The forgotten and the remembered: brief notes on the history of the Hodder & Stoughton £1000 Novel Competition

Outlaw cover

Katharine Susannah Prichard, the subject of my biography, became famous in March 1915. She was a journalist living in London and she’d been announced as the Australasian winner of the Hodder & Stoughton £1000 Novel Competition for The Pioneers.  I’m jumping forward in my research to 1915 for a talk I’m giving later in the year, and today I’ve been “troving” this competition.

As Katharine says in her autobiography, it’d been a one year wait to hear the result of the competition. An article I found today gave the closing date as 31 March 1914. It’d been a popular competition, helped by a long lead-up – Hodder & Stoughton announced its opening right back in February 1913; by September they’d received 450 enquiries. I’m not yet sure how many entries they received, but there were obviously a lot for the “fifteenth-rate” judge, Charles Gavrice, and his colleagues to read. There were four categories – Australasia, Canada, India, and “British Africa or any colony or dependency not included in the dominions already named.” The newspapers don’t report a reason for only opening the competition to the colonies, rather than to British writers as well.

It was the second £1000 competition, the first one opening in 1911, with the winners announced in July 1912. This first competition seems to have been open to the British Empire more generally; the winner was Rose Macaulay (1881-1958) for The Lee Shore, while second prize went to an Australian, Rev (John) David Hennessy (1847-1935) for The Outlaw. These two writers interest me.

What a character Macaulay seems to have been, prolific and diverse in her writing, a recanting pacifist, a Christian mystic with a curious love-life. I have one of her books on my shelf, waiting to be read – The Pleasure of Ruins (1953). I pass it several times a day and it’s always been for me the epitome of a book I wish I had time (made time) to read. It doesn’t relate to my research interests at all; I’d be reading it just for fun. (I got prodded about it again in June when we found a reference to it in Walking in Ruins, by my wife’s favourite author, Geoff Nicholson.)  Macaulay has her place in literary history, obscure but not entirely forgotten, an associate of Virginia Woolf and many others better remembered, and the subject of a 2003 biography by Sarah LeFanu.

Hennessy, however, is completely forgotten. In stark contrast to Katharine (an atheist woman in her thirties), Hennessy was a Congregational minister aged sixty-five when he won second prize. Hodder & Stoughton announced its intention to bring out two of his other novels at the same time, but actually released one a year for 1913, 1914, and 1915. The judges thought The Outlaw was the best bushranging novel since Robbery Under Arms, but a review comments, in one of the more qualified pieces of praise I’ve read recently: “It is sensational, occasionally perilously near the melodramatic, and the style in which it is written is not particularly literary. But, despite all this, and the added fact that several of its characters are ineffective and conventional, it is quite a good book in its way.”

By the time Katharine became the next Australian prize-winner two years later, no-one was mentioning Hennessy in connection to the competition. He died twenty years later without much fanfare. Was he unjustly forgotten? I’ll leave it for someone else to judge – The Outlaw is available from Internet Archive.

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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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