Jane Grant reviews 'Modern Love' by Lesley Harding and Kendrah Morgan

Jane Grant reviews 'Modern Love' by Lesley Harding and Kendrah Morgan

Modern Love: The Lives of John and Sunday Reed

by Lesley Harding and Kendrah Morgan

Miegunyah Press, $45 pb, 418 pp, 9780522862812

In December, John decided there was nothing to lose and that he would write to Picasso asking him to view Nolan's work in storage. Sunday translated the letter into French, but even in draft form in English it read as sycophantic and sentimental ... They went to Picasso's apartment to hand deliver the letter and were met at the door by the artist's factotum. One wonders what Picasso made of it. There was no reply.

In one of the more insightful passages in Lesley Harding and Kendrah Morgan's biography Modern Love: The Lives of John and Sunday Reed, the couple are adrift and a little absurd in the wide world beyond Melbourne and their home of Heide, with its 'beguiling mythology' as 'the birthplace of Australian modernism'. Indeed, after the histories, biographies, and novels concerning Sunday Reed, her lover Sidney Nolan, and other principal protégés – Joy Hester and Albert Tucker, as well as the poets Max Harris and the fictional 'Ern Malley' – a study interrogating the making of that mythology would be timely. Heide in 1940s Melbourne was, after all, only one of multiple interconnecting creative and intellectual circles in which the artists were moving. But that is not Harding and Morgan's purview. For the most part, Modern Love returns us to the domestic interiors of Heide as creative fulcrum, taking us, as the title portends, one step further into the unorthodox marriage.

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Jane Grant

Jane Grant

Jane Grant was awarded a PhD from the University of Sydney for her thesis on the writer Cynthia Nolan, and has written widely on Australian literary and cultural history. She is the current Joyce Thorpe Nicholson Fellow at the University Of Melbourne, and is researching the literary production and networking of Australian second-wave feminism.

Published in December 2015, no. 377

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