CLAIMING SPACE: AUSTRALIAN WOMEN'S WRITING

full name / name of organization: 
Prof. Sanjukta Dasgupta and Dr. Devaleena Das

CLAIMING SPACE: AUSTRALIAN WOMEN'S WRITING

Australian National Literature was born out of an exclusively patriarchal context----pioneering pastoral history, the legendary sagas of the explorers, the struggle of the convicts, 'mateship' and the white male hero in the bush, suffering of Great Depression, or Federation nationalistic fervor. In the midst of such male intonation, the denial of the existence of women and their literary proliferation is definitely interrogative. The myth of inadequacy of Australian women writers and the subsequent dismissal of their 'immature' and 'inchoate' literary output seems now a dissatisfactory justification especially when critics like Debra Adelaide listed four hundred and fifty women writers in her compendium of Australian women authors, Australian Women Writers: A Bibliographic Guide, 1988. That women were not enlisted in the Australian literary canon does not mean inadequacy of scholastic literature. This absence on the contrary can also suggest their resistance to conform to masculine mainstream literature. Women's writings still form a 'subculture' in the literary world of Australia and still many may feel that women didn't write until Barbara Baynton, Miles Franklin or Henry Handel Richardson took up the pen, or as if before Mary Gilmore, no women poet existed! Most Australian literary historians think it is more than enough to write few paragraphs on these women writers along with few more familiar ones like Caroline Woolmer Leakey, Tasma, Ada Cambridge, Catherine Spence, or Rosa Praed.

At a time when women's reputation is ruined if they express themselves through writings, the rich heritage of Australian women's surviving letters, diaries and journals like that of Louisa Clifton, Ellen Clacy, Elizabeth Macarthur, Georgiana McCrae, Eliza Brown, Ellen Viveash, Rachel Henning, Annie Henning, Annabella Boswell to name a few reveal how artfully they have handled colonial history, travel experiences in their voyages, domestic life, economics of farming, gender politics at home and in public space, political and social outcome of discovery of goldfields or even their relationships with the Aborigines. Memoirs written by women (like Mary Broome's Letters to Guy, or Ellen Clacy's account of goldfields) contain detailed accounts of native landscape, sometimes an antipodean sense of alienation and a glimpse of another Australian world very different from their male counterparts. They also entail stark depiction of psychological and physical trauma as their children died or they were beaten and raped. Ellen Moger's letters are such vivid anguished outpour and suggest how letter writing appeared to be cathartic. Annie Baxter, the pioneer Australian diarist's thirty-two volumes of dramatic journal published in the form of a book called Memories of Past is another great example where personal existential struggle took universal shape. Rarely, authoritative women like Rachel Henning or Elizabeth Macarthur's innumerable informative chronicles of colonial life focus on demands of existence. Besides, confessional writings of Ellen Clacyand and travelogues by Lady Broome are an account of women's lives in gold mines. Women also underwent penal servitude in Australia and their ability to survive was primarily because they put pen to paper. Convict women writers like Margaret Catchpole, Elizabeth Macarthur or Mary Talbot present their adventurous reality and heroic outcome that appear therapeutic.

And what about the canopy of women poets 'blushing unseen'? The first book of Australian woman's poetry Poems and Recollections of the Past was published in 1840. Fidelia Hill and Mary Therese Vidal are some of the poets from the collection. The first Australian woman poet A. Stanhope Gore followed by Eliza Hamilton Dunlop, Mary Gilmore, Judith Wright, Rosemary Dobson, Gwen Harwood, Caroline Carleton, Dorothea Mackellar, Mary Bailey, Fidelia Hill, Emily Manning, Jill Hellyer represent how they celebrated joys and sorrows of life.

On the other hand, novelists like Anna Maria Bunn, Catherine Martin, Katherine Susannah Prichard or Mary Leman Grimstone reveal versatility in novel writings as they transcended the barrier between private and public life in the mid nineteenth century. Louisa Atkinson, the first native born novelist and author of five Australian novels presents a unique combination of fiction and non-fiction, scientific and natural description of Australian bush life and is said to have provided the model for Miles Franklin's Sybylla. George Meredith's niece, Louisa Anne Meredith was the great example of an ambitious intellectual woman writer whose incisive philosophy based on natural history of Australia provided great inspiration to later women writers. Caroline Leakey's first authentic presentation of a woman's convict life (The Broad Arrow) never received the due credit because of being the 'second sex'. Elizabeth Murray's novels daringly criticize second hand English life and the colonial man's violence. Australian Romance literature was also chastised as 'feminine', unworthy to be considered as 'Australian'. Women Romance writers often inverted the quest myth and the Australian landscape unlikely became a liberating space from male hegemony. In the mid nineteenth century, a group of women unrecognized novelists like Eliza Winstanley, Agnes Grant Hay, Mary Hannay Foot, Laura Luffman or Jessie Lloyd form the missing link between the past famous writers and the future ones. Many white Australian writers show genuine interests in human dignity and rights when they reflected upon the Aborigines. Catherine Langloh Parker's Australian Legendary Tales, Jeannie Gunn, Daisy Bates, Mary Durack show immense interest to know about the rich Aboriginal life. More than the men writers, Australian women writers like Rosa Praed, Judith Wright, Eleanor Dark (famous for her super trilogy on the cultural clash, The Timeless Land, Storm of Time and No Barrier) or Catherine Martin (whose heroine Iliapa in the novel The Incredible Journey) have shown that a major preoccupation of their writings is an empathetic view of Indigenous life. Nettie Palmer is one such name in Australian world of literary criticism who was eclipsed primarily because of her popular husband, Vance Palmer. Forging a woman's literary circle ranging from Miles Franklin to Katherine Prichard, Nettie contributed to the development of outstanding Australian women writers.

Many women writers who remained in oblivion for ages like Kathleen Caffy (pen-name Iota) or 'cosmopolitan writer' Mary Gaunt known for her adventurous writings have been staunch feminists who prioritized woman's ambition over marriage. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, Ada Cambridge, Jessie Couvreur popularly known as Tasma and Rosa Praed received international recognition of Australian novelists as they consciously took pride as women Australian novelists. Rosa Praed and Judith Wright at one point wrote unabashedly about the suffering of the Aborigines, suffering of their foremothers, national and historical manipulations. Kylie Tennant as a distinctive writer of social realism, Mary Durack and Nene Gare focused on controversial issues like assimilation in the black community. Laura Luffman's children books, biographies and novels mark the emanation of women's movement in writings. Her empowering journalism demonstrates women's emancipation. Being the editor of Woman's Voice, Luffman made way for women's periodicals and journalism. A woman of great spirit, Louisa Lawson, pioneer of womanhood suffrage, insisted on equality of sexes and her immense effort took the shape in the journal The Dawn. Australian literary landscape remarkably changed in the eighties when the emerging women writers appeared as 'feminist', 'woman-centred' and 'sacred cows'. It marked the influence of the second-wave feminism. Elizabeth Jolley, Jessica Anderson, are some of the leading fiction writers and novelists while Helen Garner, Olga Masters, Jessica Anderson focus on the complexities of family relationships. Known as 'crest' in Australian Literature, Jean Bedford, Thea Astley, Barbara Hanrahan and Kate Grenville reflected on gender restrictions, the tension of writing in a phallocentric world and search for alternative ways. A number of women centered press also emerged in the long run like Sybylla, Redress Press, Sisters consisting of women editors. Feminist journals like Hecate, Scarlet Woman, Refractory Girls and Australian Feminist Studies.
From twentieth century onward, the scope of Australian women writers flourished and encompassed wide range of literary forms ranging from novel, poetry, non-fiction to drama and chronicles. Catherine Langloh Parker's stories based on Aboriginal myths legends and oral history, Daisy Bates' journalistic Aboriginal literary accounts or Jeannie Gunn's romantic novels cannot be discarded so easily. Besides, Australian women dramatists like Dorothy Hewett, Oriel Gray, Jennifer Compton, Valerie Kirwan, Annie Brooksbank, are some of the prolific playwrights who focused on feminist themes but remained under-represented in the literary canon.

However, lesser attention is still paid to the Aboriginal Women's Writings. Writers like Sally Morgan, Glenys Ward, Ruby Langford Ginib, Kath Walker, Margaret Tucker, Monica Clare, Ella Simon, Alexis Wright, Bobbi Sykes, Shirley Smith, or Faith Bandler command attention for contending not just with the primacy of men, but also that of the whites in the Australian literature. They entail Australian history through Aboriginal cultural myths like Dreamtime, Rainbow Serpent, oral tradition of story-telling, dance, music and rock paintings. Aboriginal Women writers excelled more than men in their narrative art of story-telling and biographies. In recollecting the stories of their mothers and grandmothers, like Auntie Rita, by Jackie Hugging, these women writers preserved the past by presenting Australia as 'matriarchal'.

Applauding the diverse writing talents of Australian women who have silently waited in the wings, we intend to bring out an explicit collection of critical essays on the buried treasures of familiar as well as unfamiliar women writers of Australia. The purpose is to unleash a distinct Australian women literary tradition for global recognition. The book will offer new perspectives and hidden truths on these talented plethora of women writers focusing on issues like:

• Origin, place and identity
• Conflict and contradictions between England and Australia
• Interaction between Aborigines and the settlers
• Emergence of Australian national heroine
• Racial purity, marriage and motherhood
• Women's Emancipation, creative fulfilment and Writing as a career
• The self and the Australian frontier
• Deconstructing Mateship, male hegemony of Australian bush life
• Convict woman's life narrative
• Australian Women's gift of irony
• Repentance and the burden of guilt
• Sexual and racial exploitation
• Australian women critics
• Women and Psychological narrative
• Woman as a hero/ working class heroine
• Primordial forest vs domestic Garden
• Gender and genre
• Women's Biography/ autobiography/ Memoir
• Women and Journalism
• Women and Media
• Women and the art of letter writing
• Madness, confinement and coveted womanhood
• Women and Australian sports
• Childhood and girlhood
• Interracial Female friendship and cultural gap
• 'Female naturalism' and woman's language
• Aboriginal Motherhood and female body politics
• Nature and nurture
• Indigenous language and narrative theory
However, contributors need not fit their essays within the stipulated parameters outlined above. Primarily, proposals that draw on Australian women writers and on their works with new perspectives are highly encouraged. The book will be published by a very well-known international publisher.

Deadline for submission of papers: 15th January 2015.
1. Submit a paper of maximum 5000 words along with a 250 words abstract and key words on a separate page to the editors at womenofaus@gmail.com
2. Abstract must be sent by 15th November 2014.
3. A manuscript that has been published or that is currently under consideration for publication elsewhere in either article or book form should not be submitted.
4. Submission only by e-mail in MS Word format following MLA 7 style sheet
5. Strictly use Times New Roman font using 12-point with 1.5 spacing and title of paper in bold letters at the center.
6. Try to eliminate all typos/ spelling errors and grammatical fly offs.
7. Send also a brief and concise bio note mentioning professional details, specializations, current affiliation and email id. For any queries send email to

Prof. (Dr.) Sanjukta Dasgupta
University of Calcutta
dasgupta.sanjukta@gmail.com

Dr. Devaleena Das
IRH, University of Wisconsin-Madison
devaleena.83@gmail.com