The Shelf Life of Zora Cross
Monash University Publishing, $29.95 pb, 285 pp, 9781925835533
Just over one hundred years ago, Sydney readers were speaking in hushed tones about a shocking new book by a young woman, Zora Cross. A collection of love poems by an unknown would not normally have roused much interest, but because they came from a woman, and were frankly and emphatically erotic, the book was a sensation. It wasn’t, as a Bulletin reviewer said demurely, a set of sonnets to the beloved’s eyebrows. It was ‘well, all of him’. It broke the literary convention that restricted the expression of sexual pleasure to a male lover. Cross took Shakespeare’s sonnets as her inspiration. Her Songs of Love and Life (1917) was a long way from being Shakespearean, but it roused huge admiration. Cross was hailed as a genius, ‘an Australian Sappho’.
Queensland-born Zora Cross began her literary career as an unstoppable contributor to the ‘Children’s Corner’ in the Sydney-based Australian Town and Country Journal. Cross was only nine when she wrote from home on Pie Creek Road, Gympie, to the Corner’s editor, ‘Dame Durden’, who, as everyone knew, was the bestselling author Ethel Turner.