MEMORIES – Part 1.

It is a mistake to go back to the scenes of your past, except in your memory.  In reality the houses are smaller, duller, in fact quite ordinary – while in memory they glow with personality, housing as they do the special events and special people that form the warp and weft of the fabric of life.

All the houses in which I’ve lived have revisited me in my dreams – some more than others.  In particular the ‘town’ house in Barmera, and the rented houses in Glenelg and Seaton Park loom large in my subconscious life.  For some reason the Barmera ‘town’ house, as opposed to the ‘block’ house, was crucial to my life – we did live there for eight years, the longest stay in any house.

I have visited most of the houses in my adult years, and apart from the houses in Seaton Park and in Rose Park in which I lived in my late teens, they all appeared to be much smaller and meaner than I remembered them.  They were huge houses, done up with great taste by my parents who could never leave a house as they found it.  Even the rental properties were not exempt from their renovations – floors were stripped and sanded, walls were knocked out (in the ones they owned), bathrooms renovated and kitchens over-hauled.  In later years, my father rather relied on my judgement, asking for my opinion on walls that needed removing and windows that needed widening.

My ealiest memories are of the stairs that led from the gate in the picket fence down deep into the garage at the back of Auntie Dot’s place.  We used to hang on the fence and peer down into the darkness at the bottom, imagining all sorts of creatures that were waiting to get us if we ventured below.  I recall that there were, in particular, a goblin and a dragon.  As we grew we discovered that there was a lane that ran along the back of the garage, in fact along the row of houses – a lane we were to use every day on our way home from Kindy and School.  Inevitably the day came when we had to go through the garage and up the stairs to Auntie Dot’s, where our mother was visiting.  We trembled, hesitated, gathered our courage and began the climb.  Halfway up, one of us saw a movement and heard a rustle.  A snake!!  We flew up those stairs in sheer terror and took quite a considerable amount of calming.

From this one incident evolved a spectacular nightmare that was to recur throughout my childhood and adolescence.  I was running along the back lane as fast as I could with a dragon pursuing me, slithering and scrambling up those steps to reach the safety of the yard.  But I was unable to get through the gate at the top, always kept locked to prevent little children from falling down the steps.  Of course, I always awoke at this point in the dream, sweating and shaking.  As I grew older and recognized the dream as it began I learnt to waken myself, tell myself that it was only a dream, and go back to sleep after an interval of intense concentration about something, anything else.

I remember climbing up a street towards Big Judy’s house in Pascoe Vale as a toddler.  There was a low brick wall outside her house which was two-storeyed, with a curved glass wall around the stairwell – very Art Deco.  She had a Scottish walking doll as tall as me, dressed in a kilt, with a tam on its head, and lovely long lashes.  My sister was very covetous of this doll, but I much prefered the house.

My father built a large Art Deco house in Henley Beach, South Australia, after we moved there from Victoria.  It was innovative, set up high on the hilly block with a double brick garage set below but in front, with a concrete slab roof that formed a balconied patio.  The drive went up beside it to the side of the house, plus there was a double drive into the garage below.  A rock garden bordered the property beside these constructions, and the back yard was big, lawned, with swings and a sand-pit for my sister, brother and I to play in.

The lounge room had a curved wall with large windows, the kitchen had the latest modern equipment, a new round-topped fridge, electric cooker, and black and white tiled floor.  The bathroom was amazing.  The bath and hand basin were pink, set into a black-tiled room – the ceramic wall tiles when wiped with a child’s wet soapy hand played rainbows of colours across its surface.  The bedrooms were lovely, and there was a utility room out the back where my mother held playgroup for local children.  We sat in a circle as she sang in her glorious voice:

           Good morning to you little boy/girl, little

          boy/girl, little boy/girl, good morning to

          you little boy/girl, what’s your name?

The child addressed would sing out their name.  When it came to our turns, my brother and I would answer : Hector and Georgina, which were not our names.  Then we’d all laugh.  I have no idea why we chose those names – it’s not a name I particularly liked.  I think it was really done to get a response from our mother who was sharing our time with all those other children.

I remember one Guy Fawke’s night when I hid in the bathroom from the bangers, with Pride, our Collie dog.  I watched the Catherine Wheels, and the Rockets, and the Roman Fountains, and played happily with Sparklers, but as soon as the Bangers and the Jumping Jacks came out I was off, with the dog close behind me.  I refused to come out until all the explosions had stopped.

My sister had a very bad accident at that house.  There was no railing around the top of the garage roof, and one day she fell off it, down onto the concrete drive below.  Dad was distraught and angry with himself – she was his favourite, and he’d caused her harm by not putting in a railing.  Of course, she shouldn’t have been messing around that close to the edge anyway, but she had spirit and was always pushing the boundaries.  He installed a rail after that.

My doll suffered a cracked skull in the garden bed there – I’d left her out accidentally overnight and the frost was so cold that it robbed her of all her colour and cracked the back of her head.  I painted pink cheeks, lips and nails on her with mother’s nail polish, but could do nothing with her head.  She was my favourite and I loved her dearly.  Even now, having had to replace her with an identical doll when she got plastic cancer – a condition where the plastic shrivelled and gave off a vinegar smell – I could not throw her away.  She is stored in a bag in a cupboard in the spare room.  And I can’t feel the same attachment to the replacement doll, no matter how identical it is.

My brother nearly ‘drownded’ in the estuary outlet nearby while we lived there, or perhaps when we were visiting Auntie Rite as we often did on trips down from Barmera.  We would roam along the waterway at the back to the estuary – the outlet had huge sloping concrete walls, with grooves for steps down its sides.  We loved to follow them playing at being giants, seeing who could step from one to another without slipping, or missing any.  My sister, by dint of her older age, was the best at it.  One day as we searched for tadpoles along the creek leading to the outlet, my brother slipped on the bank and fell in.

He couldn’t swim, and neither could I, but my sister had done some swimming.  Auntie Rite’s son was with us, and he jumped in and saved my brother as he gurgled and splashed about.  A man walking his dog came and helped us, and carried my brother home to my parents, who were horrified that we had been down at the outlet in the first place.  We weren’t exactly allowed to go there.  And, after that, we were strictly forbidden from going near the place ever again.  Auntie Rite’s son was a hero, while we were in disgrace.  The fact that he took us there was beside the point.

I remember on one of our visits to Auntie Rite’s that we were sent to the bakery at the end of the road to get bread for her.  It was quite a walk for children, past many houses including Auntire Dot’s and Anne and Charles’ place – they were named after the prince and princess, and were about the same age as them.  We teased a dog behind a big brush fence as we trudged to the corner shop.  There is no way children of today would be sent on such an errand.  We walked home hugging the warm bread to our chests.

When we reached Auntie Rite’s we sat inside her fence and picked at the rounded front surface of the loaf – just to level it with the crust.  We picked a bit more, tearing off strips of the warm bread and chewing it delicately.  Eventually we had hollowed the whole loaf out and were left with only the crust shell.  Horrors!  Now we had to go and tell Auntie Rite.  And what would Mother say?!

They were very angry with us, and we were immediately sent back to the bread shop with our pocket money to buy another loaf for Auntie Rite.  Mother was embarrassed, and Auntie Rite thought it was funny – we could hear her laughing as we hurried down her steep drive to her gate, on our way back to the Bakery.  We laughed as we walked along, picturing the empty loaf sitting, still wrapped around with tissue paper, on Auntie Rite’s kitchen table.

(C) Jud House  25/01/2013

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“Oh bed,” she sighed as, clad in her apricot satin pyjamas, she snuggled down under the bedclothes.  Having lifted up and spread out, princess-like, her long dark hair to avoid restricting her movements, she pulled the pillows down to support her neck, lowered her shoulders and placed her arms at her sides, elbows bent and hands resting lightly on her groin.  This ritual for relaxation allowed her to easily slip into daydreaming prior to sleep, and if she were lucky, would carry her selected daydream on into dreaming.

Her affectionate lilac Burmese cat trod up the bed, circled, settled its weight against her hip, curled up and began to purr.  She could hear her husband showering in the en-suite bathroom – he would be a while yet, so she was safe to start. Quite a lot of dreaming could be done before he eventually climbed into bed, and unless he actively wanted sex she knew he’d not disturb her.  Most of the time he didn’t even speak to her – not even to say ‘goodnight’.  Usually, her sense of loss and disappointment prompted her to murmur “Goodnight darling” just to evoke a response, to counter her feelings of invisibility.  Perversely, at the same time she wanted to preserve her isolation so as not to disturb her precious dreams.


Lava Rock Reef 001

‘Where am I?  Oh, yes.  We are in Hawaii!  What a great place.  God, I wish I could go back there again – to live for a while.  This time I’m not with my husband – he won’t come so I am with my lover instead.  We arrive in Honolulu at one a.m., but by the time we get through Customs it is three a.m.  Then the drive in the transfer van to the hotel, up the escalator to the lobby to book in, and on to our room.  It’s the same hotel and the same room my husband and I stayed in – I guess I’m doing that because it’s easier, something I know, to add reality to this dream.

‘Out on the balcony I go to look at the view.  The streets are still lit, people still roam around and the disco downstairs still pounds out music – at this hour of the morning!  I am not tired despite the hour, but I know I should sleep so I won’t miss any of tomorrow – I mean today.  He steps out behind me, encircles me with his arms, and I lean back against him.  He’s warm and loving, so attentive.

‘“Let’s go to bed,” he murmurs in my ear.  I turn to kiss him, long and deep, our bodies pressed together.  I follow him into the room where I lie on the huge bed – king-size, with three great pillows banked along its headboard, flanked by tables with their shell-filled glass-jar lamps. (Just like before.)  He rolls the timber slatted shutters across the windows – we’re not sure if we’re overlooked by the surrounding tall hotels and shopping complexes.


She felt her husband climb into bed, the waterbed tightening as his weight displaced the water. When he’d settled, and the waterbed waves had settled, she murmured “Goodnight darling”, waited for his mumbled reply, then slipped back and on with the dream creation.


‘Where am I?  Oh, yes.  About to make love.  Lovingly, cradling me, he kisses me, long and passionately.  He wants to rush and so do I, but we are free to take all the time we want – at last.  I slow him down by alternating tender kisses with passionate ones.  He responds, and moves down kissing my throat and breasts as he goes.  I relax, sighing with delight, drifting with pleasure . . .


You relax, sighing with delight, drifting with pleasure.  You lie there, yielding to him.  The passion builds, he enters and just as you begin to climax your husband opens the door and walks in.  But that’s okay, you aren’t doing anything, just talking.

You’re home in your lounge room having coffee with him.  Your son is there too with his girlfriend.  The conversation is about Hawaii.

“I’m not boring you with all this,” you say, as you indicate the photo album on the smoked-glass coffee table.

“No, it’s fascinating,” he says.  “I only wish I could go there too.”  He sighs, gives you a knowing look and continues.  “Maybe one day I’ll run away with you to Hawaii, and you can show me around.”

Everyone laughs, including your husband.  “I should be so lucky.  Another beer, mate?”

“No.  I must be going.”  He eases himself out of the deep chair and you stand reluctantly, then follow him out to his car which appears to be parked in a city street.

People are hurrying past, pushing and jostling you further apart from each other.  You call out to him and he thrusts through the crowd as you go under.  You are lying on the pavement looking fragile, a lot slimmer than you know you really are.  He lifts you gently into his arms, distressed by your unconscious state.  You watch him lift you, hold you, cradle you, caress your hair, speak your name, imploring you to revive.

Once more your husband is there, demanding that he sit you up and put your head between your knees.  How ungainly!  You wake to find them bending over you, but now you’re afraid.  Run!  Run!  Fly!  You must fly – thank God you know how to fly.  You grab their hands to help them fly, but they are too heavy – dead weights.

You soar into the sky, skimming past power lines, the main hazard, then swoop back to them.  You must save them, they’re just boys, your sons.  You snatch them up and fly across the fields, the lakes, towards your home and safety.  Your arms are getting very tired.  You feel exhausted.  You sink into softness . . .


The alarm radio cut the silence.  Her husband grunted, moved, and clambered out of bed.  As the bed softened beneath her, she was aware of the morning, but felt exhausted.  She snuggled deeper under her feather quilt.


‘I don’t want to let go of my dream.  What happened to my lover in Hawaii?  I seem to have got off the track.  I don’t have to get up yet.  Where am I?  Oh, yes.  About to make love with my lover in Hawaii.  He’s so wonderful the way he wants me, as if I am precious.  I don’t know what he sees in me.  I’m not exactly slim and beautiful.  I’m overweight.  But I do have lovely hair.  I wish he would tell me what he likes about me.  All he wants to do is screw me.  Talking about which . . . . .

(C) Jud House  25/09/2006

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The order was given – Go to an old graveyard in East Perth, with an open umbrella. Write about birth.  Observe what you see!

In Repose 001

The wind was roaring through the graveyard on Sunday afternoon when my husband and I went there.  As there were fires in several places in the hills, this made the already gale-force wind gritty.  I needn’t have bothered opening the umbrella – what I expected to happen did happen.  The umbrella immediately blew inside out, and Peter laughed.  He already thought the whole incident humorous – but he also made me go, not allowing me to pop up to the cemetery in Mundaring instead.

The appearance of the graveyard is one of neglect – the grass was yellow and long, except for a few spots of green under trees, the headstones stood at odd angles, though some were still in place, while others were lying flat or missing altogether, the wrought iron railings were in need of maintenance, and the trees were overgrown and straggly.  There were huge Cypresses – four at the corners of one grave with their foliage merging over it – great Peppermint trees which the settlers planted in place of willows, and Cape Lilacs with yellowing leaves providing meagre shade.

The old church, St. Bartholomew’s, was built in the 1870’s to save the settlers from the long trudge to the cemetery with caskets at sunrise and sunset – it was too hot during the rest of the day.  From inside the roof showed spots of sky – no doubt the rain gets in in Winter – and the floorboards were worn and uneven.  But on the whole it was in a reasonable state of repair – due to the work of the Historical Trust people who were giving guided tours of the cemetery to any visitors.

I sat on a bench under a Cypress and thought about the transience of life and how that affects the topic on which I was to write – birth.  To sit and contemplate that, and all it entailed,  while gazing at the unkempt, almost forgotten graveyard, was a strange sensation.  The notion that the importance of a single life is irrelevant occurred to me – one is born, one lives, one dies.  One enters the world amidst pain, if not one’s own then definitely one’s mother’s.  One often leaves the world amidst pain, which those lucky few who slip away in their sleep can by-pass.  Then after death can come decay and neglect, as the East Perth Cemetery shows.  And to whom does it matter what mark we made while alive?  Only our family and friends.  The population of this planet is so vast that our lives are not noticed.  And this planet is miniscule in its Universe and the Cosmos beyond – we are nothing.

A birth is such a miraculous personal event to the participants, but it is just nature’s way of furthering the species – every day, every minute, and probably every second somewhere in the world.  While birth is the initial step, death is the final step in this sequence.  During birth there is no time to think about mortality – birth is too immediate, too violent, too all-consuming.  Every fibre of the mother is focussed on breathing and pushing to complete her nine months of creation.

It’s like writing a story – a writer creates a thing with a beginning, a middle and an end – there must be an end somewhere.  To hold a new-born baby is to feel an overwhelming sense of responsibility to protect that child, nuture it, and help it grow to adulthood.  That is as far as a new parent dares to think.  And the notion that the child could die before the parent is unthinkable.

Yet despite the apparent futility of life, specifically, births are vital for mankind’s future existence.  And sitting in the graveyard, with signs of neglect all around, with the wind howling through the trees and blowing rubbish across the ground, I felt curiously at peace, and unafraid of my own mortality.

(C) Jud House  19/08/2006 & 25/01/2013

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In the novel, BLISS, Peter Carey used a number of narrative devices to facilitate the conveyance of the story.  The most significant of these was his use of storytelling – he created narratives within a narrative, or what Robert Scholes called fabulation in his book ‘FABULATION AND METAFICTION’ (Scholes, cited Dovey, 1983)  For example, by the means of Vance’s story of New York:

In New York there are towers of glass.  It is the most beautiful and terrible city on earth.  All good, all evil exist there. . . . If you know where to look, you can find the devil.  That is where he lives. . . . But New York is full of saints, they . . .” (Carey, 1982 p. 18).

Carey was able to introduce the ideas of power, evil, goodness, and fascination with America generally, and New York in particular into the story.  This fabulation was varied and involved many of his characters.

Primarily the stories told to Harry by his father, Vance, then retold by Harry to his family, friends and work associates, were the basis for Bettina’s dreams and aspirations of success, while they became a security blanket for Harry in times of stress.  From them sprang the lies and dreams of his son, David, who wanted to be able to tell stories like his father.  When he discovered that he had no talents for narration, he determined to live out a story of his own devising, even though it led to his death.

Alex Duval’s secret, truthful reports were another variation of storytelling, and another device for bringing the theme of cancer and corruption to the attention of the reader.  It also re-introduced the message of punishment for wrong-doing which gradually built up within the story.

Honey Barbara’s stories of her commune home, of Krishna and folk-law, and even of the ‘dream police’, were also a form of fabulation.  They suggested an alternative lifestyle to the corrupt, degenerate one that Harry was currently living – a tempting Paradise as a foil for the Hell in which he felt trapped.

Bettina’s advertisements, and her dreams of New York, were also fabulation, providing her character with substance and a sense of reality.  At the asylum the old man, Nurse, who wrote down his memories so he wouldn’t forget them after treatment; the matron, Alice Dalton, who told the boy scouts about the business of running an asylum; at the restaurant Aldo, with his  story of his cancer and its treatment with marijuana; from the circus, Billy de Vere, who told the elephant story which became a reality, and a nightmare for Harry – all added their individual stories to the composite narrative.

By using these individuals to tell their separate stories, Carey was able to present the reader with a variety of viewpoints, despite the fact that he had the overall narrative being presented by a single narrator, who was eventually revealed as one of Harry and Honey Barabara’s children.

In the movie this use of narrator was altered, although it was still a device used to draw the viewer’s attention to the theme of storytelling throughout the movie.  It opened with Harry (in the present) telling a story, which he called ‘The Vision Splendid’ as told to him by his father.  This immediately introduced the viewer to the religious nature of the coming movie, yet what followed didn’t initially seem so.  Rather the next scene showed family and friends at the aftermath of a dinner-party, drinking, smoking, swearing and appearing generally debauched.  This device of visual gluttony and degradation was used as a device several times in the movie to draw attention to the Hellish nature of Harry’s existence.

The next narrator, who we recognised as an older Harry, then took over the narration to tell of Harry’s deaths, madness, and final move to Paradise.  At this point the narration changed from third person to first as Harry’s identity as the narrator was affirmed.  But the final scene was narrated by his daughter, as he was unable to tell of his own final death.

Carey used this story-telling device to work for his characters as well as against them.  When Harry got caught up in the elephant story he lost control – he was in a story not of his father’s making or of his own telling.  But it was significant that he solved the problem by telling the only original story he was ever to tell.  Unfortunately, this clever use of the device was omitted from the movie, with Harry’s reward of freedom being attributed to the relinquishing of the marijuana to the police.  Ultimately, however, Harry was able in both book and movie to attribute his freedom to being good, and thus begin his ascent out of Hell.  This was indicated in the book when ‘ . . .  the taxi drove him across the bridge, the river below appeared as black as the Styx.’ (Carey, 1982, p. 73).

Carey used shift in time as a device to introduce Vance’s stories from the past, and to take us into the future to see David’s demise.  However, although the directors had the ideal medium for exploiting time-shift scenes, they rarely took advantage of it, showing the adult Harry with his father as a dream rather than a true jump back in time.  By contrast, Carey’s adroit use of this time-shift device, linked as it was to the story-telling device, kept the reader involved and gave them a hindsight for what was to follow.

While sex and cancer were themes of the story I believe that they were also devices which were used as markers in the story.  Initially sex was graphic and rampant, used to mark people’s relationships with each other, and thus to the whole story.  The fact that Harry was unaware of the debauchery around him was used to heighten the shock experienced by him when he did see it.

Sex was also a commodity, to be bought and sold – Lucy with David to buy her drugs, Honey Barbara with Harry for the first time as a means of giving in to the Hell in which he lived, Bettina with Joel as a mark of power to be gained in their prospective futures.  But sex had a double edge – it could be used for good or evil.  Honey Barbara represented the good, wholesome capacities of sex, while Bettina and Joel’s led to self-destruction.

The text was marked by sexual episodes, both in the book and the movie, until Harry found Honey Barbara in the car on his front lawn.  That episode marked the attaining of sexual bliss, and after that sex was only implied for the rest of the story – even when Harry finally reached Paradise and won Honey Barbara back with his tree-planting love-letter we only knew they’d had sex because we discovered the offspring as a narrator.

When sex ceased directly to mark the text, and as the arguments slowly disintegrated the household and Honey Barbara’s strength, we saw her reduced to her original status as a commodity.  Sex as a device was supplanted by the device of money as a power to be controlled in the lives of all at Harry’s house.

Cancer was a very important marker in the story, creeping insidiously into the story, as it would through a body.  It was used three times specifically to make the reader more aware each time of its importance to the story.  Aldo was the first cancer victim to mark the narrative.  His case was dealt with in a low-key way.  The second cancer marker was the wife of Harry’s client, Adrian Clunes, who described quite graphically how his wife had cancer.  “She weighs four stone and six pounds and everyone comes, like ghouls, to look at her.  Our friends are nice enough to stay away, . . . ” (Carey, 1982, p. 117)

At this point the Cancer Map was introduced, a device which strengthened Harry’s resolve to fire his client as his first constructive step towards being good and getting out of Hell. The map was the concrete evidence of the cancer symbol that was used to show that life in the city, and in society, was like a cancerous growth festering and nurtured from within – fed on foul air, drink, smoke, pollution, petrol fumes, in fact most commodities.

Bettina’s cancer was the final marker, closest to home, affecting the reader directly because she was one of the main characters – not just a friend or an associate’s wife.  Her explosive death, and Joel’s subsequent suicide signalled an end to Harry’s Hell, and his enslavement by Bettina to the advertising business.  He escaped to Paradise and safety, yet seemed to take some of his Hell with him, as he found the rainforest initially unreceptive, and Honey Barbara hostile.

Death was not only a theme throughout the narrative, but was also a device with which Carey manipulated both his characters and the reader.  We knew in advance, for example, that Harry would die by the end of the story, as the opening lines were “Harry Joy was to die three times, but it was his first death which was to have the greatest effect on him,. . .” (Carey, 1982, p. 7)  This statement/opening device prepared us for the story to follow, though not for the extremes that it would take.

The text was liberally sprinkled with deaths which were either drug-induced, cancerous, or suicidal – all unnatural deaths.  Even the final, ultimate death of Harry was caused by a branch of one of his beloved trees falling on him – even in Paradise he wasn’t really safe from death.

In the movie symbolism was used as a narrative device implying by its presence the presence of its associate.  An example of this was the use of cockroaches which first appeared emerging from Harry’s chest after his open-heart surgery.  They represented, by their connotation of the lowest-of-the-low, the embodiment of Hell.  Later they were to appear crawling across Harry’s bedroom wall, with its pseudo-Paradise mural, in the scene where Honey Barbara was reduced to her commodity status – Harry told her that she knew how much she cost him to keep, so she was not to say she didn’t love him.

Another device used in the movie to represent the presence of Hell was a musical motif – a sliding down a semi-tone on a violin string, slightly distorted, creating an unnerving, uncomfortable yet sad feeling.  This was effectively used during the period of time following Harry’s operation, and his second imagined death, until his escape to Paradise – the rainforest.

The movie directors were able to use many devices symbolically.  Apart from the cockroaches, music, and sardines to represent the evidence of sexual misbehaviour, they were able to show visually the degradation of the city, its traffic, its pollution from smoking chimneys, car fumes, rubbish, and its greyness.

Allied to this the degradation of the people was seen by showing the stained linen, both bed and table, the clutter of unwashed plates, cutlery, glasses, full ashtrays that filled a scene, with the people an integral part of the debauchery.  All characters were shown smoking, a symbol of cancer, continually, during meals, meetings, sex, arguments, parties, and working.  This device showed how evil and Hell had pervaded all of society.

Against this the directors were able to portray the rainforest as green, glistening, clean, filled with singing birds and rippling streams.  When Harry entered this Paradise he had to pass through a fire, symbolic of cleansing, to reach safety – the precarious nature of which was noted-by-device of having a burning branch fall directly behind Harry as he thought of safety.

The ultimate movie device was the viewpoint of the camera – used most effectively to show Harry’s out-of-body experiences at his first death, including the Heaven and Hell visuals, and his final death as he rises to the tree-tops to be inhaled by the trees.

Carey in his book endeavoured to present the narrative by using devices as a movie director would – cutting from scene to scene, shifting in time, using markers as a director would use symbols.  And most effectively, he allowed the story-telling of his characters to tell the story for him.

(C)  Jud House  28/08/2005


Carey, P. (1982).  BLISS.  London: Picador, Pan Books Ltd.

Carey, P. (1981).  EXOTIC PLEASURES. London: Picador, Pan Books Ltd.

Dovey, Teresa “An Infinite Onion: Narrative Structure in Peter Carey’s Fiction”, ALS, Vol 11, No 2, Oct 1983, pp. 195-204.

Sibree, Bron “Carey Faces up to Fame”, WEST AUSTRALIAN paper, Saturday August 10, 1991

Turner, Graeme “American Dreaming: The Fictions of Peter Carey”, ALS, 12, 4, 1986, pp.431-441.

Willbanks, Ray. (1992) SPEAKING VOLUMES: Australian writers and their work.  Melbourne: Penguin.

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The construction of the female characters in the book text of ‘My Brilliant Career’ was different from their representation in the movie text.  In the book we are exposed to the narrator’s biassed view of the relevant characters, while in the movie, despite Sybilla still acting as narrator, we are presented with a more general characterization of women in turn-of-the-century Australia.

In the story women were portrayed as of lesser importance than men, with various roles according to their status – Sybilla was fair game to Harry Beecham as a servant in a blossom tree, yet out of bounds as the grand-daughter of the house.  Within her household Sybilla’s mother is a powerful figure, but her husband still dictated where they lived and worked.

Sybilla’s grandmother was also a powerful figure at Caddagat (with authority even over Uncle Jay Jay in relation to Sybilla), Aunt Helen below her, then Sybilla, followed by the maids on a much lower level and having power only between themselves and their relative positions in the work-force.

Yet they were all women, with feelings, needs, hopes and desires, all of which were considered, by themselves as well as by men and society in general, as secondary to those of the men around them.

. . . it was only men who could take the world by its ears and conquer their fate, while women, metaphorically speaking, were forced to sit with tied hands and patiently suffer as the waves of fate tossed them hither and thither, battering and bruising without mercy. (Franklin, M. 1979, p.33)

Against this second-rate status Sybilla rebelled openly.  And she saw, as the main culprit for maintaining this, marriage that subjugated a woman’s independence of thought and personality.  She stated “Marriage to me appeared the most horribly tied-down and unfair-to-women existence going . . . . I laughed at the idea of love, and determined never, never, never to marry.” (Franklin, M. 1979, p. 31 & 32)

In the movie Sybilla’s mother was portrayed as she’d have been in reality – with the film-makers’ hindsight of the period – as hardworking, weighed down by the struggle to keep the family fed and together, despite the drought and a lazy, drunk husband, yet maintaining a semblance of refinement.  As evidence of this, although the house was little more than a timber shanty, there were clean lace curtains at the windows, photos in silver frames, and an in-tune though honky-tonk piano in the parlour.

She remained practical in the face of a continually growing family (due to no contraception), yet could not face the humiliation of fetching her husband from the pub – that was for Sybilla to bear.  She saw the need to send Sybilla away to work, to help support the family, as an obvious practicality, rather than as Sybilla saw it – as a punishment.

In the book her Mother was shown as hard, unyielding, lacking in kindness and under-standing, and intolerant of Sybilla’s ideas and desires.  She appeared to treat Sybilla as a possession to be packed off to Grandmother, then redirected to the M’Swat’s as it suited her.  Yet we do see, underlying this characterisation of her mother by Sybilla, the latter’s understanding of the forces that have reduced her beautiful refined mother to behave as she did.  We see this from Sybilla’s point of view and are sympathetic with her (from our own position of acceptance and equality in society).  Yet we are able to recognise her mother’s hardships, her subsequent bitterness, and her need to take this out on her eldest daughter, who she saw as unmarriageable due to a lack of beauty, and a rebellious and outspoken nature.  She saw her as being an indefinite burden on her stretched resources.

Sybilla’s grandmother was characterised, in both book and movie, as very Victorian, with rigid views about a woman’s place in society and the home, how she should behave with decorum and modesty, show refinement and manners.  She was affronted at the idea of Sybilla going on the stage – but more because it was her granddaughter – and totally disregarded Sybilla’s views on the matter.

Against this arbitrary decision-making by others, on her behalf and without any concern for her thoughts or feelings, Sybilla also rebelled.  Likewise, upon receiving her mother’s letter informing of her transfer to the M’Swat’s as a governess, her indignation and horror was extreme.  “The steel of my mother’s letter entered my soul.  Why had she not expressed a little regret at the thing she was imposing on me?” (Franklin, M. 1979, p. 162)  When asked by her grandmother for her response she exclaimed, “Say?  I won’t go!  I can’t!  I won’t!  Oh, grannie, don’t send me there – I would rather die.” (Franklin, M. 1979, p. 162)

In the movie Grandmother was shown as caring for Sybilla, but as less kindly than she was portrayed in the book – as a foil for the character of Aunt Gussie, who though out-spoken was more understanding of Sybilla, in whom she seemed to see herself as a girl.  In the book she was a less dominant, more formal figure – Sybilla called her Miss Beecham – and seemed to be there only as a chaperone in the background to add respectability to Sybilla’s visit.

While the movie portrayed these characters a little differently, and compressed the events to suit its running time it did portray the M’Swat family perfectly.  Although it omitted details such as Mr M’Swat’s diary, it did show Sybilla’s degradation, as she gradually became dirtier and more depressed.  The power struggle between Sybilla and Mrs M’Swat was clearly shown, as was the futility of the existence in the cultural desert of the M’Swat’s squalid home.  However, in the scene where the children read the story from the pages of newspaper that lined their walls, the movie also left the viewer with a feeling that Sybilla’s time had not altogether been wasted.

In the book, I was held captive by Sybilla’s misery and frustration with the injustice of her situation.  It was hard to believe in the kindness of the M’Swats, although Sybilla stated quite clearly that they were kind, or in the degree of their squalor and ignorance – the movie, however, clarified this giving it reality.  Aunt Helen and Grandmother could not believe in this squalor when they received Sybilla’s pleading letters.

Just as the M’Swats were ignorant of the refinement and better quality of life and possessions to be gained by the use of their money, so was the wealthy Grandmother at Caddagat ignorant of how base the lives of others, like the M’Swats, could be.  Both the book text and the movie text showed this fact clearly – the movie with a cut to a quick scene at Caddagat, its lush green formal surroundings a stark contrast to the mud and haphazard hovels of the M’Swat’s farm.  Aunt Helen, in her elegant clean gown was seen discussing another letter from Sybilla with Grandmother, their disbelief apparent.

Miss Derrick was portrayed in both media as representing everything that a woman should be in society:

Miss Derrick brought herself and her dress in with great style and airs. . . . She sat down with great indifference, twirled her bracelet round her wrist, languidly opened her fan, and closed her eyes as she wafted it to and fro. . . . She would adorn the head of his [her husband’s] table.  She would never worry him with silly ideas.  She would never act with impropriety.  She would never become a companion to her husband. (Franklin, M. 1979, p. 121, & 122)

Obviously, Miss Derrick was everything that Sybilla rebelled against being.  In both media the latter was represented as a strong character, outspoken, intolerant of the attitudes of society towards the downtrodden generally, and women in particular.  She was treated as an adult, expected to marry well to help the family , yet sent to her room like a child as punishment for a prank.  Another example of this dual treatment was evident in the ultimatum she was indirectly given – marry Harry Beecham or be sent to the M’Swat’s farm as a governess/servant.  She was expected to make a decision about marriage, but not allowed to make a decision against going to the M’Swat’s.  Virtually all other decisions were made for her by her mother or hergrandmother.

Sybilla’s character in the book text was more confused and unpredictable, less outwardly loving and maternal than in the movie.  In the book she hated being touched by a man, resisted all attempts at being kissed – one very violently with a whip, which  symbolized power throughout the story, and male dominance over female – and yielded antiseptically to a parting kiss from Harry when he left, broke – it was accepted, but not enjoyed.  Yet in the movie she was shown romping in the parlour in a man’s arms, and pillow-fighting in the meadows, openly trying to provoke Harry into taking some form of action.  When he finally did she rebuffed him, as mentioned, with a whip.

Later when Harry came to claim her, in the movie she turned him down compassionately, and maternally kissed his forehead.  Yet in the book this scene was much more passionate.  In answer to one of his many pleas she said bitterly, “. . . leave me; go and marry the sort of woman you ought to marry. . . . A good conventional woman, who will do the things she should at the proper time.” (Franklin, M. 1979, p. 221 & 222)  There was no farewell kiss – instead, she wrote him a note which she gave to him as he was leaving the next day.

At this point in the narrative, I as a reader lost some sympathy for Sybilla.  Admittedly she was very confused – she seemed to want to marry him, yet resisted, believing “I am not good enough to be your wife, Hal, or that of any man” (Franklin, M. 1979, p. 222)  To me this statement was hypocritical – she did to him what she resented being done to her – she made a decision on his behalf.  In the movie, however, the audience’s sympathy is maintained as her reason for not marrying was quite clear – she wished to remain independent, and believed that by marrying and joining her life with someone else’s she would lose this independence.

As a sixteen year old would probably be, Sybilla was very confused, and constantly referred to her egotism, which she didn’t want to become sublimated to a man.  Her egotism seemed to be a lifeline – a means of preventing her from becoming just another woman in society if she could manage to keep it intact.  In the movie egotism was not mentioned, her character was much clearer, less confused and more mature, and her objectives in life were more defined.

The movie ended with her standing at the gate in the peaceful and greening landscape.  A feeling of hope for the future and contentment with choices made was the overriding effect.  Sybilla seemed to be finally at peace with herself.  Although the ending of the book was similar, I was left with a feeling of dissatisfaction for things left unresolved.

In conclusion I believe that the differences in the construction of the female characters between the book text and the movie text were important and justified.  The film-makers needed to portray the story that Miles Franklin wrote in a believable and balanced fashion.  An audience would not really credit Sybilla’s mother as being as hard as her daughter depicted her, and it was important that this audience be kept in sympathy with Sybilla.

The Directors, by being able to cut from scene to contrasting scene, to make their visual and audible media work for them, were able to show in moments what Miles Franklin took pages to describe.  After all, they had a limited time in which to tell their captive audience a story that could be read over any period of time at liesure.  So despite needing to compress scenes, omit characters, events and symbols ( e.g. the power symbol of the whip), the Directors were able to portray the essential elements of the book – in particular the struggle needed to attain womanly independence in the Victorian society of turn-of-the-century Australia.

(C) Jud House 28/08/2005


Clancy, Jack  Bringing Franklin up to Date: The Film of My Brilliant Career Jack Clancy in ALS, Vol 9, 1979-80, pp 363-367

Coleman, Verna (1981). Miles Franklin in America: Her Unknown (Brilliant) Career. London: Angus and Robertson.

Franklin, Miles Childhood at Brindabella, My First Ten Years  Sydney: Arkon (paperback), Angus and Robertson.

Franklin, Miles (1979).  My Brilliant Career.  Sydney: Arkon  (paperback), Angus and Robertson.

Franklin, Miles (1981).  The End of My Career.  New York: St.  Martin’s Press.

Mathew, Ray (1963) Miles Franklin, Australian Writers and Their Work series, Melbourne: Lansdown.

McInherny, Miles Franklin, My Brilliant Career and the Female Tradition, ALS, Vol 9, 1979-80, pp 275-285.

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CINDERELLA:  Selected variants from different historical periods and the way in which stories reflect the culture out of which they arise.

Although hundreds of variants exist of the fairy tale, CINDERELLA, I have chosen, for expediency and as representative of four historical periods, the following versions (course hand-outs):  THE CHINESE CINDERELLA, 850 AD; Charles Perrault’s  CENDRILLON and d’Aulnoy’s FINETTE CENDRON, contrasting pair, late C17th; Grimm Bros.’ CINDERELLA, C19th; and Disney’s CINDERELLA, C20th. The pairing of the seventeenth century stories will provide a clearer picture of the culture of their era.

There were variants of THE CHINESE CINDERELLA story, but although the heroine’s name may change from Shih Chieh to Yeh-Shen, the components of the fish, magic bones, and slipper remained a constant.  There were many elements within the story  which disclosed historical cultural information to the reader, who was informed in the opening paragraph that the story was set in pre-dynastical times, among cave-dwelling country and island folk.  These were ruled by a chieftain, Shih Chieh’s father, while the more military and powerful of them are ruled directly by a king.

Culturally the reader learns that the status of women was very low in China at that time.  The women were under the control of the patriarch/father, or when he was no longer there – as in Shih Chieh’s case – the matriarch/step-mother, unquestioningly carrying out designated tasks.  The women were bound together in their subordination to the patriarchy, just as their feet were bound.

Thus in China, where the “lotus foot,” or tiny foot was such a sign of a woman’s worth that the custom of foot-binding developed, the Cinderella tale lays emphasis on an impossibly small slipper as a clue to   the heroine’s identity. (Yolen, 1977, p. 298)

The beauty of tiny feet was only in the eye of the male beholder.  And when a king decided to marry a woman – in this case, Shih Chieh – it was as good as done.  Chinese women were passive, and compliant:   “when he [the king] demanded to see her, she appeared ….” and “the king bore her away to his kingdom to be his wife.” (Hume, 1962, p. 2)  There was no suggestion of choice for Shih Chieh concerning her future.

Shih Chieh was depicted as “not only beautiful … [but] clever, as well, and always happy” (Hume, 1962, p. 1) – when her father was alive.  She showed herself to be obedient to her step-mother’s demands, no matter how unreasonable or dangerous.  Yet she was secretive  – she hid the fish in her room, then in the pond.  Later, when the bones had also been secretly buried, she decked herself in azure gown and gold slippers and, disobediently, followed her stepmother and stepsister to the festival.

Thus the reader sees that she was not completely passive, though obviously subordinate, economically, to her stepmother and step-sister.  However, her degree of self-help is founded on the aid rendered to her by the ‘magic’ fish and the ‘angelic’ male stranger who advised her.

Finally, Shih Chieh was incidental to the ending of the story, which was primarily about the fish and the slipper.  But her beauty, passivity and luck was rewarded by marriage to the king, who, due to greed, lost the magic bones.

In late seventeenth century France, Charles Perrault and Marie Catherine d’Aulnoy wrote their versions of the Cinderella story – Perrault’s being the most well-known.  At that time it was fashionable to take oral folk tales, previously and traditionally told by older women to young girls to prepare them for and assist them over the turbulent initiation into adulthood, and transcribe them to written tales for the entertainment and formal socialization of the aristocracy, and Bourgeoisie, both adults and children.

Perrault’s CENDRILLON/ CINDERELLA OR THE LITTLE GLASS SLIPPER was written tongue-in-cheek, not to be taken seriously,

primarily intended for adult reading, as [he] had made obvious; they were a reflection of the artificial world of court life, though each story was dutifully provided with a moral. (Whalley, 1980, p.141)

He introduced into the tale a godmother, an extra stepsister, animals, a magicked pumpkin, and a time limit set on Cinderella’s ball-attendance.  While the fish was omitted from the tale, he made much of the slipper motif.

Cinderella was shown as obedient, compliant, passive and beautiful, only able to get her prince with the assistance of her god-mother, and her magic.  Her beauty of face and nature were rewarded, including her forgiveness of her stepsisters’ unkindness and ill-treatment of her.

Cinderella was as good as she was beautiful and she brought her two sisters to live in the palace, and they were married on the self-same day to two great lords at the court. (Perrault, 1697, p. 100 – Hand/Out)

The characteristics of “gentility, grace, and selflessness” Perrault considered socially acceptable for “the well-bred seventeenth century female” (Yolen , 1977,p. 296), and he promoted these in his tales.  With the right attributes a woman could attain her highest reward – that of marriage, and financial security – essential for women in that insecure period.

Contrary to Perrault’s version was that of d’Aulnoy, FINETTE CENDRON, which incorporated elements of other tales, such as the Cyclops and Minotaur Greek myths, Hansel and Gretel, and Jack and the Beanstalk.  A much longer, more complex story than Perrault’s, it involved the journey, both actual and symbolic, of the heroine towards maturity (a right-of-passage story) and marital security.  As a female writer, d’Aulnoy presented a different picture of women at that time.  Her heroine, Finette Cendron, was “the best-hearted girl in the world” (d’Aulnoy in Zipes, 1989, p. 404), obliging, considerate, mindful of customs, loyal, virtuous, practical, grateful, not greedy, accepting of advice (by her godmother), secretive, gullible, vulnerable, resourceful, courageous, ingenious, lucky, obedient, forgiving, polite with good manners, possessed of common sense, (these attributes are supported throughout the text) and, finally, was able to recognize and use her power to restore her family’s fortune.

And when she told them the names of her father and mother, they recognized them as sovereigns of dominions they had conquered.  When they informed Finette of this fact, she immediately vowed that she would not consent to marry the prince until they had restored the estates of her father. (d’Aulnoy in Zipes, 1989,pp. 415 -416)

Finette was a multi-facetted, three-dimensional character, able to control not only her own destiny but that of her family, unlike Perrault’s Cendrillon who had few attributes/facets and was one-dimensional.

D’Aulnoy’s story was to be taken seriously, demonstrating to readers, paricularly girls, that they could control their own destinies, even if marriage and financial security was still the ultimate reward.  Her version touched on issues of subordination – women to men, younger to older, lower class to upper class – and that of abandonment, a common economical occurrence at that time.  She showed, through Finette, that women were actually far removed from the ideal that Perrault strove to enforce.

In the Grimm Bros.’ version of CINDERELLA the heroine was portrayed as passively submissive to the step-mother and step-sisters.  The idea of mother-protection was introduced into the story, in the form of a magic tree planted on her mother’s grave, with a little white bird that “threw down to her what she wished for” (Grimm,1975, p.122).  Cinderella was shown to be a little more human, weeping when sad, begging her step-mother to allow her to go to the festival, and endeavouring to complete the allotted tasks, no matter how impossible they seemed in order to do so.  The Grimm brothers also introduced the complicity of the birds, without whose assistance Cinderella would have remained in her subjugated position.

Cinderella was rescued from her degradation by the intervention of the King’s son who did not give up his search until he had found the true wearer of the shoe.  In this story the depiction of self-mutilation that the step-sisters undertook in order to get their prince, was a reflection, if perhaps an exaggeration, of the lengths a woman would, and should go to, to achieve married status.  The tale ended with reward for the heroine for her goodness, beauty, and patience, and with punishment for the step-sisters of blindness meted out by the birds.

Writing in the nineteenth century, the Grimm brothers wanted to use their tales to educated and socialize children, who were to take as their role models the heroes and heroines of the tales.  They were precursors for the perfect Aryan race, where all were blonde and blue-eyed, the women passive and domesticated, and the men strong, clever, and in control of society.  Their message of reward and punishment was just as important as that of the desired character traits for male and female children.

Disney’s story, CINDERELLA, was a composite of Perrault’s and the Grimms’ stories, with some twentieth century bowdlerization and romanticism added.  As Disney’s version was created visually simultaneously with the script, his illustrations depicted his notions of the perfect female character, as did the text.  His Cinderella was shown as “the sweetest and most beautiful girl in the world.” (Disney, 1965, p. 193)  She had blonde hair, and blue eyes, and a shapely figure under her tattered gown and apron.  Disney utilised the animal element, not merely for magical effect with the pumpkin, but as companions for Cinderella in her lonely kitchen and attic, to show just how loveable she was – even all the animals and birds loved her.  “She made little clothes for them, and gave them all names.” (Disney, 1965 p. 193)

In Disney’s version the stepsisters were portrayed as ugly, physically as well as in character – they were rude, sarcastic, lazy, and jealous of Cinderella’s beauty.  The step-mother’s cruelty was shown by the way she treated Cinderella as a servant, the way she spoke to her and locked her in the attic.  The only violence in Disney’s version was the scene where the sisters snatched the decorations from Cinderella’s first gown.  Sympathy for his heroine had to be established in the reader/viewer, but not at the expense of frightening the children/audience.

Disney retained the godmother, but made her a fairy to help explain her magic to a twentieth century audience.  He retained the slipper and its loss, and the search by the prince for the owner of the slipper.  He borrowed from Grimm the idea of the tasks to be completed before his heroine could have permission to attend the ball, although he updated them to house-cleaning tasks rather than the picking out of grains from the ashes.

Up the stairway she carried breakfast trays for her stepmother and her two lazy stepsisters.  And down she came with a basket of mending, some clothes to wash, and a long list of jobs to do for the day. (ibid, p. 195)

The ‘Happily ever after’ ending belonged entirely to Cinderella, and to any young girl who was as sweet of nature and beautiful of face and figure as she.  The message was clear – if a girl is prepared to be these things, and be patient and wait, then one day her prince would also come and reward her with marriage and security.  The message for boys was that

[t]he goal of every prince (every man) [was] fulfilled by a beautiful, long-haired young woman, with a fair complexion, especially if she is connected to a castle, money, and power. (Zipes, 1986, pp. 160 – 161)

Throughout the Cinderella versions the message has remained the same – except for d’Aulnoy’s version, which even so still ended in marriage and security.

In the early to mid-twentieth century women were still not in control of their own destinies.  They were considered subordinate to men and to each other, both economically and generationally.  A woman’s place was in the home, doing housework and taking care of the family – child-minding.  She was to be protected by her male/father/husband/son, and be patient, hard-working, uncomplaining, virtuous, sweet, loveable, and if possible as beautiful as cosmetics would make her.  Disney reflects and upholds these attributes with his version of Cinderella, although at the time he produced it he was merely reflecting the ‘normal’ society in which he lived.

All these versions have done just that, while retaining and modifying the original to suit the changes in their societies’ attitudes and their own particular views and biasses, regarding the behaviour of both sexes within these societies.  The authors

retained (or inserted) [various elements into their tales] because … [as] narrators, [they] instinctively or unconsciously, felt their literary ‘significance’. Even where a prohibition in a fairy story is guessed to be derived from some taboo practised long ago, it has been preserved in the later stages of the tale’s history because of the great mythical significance of prohibition.  (Tolkien, 1990,p. 142)

Despite its historical setting, the actual historical period and culture of the written tale is textually obvious.

(C) Jud House  19/08/2006 & 7/01/2013


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