay Brereton”. Melbourne’s National Gallery director, L. Bernard Hall, writes on aesthetics, and someone called “F. Bennicke Hart deals suggestively with the prospect before Australian music, stressing the propriety of at any rate continuity with the British spirit”. (Hmm…) There are also “characteristically caustic comments and epigrams” from Norman Lindsay, and poetry from writers like Dorothea Mackellar and Leon Gellert. And much more, but you get the gist of the breadth of the arts covered by the journal.

The writer concludes that “the duty and privilege” of all who support progress in Australian art is to not only support the journal, but introduce it to others.

Art books

Newspapers in 1922 also carried articles about art books, but Narrung, in the Sydney Mail (28 June) starts by discussing the book production industry in Australia, noting that books produced here had been of poor quality: “the less said about them the better; no library would care to own them, and they remain a sad record of ignoble effort and artistic failure”. Meanwhile, overseas, beautiful books were being produced, books that “should have set a great example locally for those who had eyes to see and admire”. Angus and Robertson’s and The Bulletin had produced some beautiful books, but they were made overseas.

Then, Narrung writes,

after a long period of sterility the subscription edition of “Satyrs and sunlight,” by Norman Lindsay and Hugh McGrae, made its appearance some 10 or 12 years ago, and until recently remained probably the handsomest example of a book ever turned out in Australia.

After a few more years, books of “great artistic merit” finally started to be produced here, like Elves and fairies by Ida Rentoul Outhwaite, The art of Fred McCubbin, and the famous catalogue, the first Hilder book. Suddenly, Australian publishers, including Art in Australia, were publishing beautiful books, albeit many being limited or subscription editions. A particularly beautiful example, according to Narrung, was Norman Lindsay and Leon Gallery’s The Isle of San. Narrung concludes with:

The fact remains that when some local artist or author is singled out nowadays for a special edition the result is always a delight, and Australian books, like other of our products, compare with the best of the world’s market.

The writer in Melbourne’s The Herald (2 December) also takes up this issue of publishing beautiful books, saying that “every painter whose work is worthy gains nowadays the recognition for which, in the past, genius often strove vainly”. S/he reviews The art of Sara Levi, published in 1922, calling it an “attractive portfolio”. Sara Levi was a nature painter, and was involved in several art societies at the time. “Brighton Beach”, a “charming picture” that was included in this volume, apparently fetched $4,400 in 1990, the highest price she’s fetched to date.

A superficial survey, but I’m enjoying learning (and sharing) these little insights into literary Australia of a century ago.

Previous 1922 posts: 1. Bookstall Co; 2. Reviewers on Australianness; 3. ALS Women’s night; 4. Adventure novels