Category Archives: links

Cyril Cook & the Lost Letters of Katharine Susannah Prichard

Your KS #15: Cyril Cook & the Lost Letters of Katharine Susannah Prichard

Source: Your KS #15: Cyril Cook & the Lost Letters of Katharine Susannah Prichard | Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Centre – home

One of the most interesting things to happen in my research this year has been the discovery of “lost” letters of Katharine Susannah Prichard and new insight into the circumstances of Cyril Cook’s 1950 thesis on Katharine. It was my AS Byatt’s Possession moment, and I wrote about it for the KSP Writers Centre newsletter; read about it on the KSPWC website!


Dirk Hartog’s plate and the Christ Church Grammar centenary: myth-making and official “history”

The Dodgy Perth team loves a good conspiracy. So we were delighted to find one about the upcoming 400th anniversary of Dirk Hartog’s trip to Western Australia, and the famous Hartog Plate which wil…

Source: Is the Hartog Plate a hoax? – Dodgy Perth

Today marks 400 years since the Dutch explorer Dirk Hartog was meant to have left a plate behind on an island off the coast of Western Australia. I was intrigued to read Dodgy Perth’s post a while back asking questions about the truth of the event – questions I did not hear asked on the radio coverage today as WA puts on a celebration.

Of course, outside the academy, anniversaries are an exercise in myth-making, not a chance to critically consider the original event. This is the irony of the state and institutional use of “history”.

Gallipoli is an obvious example, but on a much smaller scale, I’m reminded of Christ Church Grammar School in South Yarra, Melbourne. Katharine Susannah Prichard taught there in 1906 or 1907. An intriguing appendix to Colin Holden’s history, Crossing Divides, discusses the confusion around the foundation year of the school. The historical record clearly shows it was 1898, and yet in 1957:

A parish paper states that Christ Church Grammar School originated in an earlier school that functioned between 1859 and 1872, but gives no details and does not identify any historical source to back this claim. Then in 1976 the school treated that year as its centenary. Once again, no historical source was indicated to back up this identification.

I have this rather funny image of hundreds of schoolkids in 1976 dutifully engaging in “historical” busywork and ceremonies to celebrate the centenary, when it seems to have been completely made up. The past needs celebrating (or commiserating) and anniversaries should be marked, but all of it should be based on good history.

(And, by the way, if anyone connected to Christ Church is reading this, no-one’s answered the two emails I’ve sent to your school about Katharine Susannah Prichard. You should be excited to be connected to such a major writer!)

Angela Carter: Far from the fairytale | Books | The Guardian

The otherworldly figure conjured after her death in 1992 doesn’t do Angela Carter justice. Her biographer Edmund Gordon attempts a more accurate portrayal of a complex, sensual and highly intellectual woman

Source: Angela Carter: Far from the fairytale | Books | The Guardian

This is a great article in the Guardian from Angela Carter’s biographer, Edmund Gordon. He does a splendid job of creating a capsule biography of her in the article, giving a sense of her whole life in a few thousand words, while making it interesting to read and illuminated with revealing moments. This must be so hard to do after coming to know her life so well in its details and agonising over any summary, given any summary will tend to distort by simplification or omission.

He describes the mythology she has been reduced to and sketches something of how he reinterprets Carter. It takes insight and courage to successfully and fairly reinterpret a life. And there’s a pressure on biographers to do so – because if you’re not offering a new interpretation, why are you writing? (In this case, though, it is the first biography of her.) Another point of interest for me: how will he be received as a man writing about a woman?

My Review of Suzanne Falkiner’s ‘Mick: A Life of Randolph Stow’ | Westerly Magazine


Mick fits very much at the ‘documentary biography’ end of the spectrum. It is a restrained, detailed biography, avoiding not just speculation but also, largely, interpretation, instead collating and arranging sources into a chronological account.

Source: A Review of Suzanne Falkiner’s ‘Mick: A Life of Randolph Stow’ | Westerly Magazine

If I start to feel I’ve not done enough this year at the halfway point, I can at least remind myself that I have read and reviewed Suzanne Falkiner’s 900 page biography of Randolph Stow – and now you can click the link above to see my review on the Westerly website! The actually amazing feat is that Falkiner wrote it in four years. (At least that’s what I wrote down from her speech at the beginning of the year.)

Probably every Western Australian whose ancestors arrived in the nineteenth century can claim a connection to Stow. I discovered a new one from reading the biography which did not make it into the review: he and I are from the same clan. My paternal grandmother was a  Sewell, and so was his mother, both descended from the two Sewell brothers who came out from England in the 1830s. I think Stow and my grandmother were fourth cousins. She wouldn’t have liked his books; she may well have been aware of the connection, as she knew more family history than she told.

On the other side of my family, as I’ve mentioned before, his grandmother boarded with my maternal grandmother’s family in Subiaco around the time of World War Two. I asked my (still living) Granny what she remembered of Stow’s grandmother, and she said that Mrs Stow would keep feeding the chickens rhubarb leaves, which really upset my Granny’s mother. (Oh, that’s getting confusing.) I’m afraid that’s the closest to a literary anecdote I can offer.

My colleague Heather Delfs responded to my tweet about my review of this 900 page book with “I hope the gist is ‘just no’. 900 pages seems excessive.” I’m torn on this issue. Stow is interesting and important enough to warrant 900 pages of the right kind, though 900 page biographies are enough to put me off, too. My KSP biography will run to 900 pages if I get to the end of her life. Crucially, I want to see it published in three volumes of about 300 pages, each with their own narrative trajectory. It’s the way I would prefer to read long biographies.

Link: Katharine Susannah votes!

Just in time for the election, my column over on KSP Writers’ Centre website:

Those who find themselves sick of politics during this election campaign would have been wise to not admit it if they were visiting Katharine Susannah Prichard. Katharine’s old journalist friend, Freda Sternberg, was visiting in 1944 and said, “I’m not interested in politics.” Katharine snapped back, “No sane person is entitled to say that.” (KSP to Ric Throssell, 18 Sept. 1944)

Source: Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Centre – home | Single Post

Link: Cooper, Cather, Prichard, ‘Pioneer’: The Chronotope of Settler Colonialism – Australian Literary Studies Journal

I was chuffed when my PhD co-supervisor, Tony Hughes-D’Aeth, gave a paper last year (partly) about Katharine Susannah Prichard’s novel The Pioneers. Now a version of that paper has been published in Australian Literary Studies; you can read it free during June before it goes behind the paywall.

Abstract: This essay considers three novels which each bear the word ‘pioneer’ in their titles: James Fenimore Cooper’s The Pioneers (1823), Willa Cather’s O Pioneers! (1913) and Katharine Susannah Prichard’s The Pioneers (1915). The three novels, although moving widely across time and space, are taken as representative of the creative literature of settler colonialism. A model of reading settler colonial literature is advanced that draws on four distinct features found across the three novels. These are: a tendency to spatialise the historical time of settler colonialism within the geography of the novel; the condensation of settler legal anxiety into a legal drama in the text; the application of a generational structure to Indigenise the settler; and the recurrence in the text of a ‘primal scene’ by which the settler society remembers its foundational violence in repressed form.

Source: Cooper, Cather, Prichard, ‘Pioneer’: The Chronotope of Settler Colonialism – Australian Literary Studies Journal

Katharine Susannah Prichard’s “A City Girl in Central Australia”

For several months now, it’s been 1905 for me. In May of that year, at the age of twenty-one, Katharine Susannah Prichard set out to work for six months as a governess for the Quin family at the Tarella Station in far-western New South Wales. It was a critical season in Katharine’s life.

Source: Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Centre – home | Your KS #11: “A City Girl in Central Australia”

My June column for the KSP Writers’ Centre is now on their blog. It’s about Katharine’s fascinating and largely forgotten serial “A City Girl in Central Australia” or “Letters from the Back o’ Beyond”. I’ve ordered in the microfilm of the magazine it first appeared in and next week I’m reading it again. (So far I’ve been reading it from my photographs of the clippings in Katharine’s papers.) It’s also going to be the subject of a paper I’m giving at the UWA Limina Conference at the end of July – “Boundary-rider: the early Katharine Susannah Prichard on the edge of fiction and autobiography”.


Now on Westerly blog – my review of Sylvia Martin’s Ink in her Veins: The Troubled Life of Aileen Palmer


Sylvia Martin’s new biography of Palmer reveals, unsurprisingly, a woman who lived in the shadow of her parents, Nettie and Vance Palmer, Australia’s literary power-couple of the first half of the twentieth century. Toward the end of the biography, Martin quotes the verdict of David Martin (presumably no relation) on Palmer’s life: ‘Her attempt to write from within the Palmer constellation, her failure to escape. Chain-smoking her life away in Sunbury mental hospital, felled by her sexuality. Aileen was the poet’ (246). Sylvia Martin’s accomplished biography largely confirms this verdict while adding the important dimension of her political activism and war service.

Source: A Review of Sylvia Martin’s ‘Ink in her Veins: The Troubled Life of Aileen Palmer – Westerly

My review of this recent biography has just been published on the Westerly blog. Aileen Palmer is a fascinating subject and Martin is an elegant biographer. She achieves a balance of narrative and research I’m striving for in my own biography. Reviewing it was a fruitful exercise for my own thinking about the art of biography.

Bill also reviewed this book last month –


Link: Following Katharine to Yarram

Source: Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Centre – home | Your KS #9: Following Katharine to Yarram

KSP Writers’ Centre – based in Katharine’s old home in Greenmount – has a great new website, including a blog. I’ve been writing a monthly column for the KSP newsletter, and these columns are now up on the blog. Here’s a link to the most recent one, first appearing in March’s newsletter.

Presenting a chapter of my biography

This chapter from my biography of Katharine Susannah Prichard was published in Westerly late last year. It stands on its own as the story of Katharine’s childhood from 1887 to 1895, drawing particularly on the historical basis of her children’s novel, The Wild Oats of Han.

Memory of a Storm