'This essay uses the interwar writing of Eleanor Dark to destabilise the binary between nationalist-realism and experimental modernism in accounts of Australian literature. Dark’s novels mix modernist and experimental styles with middlebrow and vernacular forms, while also legitimating settler nationalist desires. This constellation was not unique to Dark but was part of a broader phenomenon which I call interwar settler modernism: the modernism produced by settler artists and writers between the wars, often through a promiscuous engagement with elite, middlebrow and vernacular forms of culture. Dark’s novel Return to Coolami (1936) exemplifies interwar settler modernism, combining recognisably modernist techniques with middlebrow romance, elements of vernacular culture such as photography, cinema and motor travel, and cultural-nationalist ideas. This study traces some of the contours of interwar settler modernism through examining Dark’s ideas about visual perception, time, memory and interior psychological states. It will explore the implications of settler modernism for studies of Australian literature and, more broadly, for global modernism studies.'
'In Eleanor Dark’s novel Waterway (1938), Professor Channon is prompted by the ominous international headline ‘Failure of Peace Talks’ to imagine the world from a global perspective (120). Channon feels himself metaphorically ‘lifted away from the earth … seeing it from an incredible distance, and with an incredible, an all-embracing comprehension’ (119-20). This move outward from a located perspective to ‘a more detached overview of a wider global space’ signifies a cosmopolitan viewpoint, ‘in which the viewing subject rises above the placebound attachments of the nation-state to take the measure of the world as a wider totality’ (Hegglund 8-9). Yet even this global view is mediated by Channon’s position from within ‘a great island continent alone in its south sea’ (121). Gazing from a ‘vast distance,’ he views Europe as ‘the patches where parasitic man had lived longest and most densely,’ and from which humankind ‘went out to infect fresh lands’ (120). This description of old world Europe as ‘parasitic’ provides a glimpse of resistant nationalism, reflecting Channon’s location within one of the ‘fresh lands’ affected by colonisation. Channon is ultimately unable to sustain a ‘Godlike’ perspective in this scene, desiring ‘nothing but to return’ to local place (121). Although his view initially ‘vaults beyond the bounds of national affiliation’ (Alexander and Moran 4), this move outward does not ‘nullify an affective attachment to the more grounded locations of human attachment’ (Hegglund 20). Channon’s return to the ‘shabby home … of his own humanity’ brings a renewed sense of connection to ‘the sun-warmed rail of the gate’ and ‘the faint breeze [which] ruffled the hair back from his forehead’ (122).' (Introduction)
'In this thesis I will demonstrate that Eleanor Dark's over-riding themes are time and memory. Time informs the structure of her novels, she juxtaposes past and present. Memory in all its aspects, personal, cultural, racial dominates both her contemporary novels and The Timeless Land trilogy. The thesis considers Dark's fiction in sequence to chart her treatment oftime and memory.
'Simultaneously Dark was reaching into her own reservoir of memory and transfiguring her own experience in the characters, events and locations of her novels. In this oblique way, and through this unique form of modelling, Dark reveals little known areas of her life. Biographically Dark remains elusive; the surface events of her life are well documented but do not account for the drama of her character portrayals, the immediacy of her perceptions of the natural world, her deep intellectual responses to art, literature and politics, as well as her preoccupation with time.
'It is my contention that Dark's creative thrust was inwards; she developed the inner processes of memory and imagination. Time and memory cohere in her novels; under scrutiny they bring new interpretations to her work, and new insights into her life.' (Author's abstract)