MACKELLAR, Isobel Marion Dorothea (1885-1968)
An archive of unpublished writings by Dorothea Mackellar, circa 1904 – 1932.
Twenty-four items of original typescript and manuscript material by Sydney writer Dorothea Mackellar (1885-1968), most dating to the 1920s and the latest to around 1932. With one exception, the items in the archive are all unpublished and their existence has presumably never been known to researchers of her work. Although most famous for her poem My Country, Mackellar had a supreme talent for prose writing, and her gift for language is in evidence throughout this archive which includes short stories, speeches and lectures, poetry, and literary criticism.
Mackellar had a privileged upbringing: she was privately educated and travelled widely when young, becoming fluent in several languages. Yet these writings convey a highly-developed sense of social justice. Of particular and constant concern for her were women’s rights issues, and her letter to the editor of The Sun newspaper in this archive highlights her fierce determination to make the public aware of the inequality inherent in the laws governing child custody and of the unacceptable “blind eye” so often turned toward domestic violence in this country. A related but more intellectual preoccupation of Mackellar was the analysis of how well (or more usually, how ineptly) male writers have depicted women in Western literature. Several pieces of writing in this archive deal this last topic.
CONTENTS OF THE ARCHIVE.
I. In a Prussian Children’s-Court. 11 pp, quarto, manuscript in ink; verso of last page inscribed by Mackellar in ink: Miss Mackellar, Hotel Jules, 85 Jermyn St, SW. Possibly written during the same 1904 visit to London in which Mackellar wrote My Country, this is clearly Mackellar’s account of her visit to a public court (in Berlin?) where she witnessed the trials of several children for minor offences. She describes the courtroom and proceedings in great detail and displays a deep empathy for the children. The experience made a strong impression on her: ” … not a minute was wasted, everything was businesslike and unhurried, and there was a complete absence of that austere formality which we are taught & associate with Prussian officialdom. The judge was like no-one so much as a father – a kind and understanding father who yet is not to be trifled with….” [Undated, circa 1904?].
II. Everywoman’s Hero. (vide “Ethel Dell’s hero”. The Outlook, April 15th). 5 pp, quarto, typescript; signed Dorothea Mackellar in ink at the foot of the last page. A discourse on the romantic hero and the comparative strengths of men and women, both in fiction and in real life. Written in response to an article on romantic novelist Ethel Dell. [Undated, 1920s?]
III. The Man’s Heroine. 9 pp, quarto, typescript; unsigned, but with Mackellar’s revisions in ink. A critique of the idealised literary heroine, as created by male writers. “The Man’s Heroine is beautiful, supremely attractive to every man she meets – which is not by any means the same thing – dishonourable, blindly loving, pettyminded, and disliked by all other women. This last characteristic is regarded as desirable not merely by novelists but by many other men, who seem not to realise that, as with their own sex, there are two main reasons (the same reasons as with men) for a woman’s being uniformly disliked by women. The first is that she is worthless except for the sex attraction which blurs such a multitude of sins, and the second and more usual is that her manners to women are consistently bad. These two characteristics are often, but by no means always, found in the same person.” Mackellar goes on to survey the heroines in Goldsmith (vapid), Dickens (one-dimensional), Thackeray (alive), and Shakespeare (deep, but still lacking full understanding), and compares them to Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (convincing). She concludes: “The man’s heroine, like the woman’s hero, is nearly always a dream, the embodiment of unfulfilled wishes – a dream, and at times a nightmare.” [Undated, 1920s?]
IV. At home: three to five-thirty. 4 pp, octavo, typescript; signed Dorothea Mackellar in ink at the foot of the last page. Satirical short story in which the protagonist, Joan, escapes from the inane conversation of vacuous Sydney socialite ladies during an “at home” party by concentrating on (and identifying with) the butterflies outside in the garden. A woman can have a colourful inner-life that is independent of the jejune and superficial aspects of society. [Undated, 1920s?]
V. A brother to Bombshell. 8 pp, octavo, typescript; typed signature of Dorothea Mackellar at the foot of the last page; also inscribed by her in ink on the first and last pages Miss Mackellar, Rosemont, Ocean St., Woollahra, Sydney, Australia. Short story about greyhound racing set in a fictional country town called Barrigal. [Undated, 1920s?]
VI. The Enterprising Dentist. 6 pp, foolscap folio, typescript; typed signature of Dorothea Mackellar at the foot of the last page; also inscribed by her in ink on the first and last pages Miss Mackellar, Rosemont, Ocean St., Woollahra, Sydney, Australia. Short story told by Jim Dillon, a “half-caste”, about a charlatan dentist who pays a visit to the fictional country town of Wondai. [Undated, 1920s?]
VII. The tears of the strong. 3 pp, quarto, typescript; signed Dorothea Mackellar in ink at the foot of the last page; also inscribed by her in ink on the first and last pages Miss Mackellar, Rosemont, Ocean Street, Woollahra, Sydney, Australia. A discourse on the emotional fragility of men. ‘The legend that men don’t cry is on a level with the one that women are afraid of mice’. Mackellar’s claim is that so-called men of action – the ‘strong’ in her title – are more capable of shedding tears than genteel specimens. The witty, conversational tone suggests this piece was written for a public speech. [Undated, 1920s?]
VIII. The Method of Humpty Dumpty. 5 pp, octavo, typescript; typed signature of Dorothea Mackellar at the foot of the last page. Humorous meditation on the use and meaning of words and phrases in everyday speech. Inspired, of course, by Lewis Carroll’s character. Appears to have been written for a public speech. [Undated, 1920s?]
IX. Lines on a Modern Theme. 1 p., foolscap folio, typescript; typed signature of Dorothea Mackellar at the foot of the last page. A poem that is a sardonic attack on liberated modernist female poets who fail to convince Mackellar that they have successfully replaced God with Pan; these self-proclaimed pagan spirits are in truth tame pretenders: “Poor flapper in torn fancy dress, / So conscious of her nakedness, / So careless of those mighty names! / Her would-be-wildest verse was sickly, / Acrawl with little secret shames / Flaunted in hope to kill them quickly. / She mentioned in her anxious joy / An unconvincing shepherd-boy, / And in two lines’ uncertain span / Blasphemed not Christ alone, but Pan.” The last line is: “She’s too refined for such coarse gods.” [Undated, 1920s?]
X. The Editor, The Sun. 7th October 1921. 2 pp, quarto, typescript on paper with embossed letterhead of Earlston, Wahroonga. Draft of letter (with Mackellar’s revisions in ink) written by Mackellar to the Sydney Sun newspaper with a witheringly sarcastic and eloquent response to a chauvinistic article about child custody and women’s rights in marriage. She refers to men as “hogs”, defending her use of that word by pointing out that it is merely the counterpart to “vixens”, the label which the writer had used to describe women who leave their husbands (despite the fact that they are probably the victims of domestic violence). Mackellar’s concluding words are wise and just and would probably strike a chord with most of us today: “In all legal matters that concern the sexes, the more sensitive, honourable and kindly person – sometimes it is the man, sometimes the woman – must inevitably be the one to suffer.” The letter was apparently not published.
XI. Not understood (Australian English Association. June 11th 1930.) 15 pp, foolscap folio, typescript; with Mackellar’s revisions in ink. This is Mackellar’s own final draft for her address at the Association’s rooms in Rowe Street, Sydney. Her speech deals with the misuse and misunderstanding of certain commonly-used phrases in the English language. It was published by the Association as: Not understood : an address delivered to the Australian English Association by Dorothea Mackellar, June 11th, 1930.
XII. The Speaking of English Verse. 7 pp, foolscap folio, typescript; with Mackellar’s revisions in ink. Mackellar’s own final draft for what was evidently a public lecture (at the Australian English Association?). She explains how Sir Mungo McCallum agreed with her stance when, at the age of nineteen, she had asked for his opinion on the subject: “‘Do I think poetry should be spoken as if it were prose?’ said he. ‘Certainly not – most certainly not. That is a very ancient heresy.'” [Undated, 1920s?]
XIII. Some Poems I Should Like to Have Written. 7 pp, quarto, typescript on paper with embossed letterhead of Rosemont, Ocean Street, Woollahra. Unsigned, but with Mackellar’s revisions in ink. Draft for a public lecture. Mackellar first alludes to her love of 16th and 17th century poetry, and then makes some remarks on the process of writing poetry. She then briefly analyses a number of poems which she greatly admires: by English writers Frances Cornford (1886-1960) and Redwood Anderson (1883-1964), the American Elinor Wylie (1885-1928), Scottish poet Violet Jacob (1863-1946), and Irish writer Patrick Chalmers (1872-1942). [Undated, 1920s?]
XIV. George Meredith. (Sketch for Janet’s girls.). 8 pp, foolscap folio, typescript. Unsigned, but with Mackellar’s revisions in ink. Biographical sketch of the “neo-Feminist” English writer, whom Mackellar found interesting for his exposure of the subjugation of women in Victorian England. [Undated, 1920s?]
XV. Spanish Literature. (Rough summary for Janet’s class.). 13 pp, foolscap folio, typescript. Unsigned, but with Mackellar’s revisions in ink. An erudite overview of the history of Spanish literature, possibly prepared as a guest lecture for a senior high school class or one at the University of Sydney. Mackellar was fluent in Spanish – although here she freely admits that she has to “plough through Catalan literature with a dictionary”. [Undated, 1920s?]
XVI. Notes for a Lecture on G. K. Chesterton’s Lepanto. 22.VIII.21. 9 pp, foolscap folio, typescript. Unsigned, but with Mackellar’s revisions in ink. Possibly prepared as a guest lecture for a class at the University of Sydney.
XVII. The Ballad of Saint Barbara / by G. K. Chesterton. 4 pp, foolscap folio, typescript. Unsigned, but with Mackellar’s revisions in ink. Possibly prepared as a guest lecture for a class at the University of Sydney. [Undated, but probably relating to the lecture on Lepanto given in August 1921].
XVIII. [Lecture on Joseph Conrad]. 8 pp, foolscap folio, typescript. Unsigned, but with Mackellar’s revisions in ink. Possibly prepared as a guest lecture for a class at the University of Sydney. Mackellar refers to Quiller Couch’s recently published On the Art of Reading, which dates this lecture to around 1921-22.
XIX. Foreign Travel by Dorothea Mackellar. Title sheet + 4 pp, quarto, typescript. Typed signature of Dorothea Mackellar at the foot of the last page. Short story about a bullock-driver from the bush, Jimmy Creed, who comes to Sydney for Christmas with his laconic “half-caste” mate Burton. It is Jimmy’s first time in the city since 1865, and its memory for him has been blurred by “long years of drifting and drink”; Burton has never seen the big smoke before. They visit the zoo, ride on a ferry, get drunk and visit an outfitter: “… they went home to Tardewah, having acquired enough material for conversation to last them at least seven years.” [Undated, 1920s?]
XX. Economy and the Art of Enjoyment. 3 pp, octavo, typescript; typed initials I. M. D. M. at the foot of the last page; with Mackellar’s revisions in ink. Draft for a speech (possibly at the Australian English Association). Mackellar proclaims herself “an expert” on enjoyment and declares: “The capacity for pleasure has not much to do with coin.” The point of her lighthearted speech is to demonstrate that money does not buy happiness. [Undated, 1920s?]
XXI. The Poseuse and the Pea. 2 pp, foolscap folio, typescript. Unsigned. Appears to be the draft for a public speech. In this witty riposte to Hans Christian Anderson’s The Princess and the Pea, Mackellar argues that the complaining protagonist was a “poseuse”: for a true princess would, in the morning, “have spared her hostess’ feelings by replying that she had slept beautifully, thank you, and (not lingering on the lie) that she found the outlook from the bedroom window charming. So restful”. [Undated, 1920s?]
XXII. Australia Beautiful. 13 pp, foolscap folio, typescript. Unsigned. Appears to be the draft for a public speech. Mackellar examines different perceptions of Australia’s beauty (and ugliness). “As Australia is unlike any other country it is natural that at first the colonists could not see that it was beautiful at all; it ensnared them against their will. Even so, old memories long continued to cast a spell over their eye, and as Jean Curlewis has pointed out, many early pictures of Australia might have been as convincingly entitled ‘A Pretty Nook in Surrey’. Either the artist could not bear to see the country as it is, or did not dare to show it so.” Most of Mackellar’s examples are drawn from her experience and love of Sydney: “With us the old and the new are constantly side by side, and the newest developments of all, such as Sydney Harbour Bridge, blend perfectly with the ageless. In Sydney, a few yards from a main road with its dust and clanging trams, the hillside lapses abruptly into prehistoric aloofness….” [Undated, circa 1932].
XXIII. From the Homeward Mail. (Mr Charles Bidwell to his brother George, of Gracechurch Street, London.) Sydney, Jan. 15th 1829. 17 pp, octavo, typescript; signed Dorothea Mackellar in ink at the foot of the last page; first and last pages inscribed by Mackellar in ink: Miss Mackellar, Earlston, Wahroonga; with Mackellar’s corrections in ink. A piece of creative writing by Mackellar which must have been based on contemporary accounts of the mutiny on board the trading brig Indefatigable, en route from Chile to Port Jackson, in 1828. [Undated, 1920s?]. Note: Accompanied by a second typescript copy (unsigned).
XXIV. [Account of a play staged by a Singhalese theatre troupe in Ceylon]. 7 pp, foolscap folio, typescript; Mackellar’s additions and revisions in ink. Mackellar would have attended this production at Colombo, on her voyage to or from Europe, and evidently composed this account from memory years later. “It went on throughout the evening, at first it was distracting, but some of us were haunted by it for weeks after”; “I daresay everything was explained on the programme, but only the Russian knows what it said, and most likely he lost it long ago.” Note: a first page is lacking. [Undated, 1920s?]
The archive also contains the following related ephemera:
A. Telegram from David Elder (Woodend, Victoria) congratulating Dorothea’s father, Sir Charles Kinnaird Mackellar (1844-1926), politician and surgeon, on receiving his KCMG. .
B. Island Outcast. Short story signed M. Mackellar. [No date, 1960s?]. 13 pp, foolscap folio, manuscript in pen. An accomplished piece of creative writing by a school student (around 12 years of age) – probably a grandnephew or grandniece of Dorothea.
REMARKS ON CONDITION.
With the exception of XXIV, all individual items in the archive are complete. Numerous items have pages with creasing and/or edge tears, in some cases resulting in minor loss of text here and there; a small number have light foxing. The majority are still held together by their original pin, rivet or paper clip, and these have inevitably created small rust marks at the upper corners.