by Elizabeth Lhuede
Another in our series of forgotten Australian women writers: Nancy Hannah Hogan (1873-1905) aka Julia Demos.
As I compile the archives for works by early Australian women writers, I keep wondering about the factors which develop and sustain a literary reputation. Quality and length of writing certainly played a part, as well as volume; whether longer works were widely distributed, reviewed and reprinted; whether shorter works were syndicated or anthologized; whether the author or work attracted the attention of literary historians or scholars; whether they were known in the cultural centres of Melbourne or Sydney, or belonged to the regions; all these factors – in addition to the gender of the writer – no doubt played a part. So must politics and class have had an influence, including whether the women had to write for a living.
The politics of many overlooked writers I’ve found so far haven’t been obvious, and much of their writing appears uncontroversial and conventional, suggesting middle-class, even conservative, values. An exception is Nancy Hogan, a Tasmanian author whose work was published in the late 1890s and early 1900s. Hogan’s left-wing politics were evident both in her work and in the way she was remembered by her peers.
A short story writer and columnist, Nancy Hannah Hogan was born in 1876, the daughter of Thomas Hogan, a hotel proprietor in Conara, a town in rural Tasmania. As a young woman, Hogan established a private school in Hobart for 40 scholars and ran it for four years. In 1903, following the death of a sister the previous year at the age of 19, she applied to sit a teacher’s examination and become a state schoolteacher. She returned to Conara and taught for several years at the local state school, before her own early death in 1905.
Hogan’s output was modest. The AustLit database lists two works and I’ve found only a dozen more. Almost all were published in the left-wing, Tasmanian paper, The clipper, while one appeared in The bulletin. In addition to her short stories and one poem, she contributed to and/or edited columns for The clipper, firstly Women’s Scrap Book (1896-1898), and later Womanities (1904-05), under the pseudonym, “Julia Demos”. In 1904, she was among a group of writers – or “ink-questers”, as they were dubbed – who approached The clipper with a view to producing a “Tasmanian Annual” for the paper. As far as I can tell, the annual didn’t eventuate.
Hogan’s values as a young woman, clearly evident in her journalism, were shaped by the depression of the 1890s, and the unemployment, poverty and destitution she witnessed during that period. Her work was clearly admired by the Clipper staff and readers. After her death in 1905, the following obituary was published in its pages which tells us more of her life:
A COMRADE MISSING.
Many Clipper readers will regret to hear of the death of Miss Nancy Hogan, at Evandale, last Friday, Miss Hogan has for years been .ailing, latterly she suffered much from chest trouble, and gradually succumbed to the malady.
Always a great reader and of a sympathetic nature, she took an early and abiding interest in Socialism, and remained an earnest worker in the cause up to the day of her death. When writer first met her she was little more than a child, but had already mastered the works of Henry George, Mill, and other political economists, and was then reading Robert Blatchford’s “Merrie England,” just published. In the old Launceston Democrat and later in the Clipper, over the pen-name of “Julia Demos,” Miss Hogan wrote some fine democratic stuff. She could be strongly denunciatory of existing social evils, but never dull; powerfully pathetic, but never preachy. She could see a joke and make others see it. She has written a number of stories, all readable, some showing exceptional power and not a little daring originality. In literary matters, as in personal, she sought truth and tried her best to show it to others. Can any do more?
Personally, Nancy Hogan was gentle in speech and persuasive in manner. For two years she taught school in Hobart and was successful. But sickness and death in the family, and her own indifferent health, compelled her to give up teaching. When she went home to Conara her scholars wept as for a well-loved sister.
Because of the inroads made by the blight of illness Nancy Hogan’s literary crop was not heavy. Still, kindly hands may reverently garner sufficient to bind into a small sheaf: a booklet as a monument to the memory of a kindly unselfish woman – one who loved the people and gave of her best for the cause of humanity. That, however, is for the future. At present we can only offer our well-loved sister’s sorrowing relatives our deepest sympathy, and mourn a trusty comrade departed.
A month later the following tributes appeared – one, a poem:
An old and valued contributor writes: “I was sorry to read that one of the little ship’s company (Nancy Hogan) was missing. Missed by some, forgotten by others; but you and I and the rest of the crew will remember the brightness of her work and its promise.”
And another sends this:
We’ve voyaged, whatever the weather.
Our course and our comradeship true;
We’ve sailed many oceans together—
But one has dropped out of the crew.
The ultimate port of her dreaming
Has claimed one for ever and aye,
And though we may smile in brave seeming,
We weep that our comrade must stay.
And whether we sail in December,
Or June, when the storm-sails are set,
Though consignees may not remember,
Not one of the crew will forget.
And what of Nancy Hogan’s own work? Is it worth remembering?
The two works listed in AustLit are short. A west coast incident, the piece for The bulletin, centres around two diggers, one who has made his “pile” and the other who has not. It’s an odd snippet, and hits at violence towards a female Salvationist who berates the men for the godless life they’ve led. Certainly not what I’d expect from the more conventional writers I’ve explored.
Finding a soul, the second listed by AustLit, is also short – these days, it would be called microfiction. It’s a moral tale concerning a talented young female musician who comes to perceive her limits when she hears a virtuoso. Again, it’s unconventional, mostly because of the protagonist’s unlikeability, but it’s all the more interesting for that.
Others I’ve found also display an element of the unexpected. The bush confessional, a story which might be considered an “anti-romance”, touches on potential adultery and hints at the supernatural. Hippercrip dramatises name-calling and brawling among children, and manages, in plain language and in a few short paragraphs, to hint at the moral complexity of a child’s universe. At a chopping match, more of a report than a short story, similarly deals with violence – this time adult men brawling alongside a show event. While the women continue to watch the wood-chopping, the eye of narrator, like those of the men, a point of view that suggests unconventional (in terms of gender, at least) interests.
Hogan’s story, Dodd, arguably has a more sentimental quality. It’s about an old dog owned by an impoverished rabbiter and his family. The rabbiter can’t afford to keep a non-working dog, but his wife knows the old dog has a kind and protective nature, and thinks her husband a fool. What interests me about this short story is its ending, with its hint of authorial irony: it’s unexpected and intelligent, and therefore – to me, at least – pleasing.
Of all Hogan’s works, the one that strikes me most is the single poem she published, called “Parable of the Mountain”. It conveys the values of the author, and its slightly unconventional form is a good vehicle for its simple, powerful message. I’ve chosen it to appear here on Friday.
A comrade missing, The clipper (22 Apr 1905): 6 [obituary].
Clackery, The clipper (6 May 1905): 7 [posthumous tributes].
Conara, The clipper (27 Nov 1903)
The Ink quest, The clipper (18 Jun 1904): 3.
Oatlands, The daily telegraph (20 Aug 1902): 8 [notice of the death of her sister Christina].
Tasmanian Education Department record 1903, via Tasmania Archives, Libraries Tasmania.
Elizabeth Lhuede first published in the 1990s while working at Macquarie University as a tutor and research assistant. After completing a PhD in Australian poetry, she taught English and Creative Writing, initially at Macquarie and later at TAFE (NSW). In 2011-12, Elizabeth instigated the Australian Women’s Writers Challenge, and has continued supporting the project in some capacity ever since. Under the pen-name Lizzy Chandler, Lhuede has had two e-novellas published with Harper Collin’s Escape imprint (romance and romantic suspense), one of which has been anthologised in print.