Introduced by Florence James
"'Women are cursed all right. If you wither on the virgin stem you go all pathological; if you go off the deep end you get some foul disease; and if you marry and have dozens of young you die of exhaustion.'
"These seem to be the options for women in 1936, but Eve, Marc and Thea are determined - in their very different ways - to cut a place for themselves in the world. Eve is an obstetrician; Thea, contempating an MA, has an affair with Professor Glover; Marc, thorougly modern, is a social worker with a special interest in delinquent children. As Eve and Marc watch the progress of Thea's affair the differences between them emerge.
"Dymphna Cusack's novel is the first psychological exploration of women's sexuality and aspirations in Australia. Published in 1936 it broke new ground in dealing with issues that had previously been taboo in women's writing. And, it evokes the charm and innocence of Sydney in the years preceding world War II."
Thea savored the word carefully, till suddenly it ceased to have any meaning at all. Reality? What was reality? Easy enough for Eve to talk of reality, but could she define it? Even her own voice seemed unreal as she asked "What is reality?" There was a curious farawayness about it, as though it were only an echo of all the voices down the ages that had asked the same question. Eve's crisp answer as she bent over her pile of notes brought her back with a start.
"We needn't go into philosophical definitions now. For practical purposes you know what reality is as well as I do; and you know what I mean by saying you're out of touch with reality."
Thea settled down further among the cushions and puffed a cloud of smoke towards the Mona Lisa that watched her from across the room. The word ran 'around her mind like the smoke drifting across the room in thin grey spirals: Reality. Which was real? Eve bent over her notes or Mona Lisa gazing inscrut- ably down on them? She felt in some curious way nearer to the quiet, dark-pictured face than to Eve.
Through the haze of smoke and the shaded glow of the reading-lamp Eve was strangely unsubstantial. Her peaked face under its close pale cap of hair lost all definition; she was melting into the shadow, fading with the smoke, her eyes lost under their dropped lids. Only her strong white hands were real, busied with their unceasing correction and annotation.
First Paragraph from the Introduction:
This new edition of Jungfrau, Dymphna Cusack's first published novel, is fifty years overdue. It was never reprinted after the first edition in 1936, and I have long wanted to see it take its rightful place among the early novels of that remarkable group of Australian women writers published in the 1930s between the great depression and the Second World War: Katharine Susannah Prichard, M. Barnard Eldershaw, Eleanor Dark, Christina Stead and Kylie Tennant to name a few
Jungfrau first came to public notice when it took second place to Kylie Tennant's Tiburon in the Sydney Bulletin's S. H. Prior 1935 Novel Competition, but publication the following year was greeted by shocked disapproval in spite of its being highly praised by at least two serious critics. Frank Dalby Davison, editor of the Bulletin Red Page wrote: "It stands alone, because it is the first Australian novel to take the liberated young woman as its theme." And Stuart Howard, influential critic of the Australian Women's Weekly prophesied: "Fifty years hence, the publication of a novel such as Dymphna Cusack's Jungfrau will not be of such importance as it is today ... Australians will no longer regard, with a sense of shock, any book which deals with contemporary city life, and with the young modern people of our capital cities ... Jungfrau is a noteworthy addition to the growing list of Australian novels, because it does deal with these things, and because, as well, it has craftsmanship and fine understanding of the problems and reactions of the young woman of 1936."
From the Penguin paperback edition, 1989.
This page and its contents are copyright © 2002 by Perry Middlemiss, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.Return to Dymphna Cusack Page.
Last modified: February 11, 2001.