Thursday, October 31, 2013

two loaves and some butter

Uncle Piper of Piper's Hill by Tasma (1889)

This is one of those urban-mansion Australian novels that nobody ever hears about in Australian literature lessons because they are too busy considering Clancy of the Overflow and snakes and such. Uncle Piper deserves to be regarded as a sort of ur-mansion novel because the story itself depends on Uncle Piper owning a mansion. Come to Australia, he tells his financially impoverished English sister's family, and stay in my mansion. So they do, and there is a clash because the sister's husband is a sponging aristocrat who talks up his own titled brother even though that brother steals the teapot. Wife demoralised by his snobbery. The primary casualty of his social prejudice is a domestic victim. Tasma is sunny-natured towards all sides and usually never blights anybody without blighting someone else a little bit as well so that the blight gets shared around and there is a consistency. Ends with a shameless deus ex machina. People fall in love as if they've been told to.

Female Immigration Considered by Caroline Chisholm (1842)

Caroline Chisholm! Mrs Jellyby in Bleak House is a foggy glimpse of one aspect of her. The old Australian five dollar note was another glimpse. Witnessed through her own voice she is like an obdurate guided missile that rescues people and finds them jobs. Nothing will stop her. The book is an open letter to the powers that be, telling them what they need to do. She lays out columns of objects and numbers for their education. In the early 1840s, a newcomer to Sydney, she had noticed that women who arrived in the colony "without friends or advisers" were being picked up by pimps, johns, seducers, and madams. She intervened. She confronted the parties concerned. She made a decision. Jobs for everybody or die trying. "[A]nd from that time I never ceased in my exertions." She wanted a place for her Home. People fobbed her off. Mr Merewether gave her a room full of rats. That was all she needed. She was not going to be done down by rats.

I was put to the proof at starting: scarce was the light out, when I fancied a few dogs must be in the room, and, in some terror, I got a light; what I experienced on seeing rats in all directions I cannot explain. My first act was to throw on my cloak, and get at the door with the intent to leave the building; I knew if I did this my desertion would cause much amusement and ruin my plan; I therefore lighted a second candle, and seating myself on the bed, kept there until three rats, descending from the roof, alighted on my shoulders. I knew that I was getting into a fever, in fact, that I should be very ill before morning; but to be out-generalled by rats was too much. I got up with some resolution; I had two loaves and some butter (for my office, bed-room, and pantry, were one;) I cut it into slices, placed the whole in the middle of the room, put a dish of water convenient, and with a light by my side, I kept my seat on the bed, reading “Abercrombie,” and watching the rats until four in the morning: I at one time counted thirteen, and never less than seven did I observe at the dish during the night. The following night I gave them a similar treat, with the addition of arsenic; and thus passed my four first nights at the Home.

Hard work is what she believes in. Nowadays she would be the CEO of a massive company that started in a shed. Her determination is a kind of blind violence.


  1. These are even better than the last batch. For a book with the title Female Immigration Considered to be remembered by even one person is a considerable achievement.

    1. That one is interesting from a Bleak House point of view because she mentions her children:

      "My plan was to have apartments near the office for my children, but this did not answer—at night I must be in the Home. I gave up one child, and thought I could keep two with me; but I found the elder a source of so much anxiety, that I consented to part with him. I knew, under the honest care of Miss Galvin, of Windsor, they would be well fed, and kindly treated, and I could still keep one, my youngest. Some sickness among the children in the tents told me plainly my duty, still I would not, could not give him up. A lady, whose esteem I value, told me I could not, must not, risk my child's life; that I must either give up the Home, or my selfish feeling for my child: I was aware of the truth of her observation, but refused. At night, as was usual with me, I saw the girls, after they had retired to rest. Ninety-four were in that dwelling: I asked if they had any place to go to if I turned them out; not one had a place of shelter. On my return to the office, I found a poor woman waiting to ask for a white gown, to make her dead bairn decent. I went into my room, packed up my little fellow's wardrobe, and the next day he was at Windsor. This was the last sacrifice it was God's will to demand."