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A Handwritten Modern Classic, by Finola Moorhead.

March 23, 2014

A Handwritten Modern Classic, by Finola Moorhead.  Spinifex Press (2013), Edition: 2, Paperback, 86 pages.


Finola Moorhead is my favorite lesbian writer, and I felt I needed to read something by her for the Australian Women Writers Transgender/Lesbian month.  Lesbian writers are varied, with some showing little of their sexuality in their writings, but Moorhead makes being a lesbian central, especially in her more recent books.  She is the author of my all-time favorite novel about lesbians, Remember the Tarantella, which I have previously read and reviewed.  Link to it here.  Like most of Moorhead’s writing, Tarantella challenges neat categorization.  It is not a fantasy or utopian novel, but a vision of what lesbian life could be for women as individuals and the global community which nurtures them.  Men and the rest of the world are present, but at the edges of their lives.   Even for a non-lesbian like myself, the book rekindled my dream of what feminism might achieve.

 Moorhead is never an easy author to read, especially if you prefer writing that is clear, linear, and conventional.  She is a very creative and innovative author who structured Tarantella with her own unique scheme.  I found I grasped what she was saying best if I let myself be swept along by her words and the emotions they inspired.  Sometimes in the past, I have misinterpreted her.  But that is irrelevant compared to what I gained from reading her words and re-imaging the world through her perspective.

 Although Tarantella is a relatively recent book, Moorhead wrote A Handwritten Modern Classic in 1977.  Like many at the time, she was involved with various public protests as well as with developing her writing style.  This book is a compilation of her thoughts and definitions during two specific weeks of her life and is full of spontaneity.  It is literately a visual reproduction of what she wrote by hand; meaning that the reader must figure out what words are before addressing their meaning.  Each day, Moorhead wrote about a variety of topics ranging from what was happening on her street to defining what it means to be political.  Little is said that is explicitly feminist or lesbian other than comments about the woman she loves.  I was particularly drawn to her statements about what it means to be a writer and her view of her craft.

I must write like this—full of flowing, doubting, blown ribbons, the shreds of my romantic nature gently structured like a cobweb foundation.  If all my attachments were blowing in the wind, if it were severed, I’d be free.  Free and full of envy.

She irritably rejects bad art as propaganda, created for private goals.

A piss on rotten art.

The realisation of good art is a thrill, it’s a help & recharges the creative & imaginative energy: this is generally good.


 In this book, Moorhead seldom writes in organized paragraphs, often resorting instead to lists of definitions or brief related statements.

What is written is not always what is read.

What is written might never be read.

What is read might never be understood.

What is understood is never forgotten.

What is remembered in words might easily be forgotten.

What is understood is never just words.

Such words help me understand the power I find in her words and why I find her unforgettable.

 I strongly recommend A Handwritten Modern Classic to all readers. And I also recommend Remember the Tarantella to anyone who has not read it, especially to those who identify themselves as feminist, lesbian, or simply curious about what it means to be human.


I consider Moorhead to be a lesbian writer, deeply interested and committed to women generally.  I do not know if she would define herself as transgendered as defined by this challenge.

In my quotations, I have reproduced Moorhead’s spelling and punctuation.


4 Comments leave one →
  1. March 26, 2014 5:48 am

    A great review, Marilyn, and thanks for reviewing Finola’s book for this month’s challenge! I’ve added her to my TBR list (on your recommendation I’m also halfway through Benang, and have finished The Swan Book – reviews to follow).

    • March 30, 2014 12:30 pm

      Thank YOU for arranging this month’s challenge. What else do I need to do to be eligible for a free book?
      I really appreciate what you do for AWW about diversity and how much you include in its definition. Keep up the good work–and your own writing.

      • April 2, 2014 7:23 am

        Thanks Marilyn! I’m writing the round up post tomorrow morning of the books that have been reviewed – yours included! I’ve also put Tarantella on my TBR list.


  1. ‘Writing in the Light’: Roundup of Queer/Lesbian Australian Women Writers | Australian Women Writers Challenge

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