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y Lilian's Story single work   novel  
Issue Details: First known date: 1985... 1985 Lilian's Story
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AbstractHistoryArchive Description

Madness, cruelty and sexuality permeate the house where she grew up, but Lilian's sights are set on education, love and - finally - her own transcendent forms of independence. Lilian Singer, who starts life at the beginning of the twentieth century as the daughter of a prosperous middle-class Australian family and ends it as a cheerfully eccentric bag-lady living on the streets, quoting Shakespeare for a living.




form y Lilian's Story Steve Wright , ( dir. Jerzy Domaradzki ) Australia : CML Productions , 1995 Z1038867 1995 single work film/TV

For forty years, Lilian Singer has been locked up in a mental hospital by her father. Her release is eventually secured and she walks out to a world unfamiliar to her in every way, seeking the love and affection she never got. Her story is told through a series of three flashbacks that reveal a beautiful and spirited young woman who was anything but insane. Old Lilian comes to terms with her life, quoting Shakespeare, stalking sexy bank tellers, buddying with prostitutes, and ultimately meeting her long-lost love.

Reading Australia

This work has Reading Australia teaching resources.

Unit Suitable For

AC: Year 10 (NSW Stage 5)


desire, identity, independence, mental illness, post-Federation, sexuality, societal constraints

General Capabilities

Critical and creative thinking, Ethical understanding, Intercultural understanding, Literacy


  • Other formats: Also braille, sound recording, large print.

Publication Details of Only Known VersionEarliest 2 Known Versions of

The second (revised) edition includes textual changes and twelve extra pages. Changes were suggested by Grenville's American editor.
    • New York (City), New York (State),
      United States of America (USA),
      Viking ,
      1986 .
      This image has been sourced from online.
      Extent: 227p.
      Edition info: Rev. ed.
      ISBN: 0670809292
    • North Sydney, North Sydney - Lane Cove area, Sydney Northern Suburbs, Sydney,: Allen and Unwin , 1991 .
      Extent: 227p.
      ISBN: 1863730230 (pbk.)
    • San Diego, California,
      United States of America (USA),
      Harcourt Brace ,
      1994 .
      This image has been sourced from online.
      Extent: 227p.
      ISBN: 0156001233 (pbk.)
    • London,
      United Kingdom (UK),
      Western Europe, Europe,
      Picador ,
      1994 .
      This image has been sourced from online.
      Extent: 227p.
      ISBN: 0330339893 (pbk.)
    • St Leonards, North Sydney - Lane Cove area, Sydney Northern Suburbs, Sydney,: Allen and Unwin , 1996 .
      Extent: 280p.
      ISBN: 1864481161 (pbk.)
    • St Leonards, North Sydney - Lane Cove area, Sydney Northern Suburbs, Sydney,: Allen and Unwin , 1997 .
      This image has been sourced from online.
      Extent: 280p.
      • Paperback ed. with new cover - t.p. verso
      ISBN: 1864482842 (pbk.)

Works about this Work

Cannibalism and Colonialism : Lilian's Story and (White) Women's Belonging Laura Deane , 2014 single work criticism
— Appears in: JASAL , vol. 14 no. 3 2014;

'In 1985, when Kate Grenville’s novel about a fat, unlovely bag lady appeared on the Australian literary landscape, Lilian’s Story was celebrated as a feminist and postcolonial text. By locating Lilian as ex-centric to the nation, to inhabit the abjected zones of the colony—the bush, the asylum, the streets of post-Federation Sydney—Grenville is commonly read as a feminist writer intervening into the gender politics that shaped Australia. Feminists celebrate the ways in which she carves out discursive spaces for women who have existed largely in the interstices between public memory and official history. Postcolonial critical interpretations of Lilian being ‘colonised’ by her father, provoked by the rape narrative, have tended to reproduce the postcolonial trope of Australia’s shift from a colonial relationship to a national structure. Such readings largely neglect the colonial violence of Australian patriarchy, and the skewed gender norms that result when a host culture is transplanted to an imperial outpost. Taking up the colonial metaphor structuring the relationship between Lilian and her father, I read Lilian’s ‘madness’ as a response to discourses of ‘race’ and gender that circulate in the colonial Imaginary to position women as the site for racial anxiety about colonial ‘dirt’, contamination and disorder. While Lilian approaches the rebellious female grotesque celebrated in postcolonial feminist theorising, her obese body also signifies the devouring nature of colonialism. This paper engages with the white politics of women’s ‘belonging’ inscribed in Lilian’s Story to disinter the schizoid nature of white women’s relationship to colonial patriarchy.' (Publication abstract)

[Essay] : Lilian’s Story Peter Craven , 2013 single work essay
— Appears in: Reading Australia 2013;

'Kate Grenville’s Lilian’s Story is one of the great Australian novels of the last thirty years. When it was first published in 1985, it was immediately hailed as a masterpiece. The original cover carried a recommendation by Patrick White, Nobel laureate and the greatest writer of any kind Australia has produced. White said that in Lilian’s Story Kate Grenville had ‘transformed an Australian myth into a dazzling fiction of universal appeal’, and hailed her as a true novelist.' (Introduction)

Animal Handlers : Australian Women Writers on Sexuality and the Female Body Odette Kelada , 2012 single work criticism
— Appears in: Outskirts : Feminisms along the Edge , May vol. 26 no. 2012;
'The year 2011 saw the igniting of mass protest around the issue of sexual double standards for women with numerous marches worldwide called 'SlutWalks'. Thousands of women across a range of countries including America, Europe, Britain and Australia took to the streets to defend the right of women to dress and behave freely without stigmatisation and violence. The 'SlutWalks' started in reaction to a local policeman in Toronto telling a class of college students to avoid dressing like 'sluts' if they did not wish to be victimised (SlutWalk Toronto site). The public protest in response to this incident demonstrates resistance to historically embedded discourses that demean women's sexuality and blame women for abuse and rape they suffer. Terms such as 'slut' perpetuate a virgin/whore dichotomy fundamental to the oppression of female sexual self-expression. These marches are a recent example that follows on from a tradition of mass protests for women's sexual equality and right to safety such as 'Reclaim the Night'. Drawing on writing and conversations with poets Dorothy Porter and Gig Ryan, novelists Drusilla Modjeska, Kate Grenville, Carmel Bird and Melissa Lucashenko and playwright, Leah Purcell, this article offers insights into individual creative women's responses to this theme of women's sexuality. I argue that the work and ideas of these women are examples of the unique and powerful dialogue that can happen through a focus on creativity and female stories in Australia.' (Author's introduction)
Homeless and Foreign : The Heroines of Lilian's Story and Dreamhouse Kate Livett , 2010 single work criticism
— Appears in: Lighting Dark Places : Essays on Kate Grenville. 2010; (p. 119-134)
'Kate Livett's essay concerns the lens of 'the tragic'. This, she argues, enables a reading of Thornhill as a tragically flawed character and provides a fitting genre fro Grenville's empathetic imagination.' (Kossew, 'Introduction' xix)
Madness and Power : Lilian’s Story and the Decolonized Body Bill Ashcroft , 2010 single work criticism
— Appears in: Lighting Dark Places : Essays on Kate Grenville. 2010; (p. 55-72)
'Bill Ashcroft has provided a new reading of Lilian's Story that emphasizes the resistant power of narrative itself, a reading that uses postcolonial theory to tease out the ways in which Lilian's feminist appropriation of power (most dramatically from her father Albion, as representative of patriarchal Darwinian and imperial discourse and practices) enables her to "find" both her body and her voice...' (Kossew, 'Introduction' xv-xvi)
Books Read Recently Bruce Gillespie , 1996 single work review
— Appears in: Scratch Pad 18 , July 1996; (p. 4-6)

— Review of Distress Greg Egan 1995 single work novel ; The Memory Cathedral : A Secret History of Leonardo da Vinci Jack Dann 1995 single work novel ; Permutation City Greg Egan 1994 single work novel ; Eccentrics : The Scientific Investigation David Joseph Weeks 1988 single work essay ; Old School Tie Paul Thomas 1994 single work novel ; Lilian's Story Kate Grenville 1985 single work novel ; Dark Places Kate Grenville 1994 single work novel
Paperbacks Penelope Nelson , 1991 single work review
— Appears in: The Weekend Australian , 30-31 March 1991; (p. rev 6)

— Review of The Search for Harry Allway Alex Buzo 1985 single work novel ; The Great World David Malouf 1990 single work novel ; Lilian's Story Kate Grenville 1985 single work novel
Comic and Cruel Charlotte M. Meyer , 1989 single work review
— Appears in: American Book Review , January-February vol. 10 no. 6 1989; (p. 11-12)

— Review of Bearded Ladies : Stories Kate Grenville 1984 selected work short story poetry ; Lilian's Story Kate Grenville 1985 single work novel ; Dreamhouse Kate Grenville 1986 single work novel
Special Women : And Superb Storytelling Marian Favel Clair Eldridge , 1985 single work review
— Appears in: Australian Book Review , November no. 76 1985; (p. 25-28)

— Review of Lilian's Story Kate Grenville 1985 single work novel
Absurdity, the Hidden Part of Normalcy Susan McKernan , 1985 single work review
— Appears in: The Bulletin , 23 July vol. 108 no. 5477 1985; (p. 78,80)

— Review of Lilian's Story Kate Grenville 1985 single work novel
The Body and the Text : Extra and Infra Textual Scars Chantal Kwast-Gref , 2002 single work criticism
— Appears in: Commonwealth , vol. 25 no. 1 2002; (p. 15-25)
Author's abstract : In the autobiographical text, the madwoman articulates a space from which to speak. The writing of madness is neither about introspection nor about escapism but is much more concerned with translating inner states. Autobiography functions like a mirror in which we see a Gestalt, a global image of our selves.
y The Construction of Femininity and Female Sexuality in Contemporary Australian Fiction : A Reading of Four Novels Colleen Keane , 1990 Z1053323 1990 single work thesis
The Return of the Oppressed : Re-Writing the Female Self in Lilian's Story and Joan Makes History Mridula Jose , 2004 single work criticism
— Appears in: Cultural Interfaces 2004; (p. 100-106)
Examining the female protagonists in two of Grenville's novels, Jose concludes that 'Storytelling is one of the strongest strategies used by Grenville. The story replaces what happens, and having control over the story provides control over the truth. It is the one who tells the story, who is made immortal. Grenville has control, very much like her protagonists Lilian and Joan. It is in the act of "telling" and "voicing" their stories, that Grenville is able to avenge those who have tradtionally been rendered voiceless.'
Psychotic Fictions and Terrible Truths: Reading Madness, Femininity and Excessive Speech Laura Deane , 2005 single work criticism
— Appears in: Antithesis , vol. 15 no. 2005; (p. 74-90)
First Voice Kate Grenville , 2005 single work column
— Appears in: The Age , 3 December 2005; (p. 29)
Last amended 15 Nov 2017 14:55:40
  • Kings Cross, Kings Cross area, Inner Sydney, Sydney,
  • 1900-1999
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