Academic journal article Hecate

Efflorescence: The Letters of Georgiana Molloy

Academic journal article Hecate

Efflorescence: The Letters of Georgiana Molloy

Article excerpt

`I never met with any one who so perfectly called forth and could sympathise with me in my prevailing passion for Flowers'(1) wrote Georgiana Molloy, one of the earliest settlers at Augusta in Western Australia, in the midst of her obsession for botanising. Her words were addressed to Captain James Mangles, an amateur botanist in London for whom she was collecting seeds and specimens of native flora. The letters she wrote to Mangles were strikingly different in tone and context to those she had penned to previous correspondents. In these she had described the life of exhausting hardship which greeted herself and her husband when they arrived in 1830. This article endeavours to account for such an alteration, exploring how Molloy became obsessed with botanising for Mangles and also with writing to him, to the point where she was seduced by writing. Yet it was not ordinary writing that ensnared her, but an erotic language that stemmed from the long-standing association between botany and sexuality. So deliberately crafted does her writing seem, in places, that Molloy's letters could be construed not only as a seduction by writing, but also a seduction of Mangles. It would have been in her interests to maintain Mangles' attention, for without him she would have little reason to further the botanising and writing that contributed so much pleasure to her life. At most, however, this ensnaring of Mangles' attentions could only have been a secondary consideration, for it was her sheer delight in botanising and writing that enabled Molloy to bloom.

Loneliness and hardship

Molloy wrote in despair to her friend Maggie Dunlop in Scotland: `My head aches. I have all the clothes to put away from the wash; baby to put to bed; make tea and drink it without milk as they shot our cow for a trespass; read prayers and go to bed beside sending off this tableful of letters.'(2) This account was one of many that showed how overwhelming Molloy found the primitive conditions at Augusta, the severe shortage of servants and her continuous pregnancies. Not only was Molloy overworked, she also suffered from a pervasive homesickness. She wrote to a friend, Helen Story in an unmistakable tone of desperation in 1833: `Oh! my dear and lovely Roseneath! My heart bleeds when I think of all the happy, celestial days I spent there...Oh! do come out! Oh! do come out!'(3) Her rare use of exclamation marks conveys a sense that her horror at the new country could not be contained in mere description -- it needed the emphasis of punctuation. She was also tormented by loneliness, as she protested to Maggie Dunlop: `How would you like to be three years in a place without a female of your own rank to speak to or to be with you whatever happened?'(4) Nor did she have anyone to engage her intellectually, and she later mentioned to Mangles that when she first arrived in the colony: `Nothing was heard of but Beef and Pork.'(5)

Her sense of alienation and loneliness was no doubt heightened by the strangeness of the landscape. It made an unwelcoming impression upon her when soon after she arrived at Augusta her first child was born, only to die a few days later. It was three years before she could mention the incident to Helen Story:

language refuses to utter what I experienced when mine died in my arms in this dreary land...I thought I might have had one little bright object left me to solace all the hardships and privations I endured and have still to go through...Its grave, though sodded with British clover, looks so singular and solitary in this wilderness, of which I can scarcely give you an idea.(6)

Here, as Delys Bird has noted, the `fracturing effects of emigration and grief'(7) had a silencing effect upon Molloy. Emigrant women, when they lacked `a secure, experiental frame of reference...typically turned to the familiar English countryside for comparison',(8) and hence the only allusion Molloy could make to her desolation was through a British plant -- language could not be mustered to describe the rest of the foreign `wilderness' to her friend. …

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