Athena and Dexter lead an enclosed family life, innocent of fashion and bound towards a disturbed child. Their comfortable rut is disrupted by the arrival of Elizabeth, a tough nut from Dexter's past. With her three charming, chaotic hangers-on, she draws the couple out into a world whose casual egotism they had barely dreamed of. How can they get home again? (Source: publisher's website)
Unit Suitable For
AC: Year 11 (Literature Unit 2). Year 11 has been chosen as the focus for this unit because it deals with significant themes demanding some maturity with a strong focus on literary technique and analysis appropriate to Year 11.
aspirations, autism, disability, domesticity, family, infidelity, isolation, marriage, music, relationships
Critical and creative thinking, Ethical understanding, Intercultural understanding, Literacy
'Helen Garner's 1984 novella, The Children's Bach opens with a description and commentary on the famous photograph of Alfred Lord Tennyson and his family taken en pleine air at their house on the Isle of Wight in 1862:
'Dexter found, in a magazine. a photograph of the poet Tennyson, his wife and their two sons walking in the garden of their house on the Isle of Wight. To the modern eye it is a shocking picture: they are all, with the exception of the great man himself, bundled up in such enormous, incapacitating garments. Eye-line: Tennyson looks into the middle distance. His wife, holding his arm and standing very close to his side, gazes up into his face. One boy holds his father's hand and looks up at him. The other boy holds his mother's and looks into the camera with a weak, rueful expression. Behind them, out of focus, twinkles the windy foliage of a great garden. Their shadows fall across the lawn: they have just taken a step. Tennyson's hands are large square paws, held up awkwardly at stomach level. His wife's face is gaunt and her eyes are set in deep sockets. It is a photo of a family. The wind puffs out the huge stiff curved sleeve of the woman's dress, and brushes back off his forehead the long hair of the father's boy who is turned towards the drama of his parents' faces; though he is holding his father's hand, he is separate from the group, and light shows between his tightly buttoned torso and his father's leg.' (Introduction)
'Houses, and their domestic spaces of intimacy and negotiation, sit at the core of Helen Garner’s early fiction. Most often they are large, communal houses in Melbourne’s Carlton or Fitzroy, places where a generation of youngish countercultural musicians, artists, and wounded souls challenge the accepted rules of sexual relationships and attempt to redefine what might constitute family. In the kitchens and bedrooms of Monkey Grip (1977), Honour and Other People’s Children (1980), and Cosmo Cosmolino (1992), Garner’s characters wrestle with their passions and ideals. The new patterns of living that they establish offer, particularly for the women, a sense of liberating possibility beyond marriage and childrearing, but that freedom is coupled with compromise and loss. In The Children’s Bach (1984), Garner shifts her focus to the suburban household of a married couple. In this novella, she both critiques and celebrates the burdens of responsibility and commitment.' (Publication summary)