John Harwood

Ann-Marie Priest’s My Tongue Is My Own, published by La Trobe University Press and reviewed in our June issue, is the first authorised biography of the Australian poet Gwen Harwood (1920–1995). Unsurprisingly, this was not the first attempt to record the life of one of Australia’s most loved and admired poets. In an exclusive feature for ABR, John Harwood reflects on the conflicting motives behind his literary executorship of his mother’s estate – an estate holding the secrets to an at-times fractious marriage between two opposing temperaments.

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When Ann-Marie Priest wrote to me in 2015 asking whether she might talk to me about her proposed biography of my mother, and requesting my permission to examine some correspondence in the Fryer Library, which I, as Gwen Harwood’s literary executor, had placed on restricted access, I replied with a terse refusal to cooperate. Since my mother’s death in December 1995, I had kept tight control of her vast correspondence, nearly all of which she had donated to various research libraries over the last two decades of her life, and I saw no reason to change my ways.

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The Best 100 Poems of Gwen Harwood by Gwen Harwood, edited by John Harwood

by
December 2014, no. 367

In ‘Late Works’, the last poem in Black Inc.’s new selection of Gwen Harwood’s poetry, a dying poet, determined to pen her ‘late great’ poems, calls from her hospital bed for paper. The nurse, misunderstanding, brings toilet paper, much to the poet’s chagrin. It is a typical Harwood inversion ...

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In The Asylum, the latest dark suspense novel from John Harwood, the author manages to walk a fine line between Gothic romance and contemporary psychological thriller. Or rather, he gambols gleefully along it, delighting his reader with familiar Gothic tropes while deftly interrogating his protagonist’s sense of her own self. There are mirrors here, an insane asylum, and enough startling coincidences to make you think Harwood was actually writing this in late Victorian England, where the novel is set. There are even a dark, brooding hero and a diabolical villain, assuming they are who they appear to be. But at its heart this novel concerns one woman’s struggles with her own identity, one she is only barely aware of herself. That woman’s name is Georgina Ferrars. Or is it?

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There is a species of Victorian mystery story that is as pure an expression of nineteenth-century rationalism as you are likely to find. A strange event occurs which, at first glance, appears to admit no rational explanation; by the end of the story, it is revealed to have a logical explanation after all. Thus foolish superstition is banished by the pure light of reason. But there is another side to late-Victorian fiction of the unexpected, represented by Henry James’s ghost tale The Turn of the Screw (1898): a darker, slipperier, and far more unsettling narrative in which the supernatural elements are never satisfactorily explained and are charged with menacing psychological overtones.

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What is the relationship between our literary culture and the academy? Moreover, should there be any relationship between the two, or is it healthier if each remains separate, largely isolated from the other? These-questions were brought into focus for me by ‘Word Games’, a provocative essay in the Spring issue of Island, that lively Tasmanian literary magazine.

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