Women reading 1936: a creative writer’s reading of Return to Coolami, Jungfrau, and The Australian Women’s Weekly
AuthorGildfind, Helen Catherine
AffiliationArts - School of Culture and Communication
Document TypePhD thesis
CitationsGildfind, H. C. (2012). Women reading 1936: a creative writer’s reading of Return to Coolami, Jungfrau, and The Australian Women’s Weekly. PhD thesis, Arts - School of Culture and Communication, The University of Melbourne.
Access StatusOpen Access
© 2012 Dr. Helen Catherine Gildfind
This thesis focuses on three texts that were published in 1936: Dymphna Cusack’s novel Jungfrau, Eleanor Dark’s novel Return to Coolami, and that year’s fifty-two issues of The Australian Women’s Weekly. Cusack’s and Dark’s novels form part of today’s Australian feminist literary canon and are typically understood with the benefit of historical hindsight, especially in regards to their authors’ biographies. Furthermore, academics often turn back to these novels and writers in order to elaborate their own political and cultural agendas and theories. In this thesis, I argue that the original readers of these novels would never have read them in such ways and that such analyses, whilst fascinating and valuable, seldom discuss the problem of their own anachronism. In order to benefit my own and others’ reading and fiction writing practices, I wish to imagine what these novels meant to the audience for whom they were originally crafted. Influenced by New Historicism’s ‘anecdotal’ approach to history – where canonical literary texts are ‘defamiliarised’ through their juxtaposition against various contemporaneous, non-canonical texts – I use The Australian Women’s Weekly to create an original, evidence-based ‘window’ of insight into Australian life and culture in 1936. Within this context I speculate upon the ‘imaginative universes’ of Australian women in order to gain new insight into Dark’s and Cusack’s novels’ original meanings. In the first part of this thesis I discuss my methodology and analyse the novels’ original reception. In the second part of this thesis, I contemplate reading experiences from the past by reconstructing the ‘World of the Weekly in 1936’. Whilst I cannot claim to avoid anachronistic and subjective readings in this thesis, I have assiduously attempted to limit both by allowing the themes in the Weekly to lead my interpretations, by anchoring all of my interpretations in primary sources, and by exploring how my writerly movement between different rhetorical modes can expose and problematise the borders between the time-bound reader and the time-travelling text.
KeywordsEleanor Dark; Dymphna Cusack; Return to Coolami; Jungfrau; Australian Women's Weekly; New Historicism; Australian women writers; Australian literature; Australian history; creative writing
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