by “H. J.”
“Whatever woman’s place in literature, there is no doubt of one thing – she is climbing to an always increasing height on the platform.”
As one of the comparatively few men in a largely feminine audience at last meeting of the Fellowship of Australian writers in Sydney, I came away with mingled feelings of surprise and admiration.
Where would you get a quintet of male speakers to discourse as interestingly and wittily as the five women who in turn addressed the meeting? Ask anyone who, for his sins, has had to sit out a few evenings of Parliamentary debates.
The subject was “The Feminisation of Australian Literature.” (Incidentally, there is going to be a counterblast from live men speakers this month.)
Miss Miles Franklin had the last word. This lady, you remember, burst into literature with her book about bush life, “My Brilliant Career”. Since then she has spent many years in America and England, only returning to her native country about a year ago.
Miss Franklin is shy. She hates limelighting. When her name was called by the president, Dr. Mackaness, there was at first no response. While the audience was craning its necks to discover her whereabouts, a voice piped from back of the hall, “Not now. I want to speak last, after you have all gone home.” Though the president was gently persistent, she refused to budge.
Needless to say, no one went home. We all waited to hear her. Her ten-minute speech was mostly a series of epigrammatic shots at literature and life in general. As for the feminisation of letters, she was reminded of what George Reid once said when Australia was waiting to know what he would do at a time of crisis.
“There ain’t no crisis!” said George. “There ain’t no crisis!” said George. “There ain’t no feminisation of literature!” said Miss Franklin. What there had been, she told us, was “emancipation.”
“The humpty-dumpty crash of old Mother Grundy” was one of the lady’s descriptive phrases. And she brought in the heroine of Arlen’s “The Green Hat.”
“For most people writing is an expensive luxury – that accounts for so many women’s excursions into it,” was another pithy sentence.
Miss Flora Eldershaw, dark, pleasant-voiced, and with a sense of humor, kept the audience in a simmer of laughter. The heroine of old, she said was “sweet, gentle and vacuous.” Now, in modern novels she was generally “dark-haired and passionate.” Contrariwise, the hero was no longer a domineering cave man. To be worth his place in a novel nowadays he had to possess “Charm and understanding and diffidence – especially diffidence”.
Mrs Ada Holman made the most original suggestion – that every novel should be published anonymously and remain so for ten years. This would do away with sex prejudice and false pandering to names.
Miss Nora Kelly quoted interestingly from the writings of that great authority on the sex – King Solomon. And Miss Dora Wilcox stressed the increasing part of women in big things, such as war.
H. J.: Modern Heroes and Heroines: What Women Writers Think, The Australian Women’s Weekly (7 Oct 1933): 10. Note: effort has been made to establish the identiy of “H.J.” in order to establish copyright status, but no identity for the author has been found.