Skip to main content

Review: Bobbin Up, by Dorothy Hewett

Pages: 204
Original date of publication: 1959
My edition: 1987 (Virago)
Why I decided to read: All Virago/All August
How I acquired my copy: Philadelphia Book Trader, August 2010

Set in Sydney, Australia, in the late 1950s, Bobbin Up is actually a collection of vignettes about the young women who work in the Jumbuck spinning mills. They are, as the cliché goes, overworked and underpaid, and each “chapter” focuses on the story of a different girl, among them a pregnant teenager and a Communist idealist. The title’s double entendre is cunning—the bobbins of spinning, as well as the idealistic acting of “bobbing up” out of one’s own circumstances, to do something about an unfavorable situation (hence the title of the pamphlet that’s passed around at the mill).

There is a kind of idealism to the tone of the book, as well as an interest in the “human condition.” The author wrote the preface for the Virago edition of the book, in which she is a little bit embarrassed by her naiveté at the time of writing. Dorothy Hewett was an unmarried woman much like some of the women in the book, but like many she was laid off from work for being married (she was the sole financial support for her children and their father).

She explores the irony of her situation through detailing the tribulations of the girls in this book and the political implications of their actions. Hewett went and asked for a job in “the worst mill in Sydney” and began working for the Communist party. Later on, while researching material for the novel, she took walks through some of Sydney’s worst neighborhoods—the kinds of places in which Shirl, Nell, Patty, Beryl, Beth, and the others would have lived. The detailed stories of the girls’ everyday lives seem unrelated at first, but they are related to a much larger social and political construct.

The novel is littered with pop references; Sputnik is on the horizon; the text is sprinkled with the lyrics from popular songs of the late 1950s. Even the neighborhoods the characters live in are time-specific. It shows that not only do the events of the characters’ beliefs but that they’re also a product of the time period. But sometimes things don’t change. Compare this novel with the likes of The Roaring Nineties, another Australian novel that focuses on the working class. They take place 60 years apart, and in different parts of the country, but they still deal with the same topics and concerns.


Popular posts from this blog

Review: Forever Amber, by Kathleen Winsor

Pages: 972 Originally published: 1944 My edition: 2000 (Chicago Review Press) How I acquired my copy:, 2004

Forever Amber takes place in the 1660s, immediately follwing Charles II's ("the Merry Monarch") return of the Stuarts to the English throne. The book features Amber St. Claire, a young woman who starts out as a sixteen-year-old country girl, naieve to the workings of the world. She immediately meets Bruce Carlton, a dashing young Cavalier, with whom she has a passionate love affair in choppy intervals throughout the book. They have two children together, but Bruce won't marry her for the reason he tells his friend Lord Almsbury: that Amber just isn't the kind of woman one marries.

Upon following Bruce to London, he goes to Virginia, leaving her to fend for herself. What follows is a series of affairs and four marriages, with Bruce coming back from America now and then. Amber's marriages are imprudent: her first husband is a gambler, her second is…

Review: Jane Austen's Letters, ed. by Deirdre Le Faye

Pages: 667 Original date of publication: 2011 My copy: 2011 (Oxford University Press) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy:, April 2013
This is a compilation of many of Jane Austen’s letters, most of them sent to her sister Cassandra between 1796 and 1817, the year of her death. Although many of Austen’s letters were destroyed by her sister in order to preserve the family reputation, the collection contains over 160 letters in which Austen gives her sister details about her life in Chawton—as well as giving us a tantalizing glimpse of what was going through her mind as she was writing her novels (especially the novel that was to become Pride and Prejudice, First Impressions). There are other letters here, too, giving advice to her niece and professional correspondence to publishers—as well as a couple of letters that were written by Cassandra Austen after Jane’s death.
To the sisters, the letters acted in the way that phone calls do today; Austen’s news is all about pe…

Review: Midnight in Peking, by Paul French

Pages: 259 Original date of publication: 2013 My copy: 2013 (Penguin) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy: Phoenix bookstore, May 2013
In January 1937, the body of a young British girl, Pamela Werner, was found near Peking’s Fox Tower. Although two detectives, one British and the other Chinese, spent months on the case, the case was never solved completely, and the case was forgotten in the wake of the invasion of the Japanese. Frustrated, Pamela’s father, a former diplomat, tried to solve the crime. His investigation took him into the underbelly of Peking society and uncovered a secret that was worse than anything he could have imagined.
At first, I thought that this would be a pretty straightforward retelling of a true crime, but what Paul French (who spent seven years researching the story) reveals in this book is much more than that. Foreign society in Peking in the 1930s was stratified, with the British colonials at the top and the White Russian refugees at the bottom, but…