A Classic Year: 8.0 "The Drover's Wife" by Henry Lawson

"The Drover's Wife" by Henry Lawson neatly fits into this list as a counter-point to Barbara Baynton's "The Chosen Vessel", which I looked at last week. In both stories, a lone woman living in the bush (with babe in arms in Baynton's story, and with four children in Lawson's) is menaced by an external force (Baynton: swagman, Lawson: snake) which threatens her existence, and that of her family. At the start of the story the woman - for she is never named, only "mother", "drover's wife", "she" and "this bushwoman" - is living in a deserted bush shack. Her husband is off working with sheep somewhere and she is alone with her children.

Bush all round--bush with no horizon, for the country is flat. No ranges in the distance. The bush consists of stunted, rotten native apple-trees. No undergrowth. Nothing to relieve the eye save the darker green of a few she-oaks which are sighing above the narrow, almost waterless creek. Nineteen miles to the nearest sign of civilization--a shanty on the main road.
It's a bleak existence, but one she has come to terms with. A snake appears and slithers under the house before the woman, her eldest son or her dog can catch it. The house is of split-slab construction and the woman is afraid that the snake will come into the house at night when they are all asleep and bite one of the children. So she puts the children to sleep on the kitchen table, sets the fire alight to draw out the snake into the warmth and sits waiting all night with the dog.

Lawson's story is told in simple prose and uses a neat framing device to explore the woman's life and circumstances. The lonely vigil allows the woman time to look back on her life - the highs and lows, the loneliness, and her hopes and fears. In six pages Lawson teases out a part of what makes this woman who she is: strong, capable and completely human. He does a wonderful job.

Lawson had his first work published in 1887 and this classic came from his pen only five years later. Previously better known as a poet, this story cemented his reputation as one of Australia's greatest writers. Its power hasn't diminished since it appeared in 1892.

The full text of this story is available, but you'll have to search through this page to find it
Australian Dictionary of Biography Lawson page
Wikipedia Lawson page
"Founders of our Literature" biography notes
Caricature by David Low
Caricature by Will Dyson
Photo of Lawson

The next four works in this Classic Year:
9. "Lilith" by Christopher Brennan (1898-1899)
10. Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner (1894)
11. The Getting of Wisdom by Henry Handel Richardson (1910)
12. "The Gentle Water-Bird" by John Shaw Neilson (1927)

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on February 25, 2008 9:24 PM.

Alexandra Adornetto Interview was the previous entry in this blog.

Australian Bookcovers #103 - The Fire at Ross's Farm by Henry Lawson is the next entry in this blog.

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