Mandy Treagus is of Welsh, Scottish and Cornish descent, and lives on the unceded lands of the Peramangk peoples in South Australia. She is Associate Professor in English and Creative Writing at the University of Adelaide, where she teaches literature, culture, and visual studies, with interests in critical race and whiteness, gender and sexuality. She researches Pacific, Victorian and Australian literature and culture and is currently President of both the Australian Association for Pacific Studies and the Australasian Victorian Studies Association. Her publications include Empire Girls: The Colonial Heroine Comes of Age, and the co-edited collections Changing the Victorian Subject and Anglo-American Imperialism and the Pacific: Discourses of Encounter.
Alex Sutcliffe is an MPhil student in the Department of English and Creative Writing at the University of Adelaide. Alex’s research has focused on literary modernism in Australia, particularly on Patrick White and the place of The Aunt’s Story (1948) in his work.
Nicholas Jose is Emeritus Professor of English and Creative Writing at The University of Adelaide and Adjunct Professor in the Writing and Society Research Centre, Western Sydney University, where he is chief investigator in the research project ‘Other Worlds: Forms of World Literature’. He has published seven novels, including Paper Nautilus (1987), The Custodians (1997), The Red Thread (2000) and Original Face (2005), and three collections of short stories. His non-fiction includes Chinese Whispers, Cultural Essays (1995) and an acclaimed memoir, Black Sheep: Journey to Borroloola (2002). As an essayist and scholar, he has written on Australian and world literature, including Chinese literature. He was general editor of the Macquarie PEN Anthology of Australian Literature (2009, published by Norton as The Literature of Australia). His most recent publication, as co-editor, is Antipodean China: Reflections on Literary Exchange (2021).
The quotations from The Story of an African Farm (1883) that Patrick White chooses as epigraphs to the first and last sections of The Aunt’s Story (1948) signal Olive Schreiner’s importance to him. The Aunt’s Story is a seminal novel for White and in Australian literature. The novel arrived with the author’s decision to return to Australia after an extended sojourn in London, travel in Europe and America, and war service in North Africa where he met his Cairo-born life partner, Manoly Lascaris. The story of Theodora Goodman’s journey from an Australian farm through the chaos of Europe between the wars to spiritual abjection/exaltation in New Mexico shadows White’s own: the singular soul in quest of communion. Schreiner is kindred, a beacon. Our essay proposes to revisit the presence of Schreiner in White’s work – often noted by scholars, seldom explored. To do so we reconsider the publication and reception of Olive Schreiner’s work in Australia and its reading by Australians in the half-century preceding White. The transnational turn in literary studies and recent scholarly work on networks of circulation of texts and alternative literary modernisms offer new lines of approach here. We note, for example, White’s relationship with his ground-breaking precursor Henry Handel Richardson (Ethel Richardson, 1870-1946), who admired Schreiner and whose own first novel Maurice Guest (1908), concerning a provincial young woman’s passionate struggle for artistic and emotional realisation in cosmopolitan Europe, teasingly references Schreiner’s ‘fertilising novel’ (Dorothy Green, Ulysses Bound 1973, p. 177). Prior to Richardson, Catherine Martin’s An Australian Girl (1890) took courage from Schreiner’s example of Lyndall in the depiction of a colonial heroine grappling with the major philosophical questions of the day. Charting the circulation of African Farm should elucidate both the importance of Schreiner’s work to the development of Australian modernism and how the figures and concerns of her work were transformed in this process of circulation.