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Aileen Palmer Aileen Palmer i(A114557 works by) (birth name: Aileen Yvonne Palmer)
Also writes as: Caliban
Born: Established: 6 Apr 1915 London,
United Kingdom (UK),
Western Europe, Europe,
; Died: Ceased: 26 Dec 1988 Ballarat, Ballarat area, Ballarat - Bendigo area, Victoria,
Gender: Female
Arrived in Australia: Sep 1915 Departed from Australia: Mar 1935
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Aileen Palmer, the eldest daughter of writers Vance and Nettie Palmer, was born in London shortly before her parents returned to Australia. She grew up at Gembrook outside Melbourne and spent long periods at Caloundra on the Queensland coast. Nettie Palmer taught her daughter at home for the first few years and found she had a facility with languages, learning French, German and Latin. The family moved back to Victoria in 1929 and Aileen Palmer was enrolled at the Presbyterian Ladies College, her mother's alma mater. She attended the University of Melbourne, graduating in 1934 with first class honours in French and German languages and literature. Palmer also studied Russian and Spanish as extra subjects. During this period, she also wrote a three volume novel, 'Poor Child : a Posthumous Novel' (1932-1933) of same-sex love and desire which Newman (26) asserts is loosely based on her experiences at Presbyterian Ladies College. During her undergraduate years, Palmer engaged in left-wing politics through the Victorian Writers' League, the University Labor Club and as an organiser of the campaign for Egon Kisch. She joined the Communist Party in April 1934, admiring Katharine Susannah Prichard's  commitment to the cause.

In March 1935 Palmer left for Europe with her family; in London she sold the Daily Worker and attended anti-fascist rallies. After a brief period in Austria improving her German, she rejoined her family in Spain and met many local people through the Communist party of Catalonia. After briefly returning to London with her parents on the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, Palmer became an interpreter and medical records officer with the British Medical Aid Unit of the International Brigade in Spain 1936-1938. Palmer saw the Spanish Civil War as central to her political development and the point at which she separated from her parents. She was not to see them for ten years, working with the London Auxiliary Ambulance Service, 1939-1943. Her parents encouraged her to write a novel about her experiences in Spain. In mid-1938 Palmer wrote a short story, 'The Olives Must be Picked', for the Melbourne University Magazine (October 1938) and also offered poems to John Lehmann for New Verse. A novel, 'Last Mile to Huesca', was never published after rejection by the publisher Victor Gollancz.

In late 1945 she returned to Australia in response to her mother's serious illness. Palmer missed her bohemian existence in Europe and did not fit in well with her parents' lives and routine. She worked for a Melbourne library and Australia-Soviet House, began an autobiographical novel, 'Pilgrim's Way ' and in 1948 had the first of a series of mental breakdowns that marked the end of her working life. She had been writing all night and taking barbiturates. Palmer lived with her mother until the latter's death in 1964. Loneliness, family tensions and the strain of her wartime experiences in Europe possibly had a cumulative effect on her mental state. She was never able to separate from her parents again nor to measure up to what she saw as her parent's literary expectations of her. Aileen Palmer herself felt that publication would have represented her 'second coming of age' but it was not to be.

(Source: Adapted from Judith Keene, 'Aileen Palmer's Second Coming of Age', Crossing Boundaries: Feminisms and the Critique of Knowledges, ed. Barbara Caine et. al. (1988): 180-192; Sally Newman, 'Body of Evidence: Aileen Palmer's Textual Lives', Hecate 26.1 (2000): 10-38)



Most Referenced Works

Known archival holdings

National Library of Australia (ACT)
Last amended 18 Sep 2017 16:37:18
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