Unbridling the Tongues of Women: A biography of Catherine Helen Spence' by Susan Magarey

Reviewed by
November 2010, no. 326
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Helen Thomson reviews 'Unbridling the Tongues of Women: A biography of Catherine Helen Spence' by Susan Magarey

Unbridling the Tongues of Women: A biography of Catherine Helen Spence'

by Susan Magarey

University of Adelaide Press, $29.95 pb, 214 pp

Buy this book

Unbridling the Tongues of Women: A biography of Catherine Helen Spence' by Susan Magarey

Reviewed by
November 2010, no. 326

This republication of Susan Magarey’s 1985 biography of Catherine Helen Spence commemorates the anniversary of her death, aged eighty-five, in April 1910. In an enlarged and attractive new paperback format, with a revised introduction, its cover sketch of Spence, with upraised hand, in mid-speech, emphasises the key subject, both actual and metaphorical, of women’s public speaking. Remarkable as a writer and as a political and social reformer, Spence’s status as one of Australia’s earliest female public intellectuals is best represented in her more immediately transgressive role as public speaker, a graphic unbridling of the female voice.

The unaltered text of this biography tells the story of a life, a colony and, ultimately, a nation, the personal made political in the parallel liberation of a socially constrained spinster’s life and the intellectual and social growth of South Australia, both colonial products of the Enlightenment. The woman whose portrait graced our $5 note in 2001, marking a century of Federation, provocatively described herself, in her eighties, as a New Woman. But she shifted the term’s suggestion of sexual autonomy to a claim for women’s responsibility to the state, an ambitious erasure of the nineteenth century’s doctrine of gendered, separate spheres.

Helen Thomson reviews 'Unbridling the Tongues of Women: A biography of Catherine Helen Spence' by Susan Magarey

Unbridling the Tongues of Women: A biography of Catherine Helen Spence'

by Susan Magarey

University of Adelaide Press, $29.95 pb, 214 pp

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