Singer girls dreaming big: Violet in The Roaring Nineties

Given my biography is confined to Prichard’s early years (1883-1919), I am contemplating if any light can be shone on her early years from The Roaring Nineties (1946). One potential illumination is in the depiction of a minor character, the young Violet, who appears as a bartender in Chapter 30. She has put on hold her ambitions to be a singer to support her family; her father is a drunk who does not provide. This is not too far removed from Prichard’s situation at the end of school, when she gave up going to university to look after her sick mother, and then later provided for her family during her father’s bouts of depression. Sally is worried for Violet – is she destined to be ground down by the hard life of the goldfields and not shine like she’s meant to? Prichard does let Violet escape to pursue her dream and receive singing lessons in Melbourne, only to shatter it cruelly in Chapter 65, when Violet’s mother pretends to be ill to summon her back. Sally wonders what will become of her:

Nothing touched the core of Violet’s being, Sally imagined. It was wrapped in her dream of being a singer. She had maintained herself apart from the demoralizing influences about her because of it. The tragedy was that she should have been forced back among them… Sally had a presentiment of the doom hanging over the girl. She would be caught in the hungry life force surging beneath the surface of this race-course crowd. But Violet – her spirit would always demand something more than ephemeral excitement. (439)

Prichard would sing to her father in his final illness, she tells us in her autobiography, but the song went out of her soul after his death. The next year (1908) she would meet with the famous singing teacher Mathilde Marchesi, who demanded she stay and receive singing lessons; she didn’t, perhaps something she always regretted. The young woman on the cusp of maturity with much potential but at risk of being dragged down by other forces recurs throughout her work, Sophie the singer in Black Opal being particularly close to Violet’s character here. Sophie had a happy ending; we wait to see what will befall Violet in the next two volumes.

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About Nathan Hobby

At work on a biography of Katharine Susannah Prichard for a PhD at the University of Western Australia. Also a novelist and librarian. View all posts by Nathan Hobby

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