Waiting for Eleanor Dark

Slow Dawning by Eleanor DarkI‘ve been doing that for quite a while now for two very different reasons but I had better start at the beginning. I first discovered that I really wanted to read Eleanor Dark‘s first novel way back in the early 1990s. I was researching my third manuscript set between the wars and as the tone of the times (as I like to think of it) is always very important to me I generally try and read at least a few books written during the time that I am researching. By then I had read Prelude to Christopher and thought it marvellous so I was quite interested in reading Eleanor Dark’s very first novel. I can’t recall the exact details but it became obvious that there were limited copies available and I think I had to either try and buy a copy online (which I never attempted) or read the book at the Mitchell Library. Also impossible with a young child and a very unsympathetic husband.

Life moved on. For me there was a divorce and a move up the coast, a World War II novel (Tomaree), a contemporary novel (Crossing Paths: the BookCrossing Novel) and then a manuscript set during World War I (The Grey Silk Purse). As research for that book I thought I would finally attempt to read Slow Dawning and this is when the waiting really began.

In July 2011 whilst researching transport during WWI, I requested Slow Dawning along with another book. I did this online during the week to make sure both books would be available for me after I got off the Newcastle train and arrived at the Mitchell Library in Sydney. On arrival I was told that Eleanor wasn’t there. I said I requested it. The staff nicely informed me there was a delay of about half an hour. She couldn’t be quickly located.

By the time the book turned up I was deep in my other research and only gave the novel a cursory glance. I was still at this stage thinking I could read it in several sittings or just glance through it and dismiss it (particularly after what Eleanor Dark’s biographer had written about the book). I did neither. I decided I really wanted to read it but wasn’t sure how I could achieve this as I knew by 2011 that the book couldn’t be bought online. Surprisingly no second hand book shop on the net had it available for sale (and still doesn’t). I reluctantly returned the book and thought I would have a look at it again next time I was at the Mitchell and hopefully not as busy.

On Saturday, 26 January this year I arrived off the train, keen to have another look at Slow Dawning. It was my main focus this time. I went to the desk to pick the book up and they told me it wasn’t there and would take  a while for them to find it. I said this had happened last time and why couldn’t it be ready when I put a special request in for it? They didn’t know. I was frustrated and beginning to wonder why this book AND ONLY THIS BOOK kept me waiting. It arrived and I began to read Slow Dawning. Because of the delay in arriving I didn’t have much time with the book and was now more determined than ever to read it.

I took it to the front counter and asked if I could photocopy the book. They said yes and calculated the cost – approximately $30. Being a starving artist I didn’t have the money to spare that weekend but promised myself I would be back in a few months to finally read Eleanor Dark’s first novel. What a mission!

On Saturday 1st June I had an awful trip down on the train, missed my connection and had a wait at Gordon station. By the time I arrived at the Mitchell I was already very frazzled and precious time had again gotten away from me. I went to the front counter to pick up the book (as before ordered online for a quick pickup) and was told AGAIN the book wasn’t there! They couldn’t locate it. WELL… you can imagine what sort of mood I was in! I made a fuss (as much of a fuss as anyone can make in the hallowed rooms of the Mitchell Library). I was asked if I wanted to make a complaint. I said yes I did, mainly, I explained because obviously there was something wrong with the cataloguing of this particular book. I filled out the form (still haven’t heard anything back) and waited.

Finally after about thirty five minutes of twiddling my thumbs the book was in my hands and I went into the photocopying room to carefully copy each page. I began by putting twenty dollars on my card to do the photocopying with and the machine just ate my money. By this time I was practically in tears! The Library staff must have thought I was mad but eventually the money was allocated to my card and I spent over half an hour photocopying each page. Finally I was able to read Eleanor Dark’s first novel. Here is my review:

Slow Dawning by Eleanor Dark

I have the book but I’m still not happy! I recently downloaded for free Betty Wayside by Louis Stone. This novel is from 1915 and is quite dated now but anyone can read it. The same should apply to Slow Dawning. In my opinion it has been forgotten because both the author and her biographer dismissed it as a potboiler. I argue that it is much more that that. I believe Eleanor Dark had serious intentions for this book but with the long delay in publication and the fact that sales were disappointing, she dismissed it as a potboiler to cover her disappointment. What serious novelist with literary aspirations sets out to write her first novel purely for money, particularly a book with a prophetic paragraph such as this:

“It was in this way that she had seen her fellow-women. They would climb at last, she dreamed, to a height where they would perform not only the artistic or intellectual work to which their natures inclined, but the normal functions of wifehood and motherhood as well – carrying a double burden as only they were privileged to carry it. A terrible fight, and a slow one, but epic in its magnificence. Generations it would take, and thousands of women would be the most bitter enemies of their own sex.”

No, I really think Dark had fairly high hopes for this first of her babies, especially when you consider her next novel Prelude to Christopher. You DO NOT as a writer, I believe, intend to write a potboiler as your first published work and then write something of such high standing as Prelude to Christopher as your second.

But the waiting for Eleanor is not over. This book should be made available for the general public to read. It is the first book, a very enjoyable novel, of one of Australia’s major writers. It should be accessible to all and the cataloguing problem needs to be fixed. Hopefully, something will be done about this sad state of affairs and Slow Dawning will eventually be available for everyone to read.

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32 thoughts on “Waiting for Eleanor Dark

  1. Enjoyed reading about the elusive Eleanor and your trials and tribulations every time you wanted to read this particular book. Very odd. It certainly was a very slow dawning.

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    • Yes, wasn’t it? I do still feel it wasn’t catalogued properly. And I also feel Barbara Brooks was harsh in her assessment. The fact she pretty much dismissed the book has possibly been a factor in keeping the book forgotten but that’s just my opinion.

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  2. I would have been in tears too Debbie. What a story. I’m glad though that they actually found it (and as a retired librarian I apologise for your pain!). This sounds like a perfect candidate for Project Gutenberg Australian.

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    • It really should be out there Gutenberg or even just as an ebook.
      I really feel I should do something more to get it in print. It’s an enjoyable read and set AND written in the 20s which is rare in Aussie fiction

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      • Maybe you could write to Text Publishing and suggest they do it … presumably it’s out of copyright now? And it doesn’t sound like any other publisher has the rights, though maybe they do?

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  3. See, now that’s where I’m confused! When I search to buy Eleanor Dark’s books Allen & Unwin comes up with the most recent dates of publication. Has Text published her books too?

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  4. Dear Debbie, I came across your blog post about Eleanor Dark’s Slow Dawning because I too have been on a fruitless search for a copy of it. I am very interested in both the life and work Eleanor Dark and hoping to study her for my doctorate. I wondered if your copy was uploaded to your computer and if so, whether you would consider sending it to me as an attachment? I realise this is a big ask and hope that you can understand why it is so important for me to have a complete copy of all her published work. Please feel free to ask me any questions. Thank you. Ali

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      • Dear Debbie,

        That would be wonderful. What a kind offer. I live in the UK, so you would need to find out postage and packing costs too (I don’t want you to be out of pocket). Then I could pay you in advance via Paypal if you are happy with this?

        Looking forward to hearing from you

        Ali Hayward

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      • Sounds good. I know it’s $28 for the photocopying. I’ll find out this week the postage for you and let you know. Sorry I don’t have it as a file and I also don’t want to part with my copy, lol.

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      • Dear Debbie,

        That would be wonderful.  What a kind offer.  I live in the UK, so you would need to find out postage and packing costs too (I don’t want you to be out of pocket). Then I could pay you in advance via Paypal if you are happy with this?

        Looking forward to hearing from you

        Ali Hayward

           …stop chasing normal…

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      • To help get it published you could put in a vote for it at text publishing. They are currently printing out of printing Aussie titles. Are you an Aussie? I’m guessing yes because of your interest in Eleanor. Have you read Waterway?

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      • I’ve already voted on that poll. One of my lecturers is on some kind of board relating to it and she gave me the link. I voted last week.

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  5. Also I’m not an Aussie, but I have connections as half my family live out there and I was introduced to her work through them.

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  6. Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. Discovered the postage for the 280 pages is a ridiculous $75.90 and with the photocopying costs thats about $100 to get it to you. I have phoned the library quickly whilst at work and they do do scanning so I’ll give them a call tomorrow and get a quote.

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    • Dear Debbie, I was just wondering if you’d heard anything from the library, re scanning costs?

      Best wishes

      Ali Hayward

         …stop chasing normal…

      >________________________________ > From: debbierobson >To: aliboo64@btinternet.com >Sent: Wednesday, 26 March 2014, 12:23 >Subject: [New comment] Waiting for Eleanor Dark > > > > WordPress.com >Debbie Robson commented: “Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. Discovered the postage for the 280 pages is a ridiculous $75.90 and with the photocopying costs thats about $100 to get it to you. I have phoned the library quickly whilst at work and they do do scanning so I’ll” >

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      • Hi Ali,
        You should by now have received Slow Dawning. Could you let me know if you can open all the files or if you have trouble reading any of the pages.
        Debbie

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      • Dear Debbie,

        I’m so sorry you didn’t hear from me before. You must have thought me very rude not hearing from me sooner but I did write to you on Sat to your email address.

        Thank you so much for the scanning. It must have taken ages and I do appreciate it. I have a quick look at some of the pages and so far, so good, no problems with reading it.

        I don’t know if I told you but I’m a severely disabled woman (about to turn 50 this year). So I need help to get it printed out and I’m waiting for the ‘right’ carer to start her shift, so we can print it out! I am v excited.

        I’m also in the middle of my dissertation which has to be in by 13th May, so you can imagine what life is like for me just now!

        But I wanted to ask you one question. Do you think it’s true that Eleanor destroyed all the copies of Slow dawning she came across in book shops because she felt the work wasn’t up to the standard she wanted to write? It seems a little strange to explain the lack of copies in the whole world! I wondered what you thought or know about it?

        Many thanks for the scanning. I am extremely grateful.

        Best wishes

        Ali

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      • Sorry I didn’t get your email but that’s fine. Do you know she may have destroyed some copies. She was a very proud woman. I found her intriguing but not a “kindred spirit”. Have you read the Barbara Brooks biography?
        I bet you are flat out! You might find a few of the pages towards the last half a bit hard to read down the bottom, Let me know which pages and I will scan them at work which might be a bit clearer. Debbie

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  7. Hi Ali,

    My sincerest apologies for being so lax. Been frantically busy and scatterbrained. Not a good combination! I’ve rung the library and the scanning is free. They think though it will have to be done in lots of 10 pages or so. Luckily I’m on holidays from today. I’ll be able to do the scanning either this arvo or tomorrow arvo. Watch out for Eleanor. She’s coming your way!

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  8. Pingback: Lost – Elizabeth Bay Mansions. Found – the artwork of Gladys Owen | debbierobson

  9. Pingback: Forgotten Australian women novelists | debbierobson

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