Sunday, November 3, 2013

stringybark, and a framework

Bark House Days, by Mary E. Fullerton (1931)

Mary Fullerton misses the house that her father built, "all of stringybark, and a framework of bush timber." "The structures of pioneer days are not for permanency. We were born in it, the whole wild, shy, little seven of us, and when it began to tumble and lurch itself out of plumb, hands, I know not if desecrating or reverent, were laid upon it, and it was demolished." The children were wild and shy and the hut was wild and shy, and Mary Fullerton is over fifty; she will be demolished as well when she is seventy-seven, and from then on nobody will know what it was like to live in that bark house but they will know that she knew, and that she missed it; maybe they will be reverent rather than desecrating when they are tearing down houses, after they have read that phrase: "I know not if ..." They do not know what will happen to their childhood homes either. In their imaginations they will have done the right thing even though the house is still down. "There was a gooseberry bush at the back, too, that always betrayed us by tearing the letter “L” in our pinnies." Some lessons are wildly aimed.

Mr Hogarth's Will by Catherine Helen Spence (1865)

I can't find the page now but I think Dale Spender in Writing a New World says that Mr Hogarth's Will is one of the best books she's ever read. I did not find it so satisfying because I thought it was a book that let itself be polluted by the nature of books, or what was expected of books, or what the author thought the nature of books or serialised stories should be. By this I mean that this is an idea-centred book, that the author started with an idea, solved the immediate problem associated with the idea, and then the story dissolved into who was going to get married to who and who was Francis thingy's mother and whether he would get to keep the money from Mr Hogarth's will or not, and other ideas that were more or less irrelevant to the idea and less interesting and novel than the idea, which is: how are educated women in 1865 going to support themselves when nobody will employ them to do the work they're qualified for?

The author says that the problem is pervasive but then the central character finds some useful friends who help her and that area of concern sort of wanders off with a further mention here and there but nothing sustained, and no panorama. So the financial survival of all of these hinted-at women is set on the same level of temporary problematic problems as the will itself, which is particular to that family and only tangentially affects anyone outside.

Once everybody works out how to be nice and thoughtful and do the right thing then the problem is solved in that family, which, as far as the book is concerned, is the prime context of everything and stuff the rest of us, we get lip service.

I am on the sides of all the women who are not in that family.

It is like a curse on me when I see a book that could do something that it wants to do and then it doesn't do it. Francis thingy's estranged mother! Why doesn't Spence bring her into the scheme of the idea? She's a woman isn't she? She's a woman who needs money? But she has been cast in a villain role and somehow that has excluded her. Mr Hogarth's Will was invented to espouse the idea (that's how it seems) but the book like a parasite sucking the host dry has murdered its progenitor. When I think back now it feels as though the theme was waiting to be ambushed from the beginning. If Spence had thought about the matter seriously then Mr Hogarth's Will should at least have ended with someone starving to death in penury with a rejection letter clutched in her spasming hands. Spence knew Catherine Martin (The Silent Sea, An Australian Girl).

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