Thursday, 21 February 2019

The Love Song of J. Prufrock by T. S. Eliot

I've just finished and reviewed A New England Affair by Steven Carroll, one of his four planned books about the relationship between T. S. Eliot and Emily Hale based loosely on the Four Quartets. It would have been the easy and obvious thing to do to share Dry Salvages with you this week, as it was the third part of the quartet that A New England Affair was written around. However, a number of times throughout the book, Hale referred to Prufrock - Eliot's debt to Jules Laforgue for it's creation - the strange choice of name etc.

According to Carroll, Eliot also left all sorts of hidden messages for Emily scattered throughout his poems. I wonder if her letters and journals will reveal these secrets in 2020?

The Love Song of J. Prufrock
T. S. Eliot

S’io credesse che mia risposta fosse
A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma percioche giammai di questo fondo
Non torno vivo alcun, s’i’odo il vero,
Senza tema d’infamia ti rispondo.

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question ...
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes,
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair —
(They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”)
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin —
(They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”)
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all:
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?

And I have known the eyes already, known them all—
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
And how should I presume?

And I have known the arms already, known them all—
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
(But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!)
Is it perfume from a dress
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.
And should I then presume?
And how should I begin?

Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows? ...

I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.

And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep ... tired ... or it malingers,
Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet — and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.

And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it towards some overwhelming question,
To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”—
If one, settling a pillow by her head
Should say: “That is not what I meant at all;
That is not it, at all.”

And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor—
And this, and so much more?—
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
“That is not it at all,
That is not what I meant, at all.”

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.

I grow old ... I grow old ...
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

Jennifer @Holds Upon Happiness posts a lovely Poem for a Thursday each week. I'm enjoying sourcing poems from my recent reads to join in with her at the moment.

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

A New England Affair by Steven Carroll

In close to one of the worst book cover choices I've ever seen, A New England Affair by Steve Carroll is a classic case of a book that should not be judged by its cover!

Yes, a woman heading out to sea (to the Dry Salvages) is a central part of the story, but the woman (Emily Hale) is elderly and is meant to be carrying a satchel, stuffed with letters and journals (detailing her life long love affair with T. S. Eliot), slung over her shoulders. I'm sure that pink dress was fashionable once, but nothing about that cover says 'pick me up and look inside'. Fortunately Steven Carroll's name is in large print, and that is now enough to make me look twice.

I adored The Lost Life, Carroll's first story in his planned T. S. Eliot quartet and admired A World of Other People. Curiously I didn't feel anywhere near as passionate about AWOOP, as I did about TLL, although I remember far more about it.

The premise of the four stories is loosely linked to Eliot's Four Quartets, which had the potential to make the books too clever for their own good, but the link is loose and you could read all of the books in any order, as stand alone stories, without any knowledge of the poems. Which is how I started off.

Of course, I couldn't stay out of the loop for long!

I sourced a copy of Burnt Norton during my reading of The Lost Life, then hunted down Little Gidding for A World of Other People. Naturally I also printed off a copy of Dry Salvages as soon as I started A New England Affair. I now also have East Coker ready for the final book in the series.

My memory of The Lost Life is passion. The early, heady days of a young love, a new love, a moment in time, suspended by heightened emotions. Two young lovers wander the grounds of Burnt Norton and spy an older couple - lovers of a different age, a different time - acting secretly in the distance. The older couple are Tom Eliot and Emily Hale. I remember the intense emotions, the secrets and the garden. It was sumptuous and delicious.

It was hard for A World of Other People to live up to the high expectations I had set it. Carroll jumped in time to the start of WWII and once again we view Eliot through the eyes of another. A young poet, Iris, who shared the firewatch during the Blitz with Eliot. This book was heavier on the poetry as Iris observed how Eliot turned their nighttime duties into a poem. Intertwined is the story of an Australian pilot, the only survivor of a crash that Iris and Eliot observed from atop their building. It was a memorable, moving story, but didn't capture my emotional state as much as The Lost Life.

With the third novel, A New England Affair, I'm realising that we have only ever seen Eliot through the eyes of others. I wonder if the fourth book will finally be Eliot's story?

This time it was Emily Hale's story. Although we also get to see Emily via the eyes of one her 'girls'. Carroll enjoys playing with time and how we (Eliot and Hale) look and how our lives appear to younger generations.

I confess that by the end of this book, I came to the conclusion that Eliot was a bit of a dick. Selfish and self-important. I guess it takes a certain kind of bravado and bravura to live a complete creative life.

I felt for Emily's lonely plight, but ultimately wondered if she didn't buy into the whole T. S. Eliot thing to suit her own agenda. Her search for meaning and belonging was almost as desperate as Eliot's need to be loved and adored.

The various time frames and perspectives were a little confusing at the start, but I ended up enjoying seeing Emily through the eyes of young Grace and Ted. Their mid-60's sensibilities provided a midway point from which to judge the relationship. They saw themselves as being a modern couple, and Grace was able to live a more adventurous, independent life than Emily ever could have. But our 21st century gaze saw both couples as being dated, old-fashioned and of their time. Just like our kids and grandkids will one day view us. On and on it goes!

The 'girls' that Emily shared her love letters with, reminded me of Miss Jean Brodie and that need both women had to have someone observe their lives and give them purpose and a sense of specialness.

How accurate Carroll's depiction of this lop-sided love affair is/was, will not be fully resolved until 1st January 2020 when Hale's collection of over a thousand of Eliot’s letters to her will be opened by the current caretakers at Princeton. But for now, we can sit back and enjoy the wonder of Carroll's considerate, thoughtful imaginings.

Saturday, 16 February 2019

Shell by Kristina Olsson

I wanted to love Shell so much. I thought it would be easy.

I adored the beautiful pearlescent cover on the hardback edition. It's dreamy quality felt nostalgic and apocalyptic at the same time (rather like Sydney last week during the dust storm)!
I love historical fiction. The building of the Opera House combined with Vietnam War issues should have been fascinating for me.
But most importantly, I was utterly mesmerised by Olsson's earlier memoir, Boy, Lost. I still think about how graciously and generously she explored her own family story within the context of 1950's Australia politics and culture. It was moving and powerful stuff.

I had heard from other bloggers, who raved about Shell, that the story was a slow burn, so after picking it up, then putting it down after about a dozen pages last year, I decided to try again recently, now that I have a bit more slow time up my sleeve.

But the same problem confronted me.

The start is not only a slow burn, but I also found it clunky with truncated sentences and phrases. This choppy sentence structure doesn't stop. I never felt a sense of rhythm or flow. It felt like Olsson was trying to hard to be poetic and clever. The effect didn't grab my attention or suit my mood. As she herself said about the Australian language (through the voice of Axel, the Swedish glass maker),

Its sentences were without rhythm, flat, featureless....He wondered if it was a matter of sophistication or history or even weather, this difference. This leaning into or away from another's sentences, or into or away from landscape, or surroundings. The things you were willing to reveal, what you were willing to hear.
Sometimes he would stand on the quay and let the streams of people part around him like water, and he would listen. Words, phrases, perhaps a whole sentence....what was in the words that made these people. Did their language make them feel a different way

But my biggest disappointment was my lack of affection or connection to the two main characters - Pearl and Axel. I never really felt like I was inside their heads or their hearts. I struggled to care for their issues or dilemmas.

I persisted past my usual stopping point of the 50 page mark, thanks to the number of comments about the slow burn, but by page 122 I realised that Shell simply wasn't working for me. I had given enough time to a book that wasn't getting under my skin, into my head or heart.

It's disappointing to anticipate a book so much only to find that you've fail to find a way in. Normally not finishing a book doesn't worry me too much - life is too short and there are too many other books I could be reading, but this one has left me with a sense of failure. What have I missed that so many others got? Why was I not able to appreciate the writing style or connect to the characters when so many other bloggers have?

Because I loved Boy, Lost so much, I feel the need to be fair to Shell and Olsson and share some of the reviews that rave about it so that you can make up your own mind.

Thursday, 14 February 2019

Eve Song by Dame Mary Gilmore

I reviewed Michael McGirr's Books That Saved My Life a week or so ago. It was a delight of much loved (by me and Michael) books and poems as well as an introduction to many more that I have yet to read.

One of those was by Mary Gilmore. Her second volume of poetry, The Passionate Heart, published in 1918, reflected her feelings and thoughts about WWI.

McGirr waxed lyrical about one of her poems within, called Eve Song.

There is more to Mary Gilmore than nostalgia. She gave voice to the pain and neglect suffered by women who were required to accommodate the wild dreams and poor behaviour of menfolk...The poem surely reflects the sense of abandonment experienced by women in time of conflict and violence. But it also captures the ambivalent feelings of someone entwined in a relationship which is liberating for only one of the people in it.... 
The real success of a The Passionate Heart is its ability to bring darkness to light. Mary Gilmore is, to my knowledge, the first Australian writer to deal in and open and fearless way with the challenge of living with depression.

Mary Jean Gilmore (1865-1962) by Adelaide Perry

Eve Song 

Dame Mary Gilmore

I span and Eve span
A thread to bind the heart of man;
But the heart of man was a wandering thing
That came and went with little to bring:
Nothing he minded what we made,
As here he loitered, and there he stayed.
I span and Eve span
A thread to bind the heart of man;
But the more we span the more we found
It wasn't his heart but ours we bound.
For children gathered about our knees:
The thread was a chain that stole our ease.
And one of us learned in our children's eyes
That more than man was love and prize.
But deep in the heart of one of us lay
A root of loss and hidden dismay.

He said he was strong. He had no strength
But that which comes of breadth and length.
He said he was fond. But his fondness proved
The flame of an hour when he was moved.
He said he was true. His truth was but
A door that winds could open and shut.

And yet, and yet, as he came back,
Wandering in from the outward track,
We held our arms, and gave him our breast,
As a pillowing place for his head to rest.
I span and Eve span,
A thread to bind the heart of man!

Jennifer @Holds Upon Happiness posts a lovely Poem for a Thursday each week. I'm enjoying sourcing poems from my recent reads to join in with her at the moment.

Monday, 11 February 2019

The World Was Whole by Fiona Wright

The World Was Whole by Fiona Wright is a difficult book to review. It's a personal collection of Wright's essays, anecdotes and snippets. They are revealing and specific, almost like reading someone's private journal. Yet, all these sketches are written with such emotional intelligence and compassion that they become universal, finding their own connection with each reader.

I underlined so many sections and googled so many poems so that I could read the whole after being tempted by the snippet (one example being Aubade by Louise Gluck) which is always a sign that a book has affected me or moved me deeply. Wright has a lot to say, from her perspective as someone who has anorexia nervosa, about our bodies, how we perceive ourselves, space, environments, nature, food, habits and rituals.

We only half notice the truly extraordinary landscapes, places and situations that we move through

I learnt a lot about the complex nature of anorexia. As someone who derives as much pleasure from food and eating out as I do, it was challenging to hear of how complicated all this gets when you have an eating disorder.

Our days are consumed by making choices about food, by worrying over the things that we might eat or have just eaten.

Yet, most of the women I know have had body issues at varying points in their life. It is hard to escape societal expectation, (false) media images that become the norm and all the conflicting guidelines about how much, how little, what, when and where.

Behaviour, despite what fiction would have us believe, cannot tell us everything, or even very much, about a person.

I enjoyed her observations about the changing face of Sydney suburbs and found a lot to compare about her time in China, where it's 'hard to feel significant' amongst the overwhelming crowds, with my own time there 20 years ago.

But there were also times when I felt incredibly old and maternal towards Wright. I wanted to bundle her into my now, much older arms, (along with my younger self), and plead with them not to be so hard on themselves, to let go the angst and conflict and insecurities that absorb(ed) their days. This time feels like it crawls by at a painfully slow pace, yet it's gone in the blink of an eye. And suddenly you find yourself in your 50's, calmer, at peace, comfortable and secure, in a way that your (my) younger self would have scorned and envied at the same time.

It is complicated, but most of the time we make it more complicated than we need to. It's a journey we all have to go on, at our pace in our own way. I believe it's possible for everyone to eventually feel a sense of belonging and acceptance. You just have to give it time. And be kind to yourself along the way.

Saturday, 9 February 2019

All the Tears in China by Sulari Gentill

The anticipation I feel as I wait for the next Rowland Sinclair mystery is hard to describe. I love spending time with Rowland Sinclair and his three friends almost as much as I love spending time with my real life friends! It's a real treat to be a part of the humour, loyalty and kindness that they constantly display towards each other. 

All the Tears in China picks up where we left off in book 8. Only a few days have gone by and Rowly is still paying for his involvement with Egon Kisch. To get him out of harm's way and to help the family fortune, brother Wilfred decides to send Rowland (and his friends) to Shanghai to broker a wool deal with the Japanese.

Naturally, from the moment they arrive in 1935 Shanghai, the level of danger and intrigue that Rowly seems to always attract only increases.

I love the blend of fact and fiction. Sulari Gentill has a lovely knack of allowing real life figures to rub along with our fictional favourites naturally. She also brings to life the bizarre, curious and precarious world of pre-WWII China.

Gentill has now brought me to the point (twice in recent times) where I believed that Rowly really was in danger of losing his life and that she had had enough of writing these mysteries and was ready to move onto another venture. Nothing about the energy or the writing suggests that Gentill is over the series, but the lead up to the almost-death of Rowly was so believable and convincing both times, that I really couldn't see how she was going to get him out of it safely and plausibly. She did both times!

What I loved about this book: the witty dialogue, the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge (which my own grandparents attended on their honeymoon in 1932).
What I learnt or want to remember about this book: all that stuff about the New Guard, fascism in Australia and Eric Campbell.

What I loved about this book: the art deco cover, a Cary Grant cameo, the Bohemian lifestyle & a cruise to New York.
What I learnt or want to remember about this book: Norman Lindsay's Blue Mountains soirée's

What I loved about this book: the visit to the Hydro Majestic Hotel in Medlow Bath, more Norman Lindsay & a run-in with Stella Miles Franklin
What I learnt or want to remember about this book: meeting Rowly's half brother for the first time.

What I loved about this book: meeting a young, naive Eva Braun as well as Nancy Wake and Unity Mitford. Flying lessons with Kingsford-Smith.
What I learnt or want to remember about this book: who is Egon Kisch? The horror of Rowly's kidnapping and torture by the SA (Ernst Rӧhm).

What I (loved) about this book: how history has taught us nothing - how Brexit, isolationist policies and right wing thinking is once again dominating our politics.
What I learnt or want to remember about this book: Fascism in London 1933 & eugenics.

What I loved about this book: the Sinclair family backstory - domestic violence and murder.
What I learnt or want to remember about this book: Bob Menzies

What I loved about this book: an appearance by Errol Flynn and the seedier side of 1933 Sydney. The development of more complex, nuanced relationships between our four friends as well as Rowly's extended family.
What I learnt or want to remember about this book: Maroubra speedway

Prequel - The Prodigal Son (e-book only - download your copy here.)

What I loved about this book: the very first meeting of Rowly, Edna, Clyde and Milton.
What I learnt or want to remember about this book: Gentill can draw too - her illustrations graced the pages of this e-book novella.

What I loved about this book: 1935 Canberra & Melbourne and the increasing frisson between Rowly and Edna.
What I learnt or want to remember about this book: Gentill plans to continue the series until the end of WWII. I don't mind the new covers, but I loved the previous art deco covers more - they were more stylish and Bohemian to my mind.

What I loved about this book: 1935 Shanghai, Sir Victor Sassoon and the colourful cover (although I would have liked to see the art deco cover for this too!)
What I learnt or want to remember about this book: Russian revolution refugees in Shanghai & the horrific conditions in Ware Road Gaol.

Thursday, 7 February 2019

Aubade by Louise Gluck

I'm trying to stretch myself with poetry reading this year.

The best way to attempt this is to use my current novel reading as a springboard into a poem. Whether it be an epigraph, a quote or a reference made within a book, I plan to no longer just read over these parts quickly. Instead I will stop, take note, find the whole poem and consider slowly and purposefully the poem within the context of the book.

I'm currently reading The World was Whole by Fiona Wright. About halfway through is a chapter entitled, The World was Whole, Always where she quotes /A room with a chair, a window.A small window, filled with the patterns light makes./

The image it created was very evocative and I appreciated how Gluck's general description of the room allows each reader to picture their own room, with the own chair, window and patterns of light. But it wasn't until I sourced and read the whole poem that I realised that Wright not only used a line from this poem for the chapter heading, but also for the title of the whole book. 

Further reading about Gluck revealed that she loves to reread Iris Murdoch "I love her wisdom and archness" (from Washington Square Review) and Franz Kafka. She was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa during her teen years and admired Joan of Arc as a child. She won the 1992 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for her latest collection called The Wild Iris.

I also learnt that an aubade is the opposite of a serenade, being a morning love song or a 'song from a door or window to a sleeping woman' (wikipedia). John Donne's poem, The Sunne Rising, is an example of an aubade.

Aubade was first published in 1999 in Vita Nova.



The world was very large. Then
the world was small. O
very small, small enough
to fit in a brain.

It had no color, it was all
interior space: nothing
got in or out. But time
seeped in anyway, that
was the tragic dimension.

I took time very seriously in those years,
if I remember accurately.

A room with a chair, a window.
A small window, filled with the patterns light makes.
In its emptiness the world

was whole always, not
a chip of something, with
the self at the center.

And at the center of the self,
grief I thought I couldn't survive.

A room with a bed, a table. Flashes
of light on the naked surfaces.

I had two desires: desire
to be safe and desire to feel. As though

the world were making
a decision against white
because it disdained potential
and wanted in its place substance:

of gold where the light struck.
In the window, reddish
leaves of the copper beech tree.

Out of the stasis, facts, objects
blurred or knitted together: somewhere

time stirring, time
crying to be touched, to be

the polished wood
shimmering with distinctions--

and then I was once more
a child in the presence of riches
and I didn't know what the riches were made of.

Jennifer @Holds Upon Happiness posts a lovely Poem for a Thursday each week. I love seeing which poem she picks but I rarely feel the urge to join in with one myself. However, today is one of those days when my recent reading provided the push I needed.

Saturday, 2 February 2019

Books That Saved My Life by Michael McGirr

Books That Saved My Life: Reading For Wisdom, Solace and Pleasure was a delightful book all about books by Australian essayist Michael McGirr. It was a lovely mix of classics, international and Australian stories and poems. McGirr showed us with each and every chapter how reading and rereading favourite books is a personal experience as well as a universal one.

At every season of life, the mind needs to be nurtured. It needs challenges. reading is as much a part of investing in yourself as are gyms, financial planning and relationships. It will feed your hungry mind and take your heart on a journey.

The way he combined each book, the author and his own journey with the story is what I attempt to do here on my blog. It could have been a frustrating thing to see how far I still have to travel to be that kind of writer, but instead, I found McGirr's essays inspiring.

He is obviously a Tim Winton fan:

Cloudstreet is joyous. It is full of both sunshine and shadow....It is a book about home written by someone who was far from home. 
Eyrie tackles myths of prosperity and success in a way that is not always comfortable but that stirs thought....It has a strong belief that no journey ends at the halfway mark.

I love how he described his personal reactions to various authors - for instance - Toni Morrison "is one of the few writers who has reduced me to tears. That's not quite right. She has elevated me to tears."

He helped to turn me onto writers I had little or no interest in reading:

There is more to Mary Gilmore than nostalgia. She gave voice to the pain and neglect suffered by women who were required to accommodate the wild dreams and poor behaviour of menfolk.

McGirr's joy of reading was evident in every essay. His description of Joseph Conrad was pure magic:

You don't splash about in his books They swell around you like a Mahler symphony.

Having studied Donne at school, reluctantly only at the beginning, I'm now always attracted to anyone else who also has a thing for Donne. I wish I'd had this quote at my fingertips for my 1985 HSC exams:

Donne's erotic verse rescues sex from the rubble of consumer cliches and gives voice to all the anxiety that comes with getting close to a real person. His religious verse brings erotic intensity to the pursuit of faith.

McGirr also talked about teaching and education. As a former teacher, all I can say is that 'once a teacher, always a teacher'. You never get over that love of learning or the desire to impart that love to others. Sadly the modern classroom and curriculum is not designed for this kind of teaching at all.

Modern education is prone to neglect the importance of memory. This does not mean rote learning. It means taking something important into the fabric of your being. People who have memorised great poetry will speak about this....
The memory is like a muscle. It needs to do heavy lifting to gain its strength and power.

However, it was his writing on writing that has given me the most food for thought. He has left me wondering how to extend my creative writing self:

I think we should write at the very edge of what we know, pushing from the familiar into the unfamiliar, stumbling into areas where we are unsure if we can find words for what needs to be said.

Books That Saved My Life is a book for bibliophiles everywhere.
Now that I've been converted to the joy of books about books, please let me know your favourite ones to tempt me further!

Thursday, 31 January 2019

The Ways Are Green by William Henley

In my recent post about Ethel Turner's In the Mist of the Mountains, her epigraph, dedicated to her husband, was the final two lines from a William Henley poem.

It was a poem (and a poet) I didn't know, but after reading the poem in full, I can see why Turner chose it for this particular book about late spring in the Blue Mountains. Not only was Turner, herself, a keen gardener, but her love for nature was realistic rather than romantic in nature, as was Henley's.

From this one small peak into the romantic life of the Turner's I cannot help but think that they shared a happy, loving marriage.

The Ways Are Green
William Ernest Henley
(1849 - 1903)

The ways are green with the gladdening sheen
Of the young year's fairest daughter.
O, the shadows that fleet o'er the springing wheat!
O, the magic of running water!
The spirit of spring is in every thing,
The banners of spring are streaming,
We march to a tune from the fifes of June,
And life's a dream worth dreaming.

It's all very well to sit and spell
At the lesson there's no gainsaying;
But what the deuce are wont and use
When the whole mad world's a-maying?
When the meadow glows, and the orchard snows,
And the air's with love-motes teeming,
When fancies break, and the senses wake,
O, life's a dream worth dreaming!

What Nature has writ with her lusty wit
Is worded so wisely and kindly
That whoever has dipped in her manuscript
Must up and follow her blindly.
Now the summer prime is her blithest rhyme
In the being and the seeming,
And they that have heard the overword
Know life's a dream worth dreaming.


Jennifer @Holds Upon Happiness posts a lovely Poem for a Thursday each week. I love seeing which poem she picks but I rarely feel the urge to join in with one myself. However, today is one of those days when my recent reading provided the push I needed.

Monday, 28 January 2019

Flames by Robbie Arnott

It's a long weekend in Australia, and for the first time in over a year, we've enjoyed a lazy, nothing-to-do-but-flop-around-the-house kind of weekend. It has been blissful. Even with the ghastly high temps and even higher humidity, or maybe because of, it has been the perfect time for reading, snoozing and listening to music as we sporadically clean and tidy the house.

Typing up reviews has been the furthest thing from my mind.

Lots of changes (the good, positive, life-going-forward kind of changes, but changes nonetheless) are coming our way this year - starting next week when B18 goes away to Uni.

The teenage years are not easy for anyone to live through, which is maybe Nature's way of making it easy for both teens and their parents to let go. But as tough as the last few years have been (and there were times when I thought my sanity would not survive intact), I wouldn't now swap them for anything.

Which brings me to Flames by Robbie Arnott. Like a teenager in full flight, it's a hard novel to define or pin down. Like a teenager, it's a debut with flights of fancy, bravado and wild schemes. It's on the verge of greatness, oozing potential and grand ideas. But unlike living with teenagers, I loved every minute of it and can't wait to see what Arnott does next!

The Tasmanian environment is one of the prominent characters throughout this genre-defying story which Arnott uses to stress the interconnectedness between us all. Fire, water, trees and the gods play their parts too.

Flames has a fablesque quality and is mythological in tone with different writing styles to suit each characters story. Arnott plays around with magic realism, an epistolary chapter, report writing and the fabulous chapter with the female private eye that reads like a Tasmanian Philip Marlowe, just to name a few. It should have felt disjointed and all over the place, but just like a teen, it somehow made sense and seemed like just the right thing to do at that time.

Through his various characters, Arnott explores the wild, raw nature of grief, mourning and love. We watch them come to terms with letting go of what they thought they knew as they learn to embrace the unknowable future and whatever it might bring. No matter how far apart you may seem to be, you are still family, you are still connected, and it will ultimately keep you afloat, if you let it.

Arnott is a young Tasmanian copywriter. Flames has been shortlisted for the Victorian Premier's Literary Award for Fiction, the Indie Book Awards for Debut Fiction, and the Queensland Literary Awards: University of Queensland Fiction Book Award 2018.

Thursday, 24 January 2019

Eden's Outcasts by John Matteson

Eden's Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography. I started reading it in 2016. I thoroughly enjoyed the early part - Matteson wrote a very thorough and in-depth look at Louisa's childhood. But the font was small and things began to get difficult thanks to Bronson Alcott.

By half way through I had begun to actively dislike him. The family's time at Fruitland's was a turning point for me. Bronson's selfish, grandiose, madcap ideas had HUGE impacts on the rest of his family, who had no choice but to follow along.

My anger at his irresponsible actions, was unreasonable, I grant you, at this distance of two hundred years, but it was there, irrational or otherwise, and enough to stop me reading. For two years! Until the latest CC Spin spun me this book.

After such a long break, the story felt rather stale and I resisted picking it up again, until January. What to do next?
Start again? or pick up where I left off?

I tried picking up where I left off, but found myself a little confused. So I sat down with the first half of the book and all my underlining, to make some notes. I skimmed through and added jot points to this post to help me remember some of the important or interesting to me events.

At this point, I also realised that writing a review for this book was not going to just be about my journey with the book. If after only two years, I had forgotten most of what I had read earlier, then this post was going to have to be a place where I could keep my notes for future reference.

I already knew that this book was not going to be a keeper. I will not be rereading it at any point going forward. It will be passed on to others as soon as this post is finished. But the next time I reread Little Women, I may want to refer to some of the facts and thoughts presented in this bio.

For instance, both Louisa and her father, shared the same birthday, November 29 - 33 years apart and they died in the same year, 1888, not quite two days apart.

For Bronson,
  • 'Life was a persistent but failed quest for perfection'.
  • 'He believed that people had been given their weaknesses in order that they might triumph over them'.
  • reform & redemption
  • puritan 'nature was my parent'
  • meager schooling - borrowed his cousins copy of The Pilgrim's Progress to commit 'favourite portions to memory
  • "dear, delightful book"
  • 'only the spirit that truly mattered'
  • 'Bunyan's allegory was pivotally responsible for shaping Bronson's ideas of right conduct.'
  • 'organised religion failed to bind him to its forms and dogmas'
  • 'He never accepted the idea of Jesus as the Son of God' - he was a "superb specimen of humanity".'
  • didn't pray
  • thought that 'writings of Confucius, the Bhagavad Gita, and other Eastern texts should be combined with the New Testament to create an ecumenical "Bible for Mankind".'
  • asceticism
  • believed in his own genius 'the faith that he was both right and righteous became essential to Bronson'
  • aversion to cruelty 
  • only used corporal punishment as a 'regretted last resort'
  • 'governed his students not by threats but by conversation, appealing to their feelings and sense of justice'
  • believed that children 'possessed a collection of faculties that developed at different rates over time'
  • Socratic dialogue was the 'chief avenue to the mind and soul of the child'
  • influences - William Russell, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Plato - emphasising 'spirit of body'
  • 'wholly immersed in the spiritual growth of his daughters'
  • never understood the value of humour
  • transcendentalist - Peabody, Emerson, Hedge, Thoreau
  • 'he read not to absorb new ideas but to be confirmed in what he already knew'
  • 'he had no ability whatever to set aside his own personality and enter into the lives and situations of others'
  • 'could barely tolerate dissent of any kind'
  • refused work that 'offended his moral principles'
  • believed that 'Providence would rescue him'
  • Fruitlands 'everyone agreed on the natural beauty of the farm. The improvements were another matter'.
  • 'all should live according to the dictates of their own spirit' unfortunately everyone at Fruitands 'had a particular view of truth and righteousness.'
  • 'The world had no good yardstick for measuring Bronson Alcott. His inspirations seemed saintly to some and deluded to others.'
  • Hillside home became a station on the Underground Railroad
  • affected by strange 'hallucinatory thoughts'
  • 'Like many grandparents, he was evidently more at ease with his grandchild than he had been with his own offspring.'
  • several speaking tours of the Midwest where he found '"the true American spirit.'"
  • Tablets (1868) 'he reflected not on what adults might consciously do for children, but rather on what children unconsciously do for us.'
  • 1879 collaborates to create a philosophical college in Concord offering a summer course of lectures.
  • 1882 suffers a massive stroke.

The Alcott family and Orchard House around 1865 (Louisa May Alcott Memorial Association)

  • middle daughter
  • defiant
  • energetic
  • resistant to discipline
  • first surviving journal dates from the Fruitlands period
  • Hillside first time she had a bedroom of her own.
  • 'However much Emerson meant to Bronson during this time, he meant still more to Louisa, who found in him both a literary idol and a sympathetic ear.'
  • 'These Hillside years correspond to the adolescence celebrated and fictionalised in Little Women'
  • "Money is never plentiful in a philosopher's house, and even the maternal pelican could not supply all our wants on the small income which was freely shared with every needy soul who asked for help"
  • family held together by shared narrative 'the tales they shared of their daily lives formed a bridge of sympathy and shared effort'.
  • wrote The Inheritance - 'one can be both loyal to family and virtue and defy one's parents' wishes at the same time.'
  • all her fiction is a 'plea for understanding the difficult process by which both characters and author must work out the ambiguities of personality and right behaviour'.
  • 'Instead of looking for an alternative to her father, she apparently craved a better version of him'.
  • Lizzie's death and Anna's betrothal affected her deeply. She believed that the soul of Lizzie was 'powerfully with her' and these trials brought her closer to the "Almighty Friend".
  • 'the search for artistic excellence also involved a chaotic descent' like a whirlpool
  • 1861-62 at the home of James Fields met - Longfellow, Fanny Kemble, Olive Wendell Holmes Sr & Harriett Beecher Stowe
  • 1862 became an army nurse until she contracted typhoid pneumonia.
  • Dr's gave her mercurous chloride (now known to be highly toxic and poisonous) to treat her illness which meant 'the last 25 years of her life were the history of glacially slow mortal illness'.
  • Hospital Sketches (1863) 'popular beyond Louisa's highest expectations'.
  • 1865 travelled to Europe as a travelling companion for the infirmed daughter of William Fletcher Weld.
  • possible love affair with Ladislas Wisniewski in Italy (& one of the inspiratioons for Laurie in Little Women).
  • Little Women (1868) 'put a permanent end to the real Alcott family's days of chronic want. Flush with royalty cheques, Louisa paid all the family's debts, and, to her astonished delight, had money left over to invest.'
  • 1879 Louisa and May sail to Europe with a friend. Anna's husband, John Pratt died suddenly whilst they were gone.
  • 'After she heard this news...,her writing took on a new purpose: both the spirit and the proceeds from this new novel must belong to the two "little men" who had been left without a father'.
  • 1877 Abba dies.
  • 1878 May marries in London but dies the following year due to complications after child birth - her dying wish was for Louisa to raise her daughter, Lulu.
  • Louisa sells Orchard House after Bronson's stroke, so they could move to a warmer cottage in Nonquitt, Massachusetts.
  • Jo's Boys published 1886 'its elaboration of Louisa's ideas on women's rights' and 'to be useful is to be blessed'.
  • 1887 LM became a patient of Dr Lawrence's convalescent home in Roxbury.
  • "At 55 one doesn't hope for much."
  • 1st March 1888 visited Bronson, "I am going up. Come with me" LM: "I wish I could." He died three days later. The same morning, before news of her father's death could reach her, LM began to feel feverish and slipped into a coma.
  • LM died 'barely forty hours after Bronson's death' 6th March 1888, the day of Bronson's burial.
  • 8th March LM buried.
  • LM adopted Anna's younger son, John before her death so that he could inherit her copyrights 'these he held as a trustee, dividing the income with Lulu, his brother Fred, and his mother.'

pg 307 
It has been suggested that the unyielding asceticism of Louisa's parents was a harmful force in her personal development. However, it may be argued with equal good faith that the staunchness with which they encouraged her to confront her inner failings was precisely what kept her sane.

I'm glad I pushed through my early dislike for Bronson. He never really outgrew his selfish, thoughtless ways, but there can be no doubt about the love he had for his family and the genuine affection and connection that existed between Bronson and Louisa.

Our families influence us, for good and bad, our entire lives. Our childhood experiences shape the adults we become. Matteson's biography explores this idea very thoroughly, with oodles of historical detail and recourse to primary sources. As he states at the end, it is impossible for those of us coming after, to know the everyday, unrecorded moments that make up any relationship.

pg 428
The life written is never the same as the life lived. Journals and letters tell much....But the bonds that two persons share consist also of encouraging words, a reassuring hand on a tired shoulder, fleeting smiles, and soon-forgotten quarrels. These contacts, so indispensable to existence, leave no durable trace

However, his award winning biography does a magnificent job of showing us everything else.

Susan Bailey has a most impressive blog all about Louisa called Louisa May Alcott is my Passion.

My Little Women review
My Good Wives review
My Little Men review
My Jo's Boys review

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

The Story of a Baby by Ethel Turner

The Story of a Baby by Ethel Turner was a rather sad, and unexpected excursion into young love, an early marriage and societal expectations about gender roles. In this short story, Turner also took a rather nostalgic look into the changing face of Sydney and it's outer suburbs in the late 1890's.

In cool weather the Red Road was very pleasant walking. It wound up hill and down dale for many a mile till it reached Hornsby, and branched away into different country.
All the way there were gum trees - gum trees and fences; here and there were closer palings and garden shrubs indicating human residence, but they were far apart and the road was lonely. Parallel to it and showing in places between the trees was the single line of the railway. It did not spoil the scenery at all, it rather gave a friendly look to it and reminded the pedestrian that in spite of the bush silences, the towering trees, the vista of the blue hills and mountain-like freshness of the air, he could be in all the buslte and happy fellowship of town in half-an-hour....
In a few years the beautiful countryside will be commonplace suburbs;there will be stucco villas and terrace houses, shops and paved roads; the railway has broken its fastness and the change is inevitable.
The smooth grass slopes, the wooded stretches will live only in memory. The great read and black and silver-limbed gums will be hewn down to make way for spreading civilisation. The blue gracious hills will be thick with chimneys and advertisement boards. There will be a double line of railway, no longer picturesque, and big spreading stations instead of primitive sidings where one held up a 'flag by day and a light at night' to be picked up of the passing train

I do love these glimpses into a time gone by. What looks old-fashioned and parochial to our modern eyes was once modern and new to those who lived it. It's a good reminder that our modern times will one day be considered old-fashioned to future generations. It's an idea I wish I could impart to B21 and B18, who seem utterly oblivious to history and their place in it.

Struggling to find one's place is a major theme of The Story of a Baby. Sadly this struggle becomes a battle of wills that ends disastrously for the young family. Dot believes that 'no one literally interpreted that word 'obey' in the marriage service, now that the equality of the sexes was recognised'. Whereas Larrie believes that 'I am your master, and I intend you to know it from this day.' Things rapidly go downhill from here.

Neither parties were particularly sympathetic characters and I ended the story feeling rather sorry for the young baby who was caught in the middle.

I wasn't expecting a battle of the sexes to be at the heart of a story written in 1896. But according to Turner, this kind of thinking was commonplace in the younger generation,

She was going to make this strike for her rights, and in future have the independence due to the nineteenth century married woman.

Perhaps the reason I've been woefully unaware of the nineteenth century feminist perspective before this, is that most of the authors I've read from this era are male?

I read this book as part of Bill @The Australian Legend's Australian Women Writer's Gen II reading week.

Previous Ethel Turner posts:

Saturday, 19 January 2019

Don Quixote - Marcela

I love this chick!
A lot.

Marcela rocked the #metoo movement 500 years before the first hashtag even existed! After reading chapter XIV and Marcela's marvellous take down, I feel sure there are reams of essays and opinions about feminism and Cervantes out there, and if I ever feel up to searching them out and reading them, I'll let you know!

But for now, let me give you an abridged version of Marcela's speech at Grisóstomo's funeral. It has been said that Grisóstomo, a shepherd, has died of a broken heart after being grievously spurned by the beautiful but cruel Marcela.

Heaven made me, as all of you say, so beautiful that you cannot resist my beauty and are compelled to love me, and because of the love you show me, you claim that I am obliged to love you in return. I know...that everything beautiful is lovable, but I cannot grasp why, simply because it is loved, the thing loved for its beauty is obliged to love the one who loves it....
According to what I have heard, true love is not divided and must be voluntary, not forced. If this is true, as I believe it is, why do you want to force me to surrender my will, obliged to do simply because you say you love me...?
I was born free, and in order to live free I chose the solitude of the countryside....Those whose eyes have forced them to fall in love with me, I have discouraged with my words. If desires feed on hopes, and since I have given no hope to Grisostomo or to any other man regarding these desires, it is correct to say that his obstinacy, not my cruelty, is what killed him....
If I had kept him by me, I would have been false; if I had gratified him, I would have gone against my own best intentions and purposes. He persisted though I discouraged him....
Let this general discouragement serve for each of those who solicit me for his own advantage...; let him who calls me ungrateful, not serve me, unapproachable, not approach me, cruel, not follow me...; I am free and do not care to submit to another; I do not love or despise anyone. I do not deceive this one or solicit that one; I do not mock one or amuse myself with another.

Marcela is no-one's damsel in distress, she's not interested in courtly love or tradition. She is no virgin goddess or shrinking violet. She is not bountiful Mother Earth or a tart. She does not need to be tamed or live up to (or down to) societal expectations.

The men in Don Quixote have created their own version of an 'ideal woman' - one not based on any fact or reality - their 'ideal woman' has become another fictional construct in a book full of fictional constructs. Is Don Quixote the first example of metafiction I wonder?

As I read this passage, I was reminded of Jane Austen in Persuasion when Anne Eliot says, “Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. The pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything”.

Overnight I've been thinking about why a woman would chose a life of solitude in the mountains. tending sheep.

Lots of possibilities came to mind.

It could have been the life she was born into, therefore it's what she knows. Family tradition and duty and coming to love this way of life as an adult thanks to it's closeness to nature might also play a role in making this lifestyle choice. Marcela may naturally be an introvert who prefers her own company, and that of her family, most of the time. Perhaps, though, her excessive beauty has been the cause of much unwanted and inappropriate male attention all life and she has felt the need to withdraw from this intense, demanding gaze. To protect her virtue and her liberty, she has sought a life of solitude and peace away from the critical gaze, surrounded by the natural beauty of Mother Nature.

Like most life decisions, though, it is probably a complicated web, drawing in many threads of thought, emotions and unconscious desires. Bravo to Cervantes for painting such a strong, independent woman and bravo to Marcela for standing up for herself and creating her own life on her own terms.


My previous post about Don Quixote:
Musings of an Idle Reader

Thursday, 17 January 2019

Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton

I suspect I'm going to be the lone dissenting voice when it comes to Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton.

This is a debut Australian novel garnering a HUGE amount of attention and rave reviews. In the lead up to our Christmas rush at work last year, this is the book many, many locals were asking for. Customers were returning to tell us how much they ADORED the book and every second book club, including mine, seemed to pick it for their summer holiday read.

I was thrilled that I was going to have a good excuse to make time for this book and I couldn't wait to get stuck into it.

To start with what I loved:

  • The cover - just gorgeous, vibrant and psychedelic. The blue wren makes sense once you start reading. For an in depth look into how cover designers settle on the finished design read this fascinating piece from the Australian Book Design Association. They interviewed Darren Holt and Claire Ward, the Australian and UK designers for Boy Swallows Universe (as well as other designers for other books).
  • The writing - Dalton took my breath away in the early stages of the book. I was completely and utterly WOWED.
  • The protagonist, Eli Bell is a wonderful narrator. His voice is believable, charming and unique.
  • The introduction of ex-con Slim Halliday as Eli's babysitter added a quirky touch.
  • I loved the themes - a young boy looking for a 'good man' to love and model his life on, brotherly love and protection, a young boys fierce need for mother love.
  • Early on I also began to suspect that this book was also heavily embedded in real life events.
  • Slim Halliday was a real criminal who did his time in Boggo Road Gaol.
  • How much else was real?
However around the 50 page mark, the underbelly criminal stuff started to take centre stage. Drugs, drug running and drug lords took over the story. Because I now suspected this was a based on a true story (I hadn't googled at this point) I made myself keep reading even though, every single extra sordid drug reference and act turned me off more and more and more. 

I believe that if someone actually had to LIVE through something ghastly, the very least I can do from my safe, white, middle class home, is read about it with understanding and compassion and a huge dose of gratefulness for my very ordinary upbringing.

True crime is not my usual genre, but I have been known to be fascinated by the occasional story. We watched the second season of Underbelly that starred Matthew Newton which was centred around the murder of Donald Mackay in Griffith in 1977, but I haven't been able to watch any of the other seasons. I also haven't got into Breaking Bad, The Sopranos or Orange is the New Black.

However, I got to a point, about 100 pages in, where the amazing writing and the affection I felt for the two brothers, wasn't enough to sustain me through the relentless criminal activity. 

I admire Dalton for finding such an incredible way to process the trauma from his childhood. There is so much love for this story 'out there', that I'm sure it will pop up in most of the Australian book awards this year. It deserves it too, the praise being heaped on it, is worth it, but the content is just not my thing. There are so many books, about topics that I have way more interest in, waiting for me to read them, that I don't want to give too much time to one of those that just fails to fit the bill...for me.

Boy Swallows Universe has just been shortlisted for the Indie Debut Fiction Book Awards.

I've labelled this with the Did Not Finish tag, but it was more a case of skim reading the last three quarters of the book before slowing down to read the last chapter properly.

Monday, 14 January 2019

In the Mist of the Mountains by Ethel Turner

Thanks to Bill @The Australian Legend's Australian Women Writer's Gen II Week I have read my very first ebook from start to finish.

As with almost everything in my life at the last moment, I left it to the minute to prepare for Bill's Gen II week, even though I've known about it for months. I really enjoyed reading my first Ada Cambridge story, Sisters, for last year's Gen I event, so I didn't want to miss out. But with only days to spare, I realised that I had no unread AWW Gen II books on my shelf. Anything I did select would have to be easily sourced and a short story if I was going to have any chance of reading & reviewing it in time.

Normally I hate reading novels on a screen. My one attempt with an eReader a number of years ago, was nothing but an exercise in frustration. However, last week, it dawned on me that the ipad I inherited from my father-in-law, might actually be an okay device to read on in a pinch. As this was now an emergency reading situation, I searched Project Gutenberg for the authors on Bill's Gen II list. I downloaded a few, but the one that jumped straight out at me was an Ethel Turner story.

I confess that I thought that she had only written Seven Little Australians plus a sequel or two. Imagine my delight to discover, whilst holidaying in the Blue Mountains last week, a book by Turner called In the Mist of the Mountains. Serendipity at work I say!

For a full discussion about the Bush Realism that defines this period of Australian writing (roughly 1890 - 1923) please read Bill's post via the link above.

It seems to me that the mythology that evolved about life in the bush at this time in history, came from white men living in an urban environment (Paterson, Lawson, Kendall etc), conscious of their role in creating a unique Australian identity. White settlement was just a hundred years old and many of these men (and women) were the first generation to be born and raised in Australia. Nostalgia for Mother England was something they grew up with, but it didn't necessarily fit in with life as they knew it. Australia was their home and they were looking for something they could be proud of, that they could call their own. The wilderness, the untamed bush landscape, so alien to their parents, was something familiar, unique and heroic to this new generation. A sense of journey or exploration featured in this type of writing and those that took the journey into the bush were admired for their courage, fortitude, practicality and resourcefulness.

To say that I have now became intensely curious about how women writer's fit into this myth making process and how they tackled this topic, is an understatement!

Penleigh Boyd (1890 - 1923, Australia) Blue Haze. 1919

In the Mist of the Mountains may not be the perfect example of Bush Realism, but it was very definite in it's choice of setting and very proud of this unique bush environment.

By 1908, the Blue Mountains was becoming (as it is now) a halfway place between the city and the bush proper. In this short, romantic story, Turner shows us the meeting of city and bush types. We see the locals - the baker, the butcher, the shoe repairman who inhabit the small villages dotted along the train track through the mountains and we see the urban folk who clamber up the misty November slopes to escape summer in the city. We also get to know one young larrikin, Larkin, a lad of fifteen or so who works for the local grocer.

He grew up on the other side of the mountain, on a 'wretched selection where his father...his mother and six or seven children younger than Larkin, fought the losing fight of the Man on the Land.' He dreams of being able to save up his commissions to 'put "a bit of stuff" on the Melbourne Cup...."then mother and the old man shall chuck up that dirty selection..., and the kids can go to school, an' I'll get Polly an' Blarnche a pianner."'

The Lomaxes are a large family belonging to a Sydney judge. The children are holidaying in the mountains to recover from a bout of whooping cough with a governess, while their parents vacation in New Zealand. 'Unlike many Australians, (they) respected the hand of Nature even when it had traced Australian rather than English design on their land.'

Down, down they went into the exquisite gorge; greener and still green grew the way as the path wound farther and farther away from the sunburnt lands overhead. Giant tree ferns grouped themselves together in one place and in another guarded the path in sentinel-like rows. You looked up and sheer walls of rock towered thousands of feet above your head - brown, naked, rugged walls here- and there, where the waterfall dripped, clothed in a marvellous mantle of young ferns. Here a huge, jagged promontory stretched across your way, and the diplomatic path, unable to force a way through, simply ceased its downward bent, and with handrails and steps led you up again.

I really enjoyed reading such obvious love for the Australian environment and particularly admired the judge's desire to create a native garden rather than an English garden in their mountains home.

As a newbie to Project Gutenberg I found myself reading all the details provided including the licensing agreement and the cover page details (below).

Ethel Turner (Mrs H. R. Curlewis)
1908 published by Ward Lock & Co London
Illustrations by J. MacFarlane
Project Gutenberg Ebook 4th Feb 2008

To H.R.C
"They that have heard the overword
Know life's a dream worth dreaming."

I realised from this that I knew next to nothing about Ethel Turner's life.

A quick check of the Australian Dictionary of Biography revealed that Ethel Mary Burwell was born in Yorkshire on the 24th January 1870. Her big sister was Lillian Wattnall Burwell (1867 - 1956). Sadly their father died not long after Ethel's birth. Their mother, Sarah Jane Shaw, remarried in 1872, a widower with six children of his own, Henry Turner (sounds rather like the family in Seven Little Australians!) Sadly he also died not long afterwards, in 1878, leaving the family in financial difficulties.

Mrs Turner decided to emigrate to Australia with her two daughters in 1879. In Sydney, she married Charles Cope at the end of 1880 and had a son with him, Charles Rex.

The girls went to Sydney Girls' High School and started a school magazine called Iris, to compete with their friend Louise Mack's Gazette. When the sisters left school they 'co-edited a sixpenny monthly, the Parthenon', while Ethel also contributed to children's pages in various papers until 1919.

In 1894 she published Seven Little Australian, and in 1896 she married Herbert Raine Curlewis, a young Sydney barrister. They had a daughter (Ethel Jean Sophia) and son (Adrian Herbert), living most of their married life at Avenal overlooking Middle Harbour.

The biography claims that,
Her writing showed a continuing tension between her enjoyment of popular and commercial success and her wish to break free from the restrictions of juvenile fiction....A recurring theme in the Turner novels is that of the conflicting demands of the creative and the domestic life.

Both these tensions were on display In the Mist of the Mountain. Part children's summer holiday romp, part rom-com and part literary diversion. I was pleased that this simple summer holiday story morphed into a gentle romance between two ageing characters - the governess and the writer, escaping to the mountains to rediscover his muse. Turner's publishers rebuked her for using Australian slang in her stories, but I'm so glad she ignored them and continued to give her characters a local vernacular. Young Larkin's enthusiastic speech was a delight to read.

Turner wrote thirty-four volumes of fiction, three of verse, a travel book, plays, and miscellaneous verse and prose before her death on the 8th April 1958. She also left behind journals and letters that have been published in 1979 and 1982. According to wikipedia, In the Mist of the Mountains was originally published in 1906.

Ethel Turner posing in the window of her study at her Mosman home, ‘Avenel’ 1928 (Cazneaux)