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Lady Bridget in the Never Never Land, by Rosa Praed.

April 16, 2012

Lady Bridget in the Never Never Land,  by Rosa Praed. Thorsons (1987), Paperback, 352 pages
Obtained from Guttenberg and read on my Nook

A marvelous, old-fashioned novel, set in the Australian outback and full of universal themes of love, disappointment and loss.

A plot summary only trivializes this book, but here it is.  Biddy, an aristocratic, but poor Irish woman, and Colin, an upstanding but somewhat narrow man of the Australian bush, fall in love and marry.  Very different in background and values, both are strong individuals confident in their own beliefs.  Faced with multiple crises in the bush, known as Never Never Land, neither can live up to the other’s idealized dreams, and they only hurt each other.  Their love continues, but neither is able to give what the other needs.   Praed tells their story with fine sensibility and psychological insight.  At times the narrative is predictable, but often the novel is full of suspense.

Praed published this book in 1915 while living in England, but she had grown up in Australia and draws heavily on her own life and that of her mother there.  The Wikipedia article about her is full of incidents from her life that appear in Lady Bridgett.  She is a powerfully descriptive writer and her book is full of Australian birds, animals and people.  Even more, she powerfully conveys the landscape of the outback, especially the flat plains and emptiness of the landscape near Colin and Biddy’s head station.  With Praed’s description, the massive drought they endure is a major force in the story.

Unusually for her time, Praed shows strong sympathy for the blacks whose lands were being taken over by the British.  Biddy’s willingness to view them as humans is a trigger point for disagreement between her and her husband.  Biddy is even willing to compare the love of a black couple for each other to the love she and her husband share, an unthinkable idea for him.  Chinese and Malaysian workers and labor organizers are also part of the story.   While Praed does not treat non-white people with the level of equality expected today, her recognition of them makes a powerful statement.

I had never heard of Rosa Praed until Melissa Watts@ literati mentioned her on International Women’s Day.   Thank you, Melissa, for introducing her to me.  Now I am off to find some more of Praed’s books available online.

Lady Bridgett in Never Never Land receives my hearty recommendation as a wonderfully engaging comfort book, as means of exploring a time and place unknown for many of us, and as a glimpse in how human beings survive and find ways to love.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. April 18, 2012 12:19 am

    Hi Marilyn, Thanks so much for your review. I’ve been hoping someone would review Rosa Praed. She’s one early Australian author that I know very little about. I must track her work down. It’s gratifying to know that she had respect for Australian indigenous peoples – and staggering to think it took till 1967 till the constitution was changed to give them the vote!

  2. April 19, 2012 2:53 am

    Hi Marilyn, I’m so glad that you enjoyed the novel. I came across it when writing my thesis which looked at the role that the Hornet Bank Massacre played in Praed’s work (her family was involved in the massacre when she was a child and it keeps cropping up in her work). Praed has an interesting place in Australian literary history. A woman publishing novels was rare, but discussing race relations, marriage equality, unionism and the white Aus policy is amazing. It’s a shame we have cannonised our male writers so much that there is little space for Praed’s memory. I’m really pleased that my comments inspired you to seek her out. Might need to get myself an ereader too.

    • April 19, 2012 12:04 pm

      Melissa,

      Again, thanks. I have downloaded three more of Praed’s novels and look forward to reading them. I am particularly interested in her treatment of non-Anglos and social divisions generally. Australia has done a great job of digitializing older books and making them available free online. And Spinifex is willing to give out ebooks for reviewing. I was reluctant to get my Nook. I’d rather read real books anytime, but my Nook has meant I can read some I would never see otherwise.

      I know nothing about Australian history or literature, and have little context for what Praed is saying. I don’t even know what the Hornet Bank Massacre was. Do you have any suggestions for something quick and focused more on people than politics?

      Yes, the really interesting women writers have gotten ignored traditionally. I am glad that the feminist movement has recovered some of them. And glad you focused on Praed.

      Marilyn

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