Academic journal article Hecate

Waterway: The Multilayered City: History, Economics and Dream

Academic journal article Hecate

Waterway: The Multilayered City: History, Economics and Dream

Article excerpt

Waterway: The Multilayered City; History, Economics And Dream

Eleanor Dark wrote the beginning of Waterway in 1936 with her head full of the city on the water. She had just taken her son Michael to Manly for a few days. (Pam Brown asks, `and is there a Sydney beach called Womanly?') They went to the beach; they went to the movies to see Maedchen in Uniform.

Waterway began...nebulously with the word "fugue" and the idea of the harbour.(1)

It was the middle of what Eleanor Dark called the uneasy 30s. She was 34, and in mid-career. She'd published three novels already; now she had finished a fourth, Sun across the Sky (1937), and sent it to her new agents in London, Curtis Brown. Slow Dawning, her first novel, was published there in 1932. She preferred to forget it; she left it off lists of her books later, and called it a potboiler. (Her family teased her about it -- Slow Dawning, fast Dark.) The novel after it was a kind of quantum leap. Prelude to Christopher was the book that brought her literary recognition, as well as the occasion for making a stand against the imperialism of English publishers. She had sent it to the English agent who placed Slow Dawning for her, Farquharson, and he hadn't liked it (too confusing, moves around in time too much, and the heroine commits suicide in the end). She decided she wanted the book to come out in Australia, and sent it to P.R. Stephensen, who published it in Sydney in 1934. It brought her to the attention of Miles Franklin, and Nettie and Vance Palmer, and won her an ALS Gold Medal. But Stephensen went broke shortly afterwards, and her book, the one that was closest to her heart, disappeared. The next one, Return to Coolami (1936), was a novel for the market; she called it her novel with a Happy Ending. Collins published it in London, and Macmillan in the US. The reviewers liked it -- `perfectly modern, in its diction, in its form, in its psychological concept of character,' the Bulletin reviewer said.(2) She was a writer who could draw together strands of the popular and the literary. On the one hand, the influences of European modernism are visible in her interior monologues; on the other, her plots draw on elements of popular fiction, romance novels.

In 1936, Eleanor Dark was living in Katoomba with Eric, their son Michael at the local school, and John, her stepson, at boarding school nearby. Her life was bound up with them, with domestic details as well as her novels -- her writing time and place encircled by housework, gardening, walks and camps in the bush, punctuated by the doctor's phone. But she had what she wanted, a certain amount of stability and harmony.

Her life was rooted in the Blue Mountains, but Waterway looks back to Sydney. It is her novel of the contemporary city, the only novel set wholly there. She would write about Sydney again, but a different city: Sydney in the days of early settlement, in the historical trilogy; the wartime city, with the lights blacked out and Japanese submarines in the harbour, in The Little Company (1945). Sydney was the city of her childhood; and that hadn't been particularly happy or easy. In 1923 she moved to Katoomba with Eric Dark, and she spent the rest of her life in the Blue Mountains. She would say she preferred the mountains to the coast. But `the red roofs and the quiet grey city' were `intimate and precious' to her, just as they were to Oliver Denning.(3)

Writing about the Harbour, she was mapping territory she knew: first at Mosman, where she lived with her grandmother and went to boarding school, where she climbed around the rocks and swam; then from the Watson's Bay end of Vaucluse where she lived later with her father Dowell O'Reilly and stepmother. Eleanor's mother died in 1914, and in 1917 Dowell married his English cousin Marie Miles, known as Molly, after a romance conducted by letters. They lived in a waterfront house called Benison. From their verandah, they watched the ferries come and go from the wharf at Watson's Bay. …

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