Moving Stories from Australia

“The Persimmon Tree and other Stories” by Marjorie Barnard

To appreciate a short story fully, one must get into the rhythm of the story. Frequently I will read a few pages of a story to get a sense of the characters and of the scene of a story and then will start over again so that I can feel the rhythm and understand what the author is trying to do. This is especially true of the stories in “The Persimmon Tree”. These stories are very short, and they are meant to be read slowly and savored.

One of the stories in this book, “The Wrong Hat”, is only three pages long. “The Wrong Hat” is a moving emotional story about a woman, who has recently lost her husband, shopping for a hat.

Marjorie Barnard’s method is the classic story method where a seemingly insignificant scene is described, but the scene resonates through the lives of the characters in the story, especially the main character. In the story “Beauty is Strength”, a trip to the beauty parlor causes a woman to reflect on the state of her marriage. In another story, “Sunday”, a man who is trying to become a writer goes to Sunday dinner at the house of his parents who want him to lead a more conventional life. I could describe each story in this book with a short sentence like the above, but I won’t. All these stories capture the ultimate importance of everyday events in each person’s life. If you like to read moving stories about daily life, you will probably enjoy this book.

A month ago, I had never heard of Marjorie Barnard. But I’m always on the lookout for new unfamiliar writers. So when Whispering Gums ( http://whisperinggums.wordpress.com/ ) strongly recommended this book, I latched on to it immediately. Unlike novelists, some of the finest short story writers are scarcely known.

Marjorie Barnard was born in Sydney, Australia in 1897. She graduated from the University of Sydney, and she was offered a scholarship to Oxford but her father refused to give her permission to go to Oxford. After that, her relations with her father were strained; she became a librarian. Later she formed a literary partnership with Flora Eldershaw. Together they wrote five novels under the name M. Barnard Eldershaw. I have my doubts about creating fiction as a partnership, but their science fiction novel “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow” is now quite well known. However “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow” originally was severely censored by the Australian government for its pacifist views in 1947 when it was published, and the novel in hacked up form was poorly received. “It was just murdered,” Barnard said, “I was heartbroken.” After that, Barnard concentrated on writing history. This novel was not published in its original entirety until 1983 and it has become highly regarded. She died in 1987. Besides Wikipedia, another good source for information on Marjorie Barnard is http://www.nla.gov.au/pub/nlanews/2004/aug04/article3.html

At the same time as the literary collaboration with Flora Eldershaw was going on, Marjorie Barnard was also writing short stories and getting them published in magazines. These stories were collected and published as “The Persimmon Tree and Other Stories” in 1943. This one little book of moving stories is a lasting legacy of Marjorie Barnard.

There is one story in this book, “Dry Spell”, which is an exception, because it is an apocalyptic story similar to “The Road”. For a detailed analysis of this story go to this location:
http://goliath.ecnext.com/coms2/gi_0199-1799873/Dampening-incendiary-ardour-the-roots.html

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8 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by whisperinggums on November 20, 2009 at 7:36 am

    You have no idea Tony (well, perhaps you do) what a thrill it is to have someone – particularly a non-Australian-blogger – follow up a recommendation like this, and then enjoy it to boot. THE WRONG HAT and THE NEW DRESS are two stories that stuck with me on my first reading of them which is sort of interesting as they seem to represent the polarities of women’s experience: the first one, the older widow who decides to give up, and the second one the young girl just starting out. But neither is sure of herself. But each story is a delicious little kernel of a life experience isn’t it?

    Reply

  2. Hi,
    One story that struck me mightily was “Sunday”, perhaps because it has a male protagonist. Parents wanting a very ordinary, conventional life for their young adult child, and the young adult wanting to live a life that is difficult, extraordinary, and different is a theme that seems to resonate across many lives.
    Marjorie Barnard is very tuned in to this inner monologue we all seem to carry on. I’m happy you brought her to my attention.

    Reply

  3. [...] Go here to see the original: Moving Stories from Australia « Tony's Book World [...]

    Reply

  4. Posted by Kelly S on November 20, 2009 at 6:24 pm

    I love short stories — for all the reasons you mention — and this collection seems like something I’d really enjoy. Thanks!

    Reply

  5. Been reading your blog now for quite some time and really love it. I don’t know if it’s your style or not , but do you think you could perhaps do a post on the oil spill in the gulf?

    I love your thoughts and opinions, and would love to see your commentary on this tragedy.

    Reply

  6. Hi, thanks for your kind words. As much as I would like to write something about the oil spill, I think I’ll be sticking to books here, mostly fiction, at this time. I frequently comment on the political blogs, so you might see me show up there.

    Reply

  7. [...] but I suspect few Australians and even fewer readers from overseas (except of course Tony of Tony’s Bookworld) have ever heard of her. Rather than write specifically about her, though, I thought I’d talk [...]

    Reply

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