A Classic Year: 5.0 "The Chosen Vessel" by Barbara Baynton

"The Chosen Vessel" by Barbara Baynton is the first short story in this list of Australian classics, the first piece by a woman, and a major example of how the length of story is not necessarily a true indication of its long-term effect on a reader.

Baynton's story fits neatly into the Outback realism form that was prevalent in Australian letters in the 1890s. Where this story differs, however, is in its viewpoint of the woman on the land, rather than the more common drover/bushranger/miner subject. The young wife of the story lives in a small shack a day's walk from the nearest town. Her husband leaves each week for a nearby station in order to earn his wages and she is left on her own looking after her infant child. Despite her protests to her husband that she is being left in a very vulnerable state, she finds herself alone each week, trying to cope on her own and dreading the arrival of strangers on foot.

The first half of this story - which is short at only 8 pages - relates an incident involving the woman and an encounter with a tramp on the road. In the story's first publication in "The Bulletin" this comprised the full length of the piece, which was published under the title "The Tramp". The second half of the story deals with a Catholic voter riding into town to cast his vote in a local election. For most of the way through this second section it is difficult to see any connection between the two pieces, but that connection is definitely there. And it's this that gives the story its gothic power. Australian to its core, "The Chosen Vessel" is a disturbing story, beautifully written.

The story is available on Project Gutenberg Australia, though the link here is to the full etext of Bush Studies - you'll have to search through the text file for the story itself.
Barbara Baynton Wikipedia entry
Alison Croggon's review of a theatre production of the story - from November 2007.
Another review of the story.

The next four works in this Classic Year:
6. "The Man from Snowy River" by A.B. "Banjo" Paterson (1890)
7. "Nationality" by Mary Gilmore (1942)
8. "The Drover's Wife" by Henry Lawson (1892)
9. "Lilith" by Christopher Brennan (1898-1899)

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on February 18, 2008 4:35 PM.

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