Susan Sheridan


My title, I have to confess at the outset, does not signal the discovery of a long-lost feminist literary manifesto. You will probably have recognised it as an appropriation of Joseph Furphy's famous claim for his novel of 1903, Such is Life, that its temper is democratic, its bias offensively Australian. I have changed its terms for two reasons. The first is to draw attention to the pejorative characterization of women's writing which emerged in the 1890s — in particular, of the fiction produced by the socalled Lady Novelists who were well-known at the time: Ada Cambridge, Rosa Praed, and 'Tasma'. All three (though only Cambridge still lived in Australia by then) continued to publish popular romantic novels, variously drawing on the domestic romance, the Gothic and the novel of manners, during a period when the masculine forms of romance (stories of convicts, bushrangers and station life) were fading in popularity — were, indeed, coming under concerted attack. So romantic fiction came to be associated exclusively with women writers, and to be defined by its traditionally feminine forms. This shift in the meaning of literary romance was particularly disadvantageous for two younger women writers who began to publish at the turn of the century, Barbara Baynton and Miles Franklin. Despite their association with the newly-dominant literary institution of the Bulletin's Red Page, features of their work were attacked in the same terms as that of the 'lady novelists' I have already referred to. They too were deemed to be limited by their 'romantic' temper and 'offensively feminine' bias.



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