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Review: Cindie, by Jean Devanny


Pages: 332
Original date of publication: 1949
My edition: 1986 (Virago Modern Classics)
Why I decided to read: I read it for All Virago/All August
How I acquired my copy: found it in a secondhand bookshop near work


Cindie tells the story of a young woman who goes to Queensland, Australia, to work for Randolph Biddow, who owns a sugar plantation, his wife, Blanche, and their two young children. Cindie thrives in her new environment, and she rises to become manager on the estate. Sharply in contrast to her is Blanche, who complains ceaselessly about her new life and feels bitter and jealous towards her former maid.

It’s a beautiful story, made even more vivid by the lush way in which Jean Devanny describes North Queensland and the people who inhabit it. She highlights beautifully the differences between whites, Aborigines, and Kanakas, set against a real historical event: the creation of the Commonwealth Bill in the 1890s, under which Australia’s Constitution was made legal by Queen Victoria. There’s a distinct difference between the whites and the natives, and it’s interesting to see how such a major turning point in Australia’s history influenced them. I loved Jean Devanny’s description of the place in which the novel is set; I do love it when a place becomes a character on its own.

But the star of the show is, of course, Cindie, who proves herself to be a likeable character, despite the fact that she can seem distant sometimes. She’s hard-working and industrious, and doesn’t take the way she’s treated by Blanche lying down. She’s not afraid to say what’s on her mind; nor is she afraid to assert her independence by not marrying. In direct contrast to Cindie, of course, is her employer Blanche, who dislikes Cindie once she begins to take on more responsibility around the plantation. She’s suspicious and distrustful of how much trust Randolph places in Cindie, but sometimes I think Blanche goes overboard in her behavior. Despite my problems with Blanche’s character, I really enjoyed this novel.

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