Department of English Seminar: Meg Brayshaw
Department of English seminar:
Meg Brayshaw, University of Sydney
Aqueous Poetics: Imagining Modern Sydney in Women’s Writing of the 1930s
In Australia, the period between the two world wars saw the publication of a number of novels that depicted and debated the multiple and often combative discourses of modernity that flowed through the country’s first and most populous urban centre, Sydney. Drawing examples from Christina Stead’s Seven Poor Men of Sydney (1934), Eleanor Dark’s Waterway (1938) and the lesser known Jungfrau by Dymphna Cusack (1936), I argue that this generation of women writers pioneered a distinctly Australian, modern urban poetics that is best described as aqueous. Responding to Sydney as a dynamic estuarine environment, these writers mobilise water as location and literary device, infusing the modern city’s spaces and processes with productively aqueous qualities of changeability and circulation, unsettlement and motility. Reading this aqueous poetics of Sydney against the narrative of progress epitomised by the contemporaneous opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sesquicentenary celebrations, this paper argues that in contradistinction to this narrative, the novels present an Australian urban modernity of material emplacement in an unpredictably watery sphere, where history settles and sediments, multiple ideological schemas flow into one another, and relations between bodies, space and power generate constant contestation.
Seminar Room 226
John Woolley Building (A20)
The University of Sydney