A Wish of Distinction: Colonial gentility and femininity
MUP, S24.95 pb
Penny Russell could not have chanced upon a better phrase than Jane Austen’s ‘It was rather a wish of distinction … It was the desire of appearing superior to other people’ when she was seeking a title for this book. The colonial gentility of Melbourne, or ‘Society’ if you want to use their understanding of who they were, could only define themselves in terms of who they were not – or who they would never wish to be.
Who they were not, though, as Russell points out, was a very fluid thing. As in every other class-conscious but aristocracy-bereft society, it was, ultimately, money that engendered ‘superiority’. No matter how hard those already there tried to keep it out, the next generation would always be through the door, looking forward to shutting it in someone else’s face.