Charmian Clift

The task of reading these three books together provided more than I was anticipating. Their perspectives of decades of Australian society and writing practices cover the past, the personal and the politics. The writers come from three different generations (born 1903, 1923, 1940), and represent particular writing intentions or schools, certainly different genres. The connecting thread, probably the only one, is that each of the books is written form such a particularised stance. Each is written in the first person, and flirts to varying degrees with the confessional mode. The tensions between restraint and letting it all hang out, what gets said and what comes out in the not-saying, interested me.

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On Hydra last year an old grocer wound up his reminiscences of George Johnston and Charmian Clift with a tolerant grin. ‘They both drank a lot,’ he told me. ‘They had to – yia na katevei i skepsi.’ For the thought to be let down: he used the same verb as for a cow letting her milk flow. ‘They drank a lot; they wrote a lot of books.’ He shrugged.

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The World of Charmian Clift is a selection of the weekly columns she wrote for the Sydney Morning Herald’s women’s pages. They date from 1964, the year that she, George Johnston, and their children returned from Greece, up to her tragic suicide in 1969. Clift herself selected most of the essays for the book, which was first published posthumously in 1970, not long before George Johnston’s death from tuberculosis.

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In August 1964, Charmian Clift returned to Australia from the Greek island of Hydra after nearly fourteen years abroad. As Paul Genoni and Tanya Dalziell portray her return – a description based, as always in this book, on solid or at least reasonably persuasive evidence – she ‘was leaving her beloved Hydra ...

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Hydra as intimate theatre by Paul Genoni

Paul Genoni
Friday, 25 November 2016

In late 1963, Rodney Hall – an aspiring but unpublished poet and novelist – travelled through Greece’s Saronic islands with his wife and their infant daughter. Shortly after ...

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