Ireland and Australia II: Girls in Fiction

My Childhood in Australia : a story for my children

My Childhood in Australia by Mrs. F. Hughes (1892) Cover

Australian women writers, like Ellen Campbell and Mrs. F. Hughes, also turned to memoir in composing books for children, where they related (usually for an English audience) their young lives in Australia. These texts sometimes describe a certain freedom in the true stories of young girls growing up in often rural and isolated farm stations across Australia. Gender and class conventions can be seen to break down in these environments. Just as women took advantage of these circumstances to enter into the profession of writing – guiding other women in similar situations on the education of their children – young girls also took advantage of the social and physical freedoms that such isolated living engendered.

An Australian Childhood

An Australian Childhood by Ellen Campbell (1892) Cover

These texts, however, often register an anxiety over the transition between girlhood and womanhood, an anxiety that can also be found in Irish literature by women of the same period. In An Australian Childhood (1890) by Ellen Campbell, her adventurous and mischievous childhood comes to an abrupt end once she is sent to a finishing school in Sydney. In her fictionalised version of this memoir, Twin Pickles (1898), an episodic novel for young children, her removal to school appears mid-way through the narrative and signals a kind of metaphoric death for the young girl.

Irish author, Maria Edgeworth, similarly registered coded anxieties in her texts for children over the maturation of young girls. ‘The Purple Jar’, which first appeared in The Parent’s Assistant in 1796, is one of Edgeworth’s most popular and enduring tales for children. While on the surface, the story attempts to educate young children about consumerism and desire, several critics have argued that the story also exposes a kind of social horror at the girl-turning-woman and the onset of menstruation.

Ireland and Australia II: Girls in Fiction