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Weaving a conversation

by
October 2001, no. 235

Yarn Spinners: A story in letters edited by Marilla North

UQP, $34.95 pb, 441 pp

Weaving a conversation

by
October 2001, no. 235

‘This is a book about friendship and storytelling’, writes Marilla North in her prologue to this artfully arranged selection of correspondence. It begins in 1928 and covers the next twenty-seven years, chronicling the large and small events in the lives of Dymphna Cusack, Florence James, and Miles Franklin, three of Australia’s most vital, fluent, and committed women writers.

The book begins with letters between Cusack and James, with Cusack an intense young teacher based in Broken Hill, longing to travel to England like her more sophisticated and ostensibly glamorous friend. Cusack is methodically making her way as a writer, chafing at the smallness and provincialism of Australia – a frustration that finds expression a few years later when she and Miles Franklin collaborate on Pioneers on Parade (1939), their lampoon of Sydney’s pompous sesquicentennial celebrations. There is a certain amount of schoolgirlish glee in this section of the book, which is rather difficult for the reader to share; not only is it often impossible to connect with a previous generation’s sense of humour, but Marilla North and the authors provide few real clues to the reason why Pioneers was considered so outrageous. A fascinating letter in this context, however, is written by the English critic St John Irvine, who takes it upon himself to warn Franklin that her literary reputation is in danger because of her collaboration with Miss Cusack on such a ‘smarty-smart’ novel, and expressing the hope that ‘the shock of receiving such a letter as this will make you pull yourself together’. (There is no evidence that Franklin shared this letter with Cusack: did she think Irvine might have had a point?)

Jacqueline Kent reviews 'Yarn Spinners: A story in letters' edited by Marilla North

Yarn Spinners: A story in letters

edited by Marilla North

UQP, $34.95 pb, 441 pp

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