Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Details

D'Arcens, L. 2011, ''Meta-medievalism and the future of the past in the ''Australian Girl'' Novel'', Australian Literary Studies, vol. 26, no. 3-4, pp. 69-85.


This essay is situated at the crossroad of critical approaches to medievalism - the postmedieval citation, interpretation, or recreation of the Middle Ages - and to Australian women's writing. 1 It sets out to supplement the wealth of excellent work on the New Woman novel, and in particular on its antipodean iteration, the Australian Girl novel, by considering this genre's surprisingly rich and thoughtful engagement with the practices of late nineteenth-century medievalism.2 Susan Magarey has argued that the New Woman novel 'acquired a particular resonance in the Australian colonies' because it accorded with the Australian nationalist quest for an iconic female counterpart to the Coming Australian Man - the Australian Girl (105). As such, these novels were bound up with notions of national futurity as well as with gender relations. Medievalism is used here as a side-window to access the largely submerged engagement with concepts of the pre-modern that underlay Australian women's depictions of colonial society and women's place within it. Patricia Murphy has argued that it is vital to register the ways in which New Woman novels' emergence out of the late Victorian period led them to 'import temporal discourses . .. to illuminate heightened gender anxieties wrought by this rebellious anomaly' (Murphy 2). Through an examination of works by four late nineteenth-century Australian women writers - Tasma (Jessie Couvreur), Catherine Martin, Ada Cambridge, and Rosa Praed - which explores their differing intersections with medievalism as a temporal discourse, this essay will argue that their work reflects that discourse's unique capacity to probe contemporary gender and colonial ideologies via its oscillation between premodernity and modernity.