Brenda Niall

Writing has always seemed an easy, natural thing to do. But it was a long time before I thought of myself as a writer rather than an academic.

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In April 1934 sisters Mary and Elizabeth Durack joined their eldest brother, Reg, at Argyle Downs Station in the Kimberley. Mary was twenty-one, her sister eighteen. Educated at Loreto Convent in Perth, they had been reared on a diet of stories about life in the north told by their father, Michael Patrick Durack (known as ‘MPD’), when he returned from the family’s pastoral holdings every wet season to spend time with his wife and six children. Both girls had spent time up north with their parents, and loved the place. This time, however, they were on their own. At Argyle, ‘they were paid union wages for helping in the kitchen, where they learned to make bread for the homestead and for the twenty or more Aborigines on the station’, and later they took up duties at another Durack company station, Ivanhoe. They stayed up north for eighteen months, saving up for a trip to Europe, for even the Durack family fortunes had been hit by the Great Depression.

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Nearly seven years ago, David Lodge had the bad luck to collide with Colm Tóibín when both writers produced a novel about Henry James. Tóibín was the first to publish; his work The Master (2004) won high praise and a Booker Prize nomination. Lodge’s Author, Author (2004), trailing six months behind, suffered in the inevitable comparisons. The ...

Blue Skies by Helen Hodgman

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April 2011, no. 330

With its witty cover, showing an overturned pram, Blue Skies places itself in the era of The Female Eunuch (1971) and adds a Gothic horror touch...

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Even the cover design of Sheila Fitzpatrick’s memoir gave me something to ponder. The title, which signals the father–daughter story, is linked with an engaging seaside photograph of the two of them. The father’s swimming trunks and the daughter’s bathing cap have an authentic 1940s look. Add to that a bland subtitle, Memories of an Australian Childhood, and the tough confrontations of the text may come as a surprise.

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Some stories deserve to be told more than once. Retold, they cannot be the same. Even when the teller is the same person, the shift in time and experience will make the story new. In The Ghost at the Wedding, Shirley Walker returns to the material of her autobiography, Roundabout at Bangalow (2001), in order to focus more closely on the saddest and most powerful memories therein: those of the young men of her family who served in two world wars.

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‘There was a man who loved islands. He was born on one, but it didn’t suit him, as there were too many other people on it, besides himself.’ So begins D.H. Lawrence’s bleak little fable ‘The Man Who Loved Islands’. Lawrence’s islander wants control, sole possession, mastery of people and place. When his first island, fertile and beautiful, fails him because of the vast expense of making it perfect, he moves to a smaller one where, without love or desire, he drifts into marriage and fatherhood. Again he escapes. On the third and final island – a barren rock – his total isolation brings madness and death. The moral is clear. Lawrence thought of community as essential; without it we cannot be human.

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It is rare in Australia for a literary biographer, even one of distinction, to write at book length about her intellectual formation and biographical pursuits. A country so demonstrably forgetful of its best poetry and fiction is unlikely to foster a literature of this burgeoning genre, still emerging from its decorous constraints. Elsewhere, we have Richard Holmes’s seminal Footsteps: Adventures of a Romantic biographer (1995) and Leon Edel’s Bloomsbury: A house of lions (1979), but Australian examples are few. So it is good to have Brenda Niall’s lucid account of her gradual transformation from academic to biographer.

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Among countless unused fragments of information from my convent schooldays, I remember the correct forms of address for churchmen of all ranks. For the pope, it was Your Holiness; for a cardinal, Your Eminence. Next came Your Grace and My Lord, for archbishops and bishops. Then the cumbersome Right Reverend and Dear Monsignor, followed by Dear Reverend Father, which sufficed for a priest.

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March by Geraldine Brooks

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April 2005, no. 270

Spacious and solidly constructed, the classic nineteenth-century novel invites revisiting. Later writers reconfigure its well-known spaces, change the lighting, summon marginal figures to the centre. Most memorable, perhaps, is Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea (1966), in which the first Mrs Rochester ...

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