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Coonardoo von Katharine Susannah Prichard
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Coonardoo (Original 1929; 1975. Auflage)

von Katharine Susannah Prichard

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1951111,913 (3.5)19
A powerful novel about race that's become a classic of Australian literature. A tough, uncompromising novel about the difficult love between a white man and a black woman. Coonardoo is the moving story of a young Aboriginal woman trained from childhood to be the housekeeper at Wytaliba station and, as such, destined to look after its owner, Hugh Watt. the love between Coonardoo and Hugh, which so shocked its readers when the book was first published in 1929, is never acknowledged and so, degraded and twisted in on itself, destroys not only Coonardoo, but also a community which was once peaceful. this frank and daring novel set on the edge of the desert still raises difficult questions about the history of contact between black and white, and its representation in Australian writing.… (mehr)
Mitglied:dmit131
Titel:Coonardoo
Autoren:Katharine Susannah Prichard
Info:Sydney : Angus & Robertson, 1975.
Sammlungen:Shelf 20
Bewertung:
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Coonardoo von Katharine Susannah Prichard (1929)

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This is an intensely unpleasant book to read, but there's lots to talk about regarding it, so bare with me.

So, I came across this book because I realised I knew almost nothing about Australian literature, and my mum agreed that it was pretty obscure before crying, "Oh! But you know, at the start of the twentieth century there was a whole bunch of socialist women writers, Marxists, feminists, I think you'd really like them." She gave me an old textbook of hers that outlined some of these writers, and Katharine Susannah Prichard was one. The critic writing the textbook really didn't like her work, describing it as ruined by her "crude Marxism" (in later years she actually supported the Soviet Union's repression of artists and writers, so I could see how her crude Stalinism might sully her work), but he conceded that Coonardoo was a classic.

It was first published as a serial in The Bulletin in 1928, and was extremely controversial because (by the standards of the day) it humanised Aboriginal people, rather than conforming to the prevailing idea that they were pests to be more or less exterminated. As a result, Prichard (who was white, I should make clear) had trouble getting the book published with publishers recognising that while such a controversial book would make them a tidy profit, it'd offend so many comfortably racist white people that they were uneasy about it. Evidently the book was published, though.

This is more or less what I gleaned before reading the novel, and since I was coming it at with that background, it was really disappointing.

Perhaps it was anti-racist for 1928, but by modern standards it really isn't. In Prichard's own introduction to the book, she echoes Engels in probably the most problematic things he ever said, describing Aboriginal people as primitive, unevolved versions of Europeans. She's clearly sympathetic to them, but that doesn't excuse the way she writes them, as "noble savages". At some points, she even outright refers to them as animals, for instance describing Coonardoo's eyes as "the bright beautiful eyes of a wild animal in their thick yellowy whites". It's not exactly that she's ignorant, either – the book demonstrates that she was familiar with the language Aboriginal people in the area spoke, as well as with their traditions, spiritual beliefs and so on (I can't vouch for how complete her understanding is though, only that she knew a lot and made use of it). It's that she's more of an ethnographer, trying to show off this "exotic" type of human – objectifying them, not treating them as subjects. This made me uncomfortable throughout the book.

Despite being the titular character, Coonardoo isn't really the main character of the book; that would be Hugh Watt, the white man who owns this cattle station, Wytaliba. And despite the blurb describing their relationship as one of "love", it isn't. For Hugh, he (and his mother before him) are disgusted by the sexual exploitation of black women by white men, and he's determined not to be like that, but he becomes so fucking possessive over Coonardoo anyway that he does something far worse. Even if he didn't, possessiveness is not love. As for Coonardoo, her characterisation is so awkward it's hard to know what to say. She seems to objectify herself; she's been raised from childhood to be a faithful, unpaid servant, and she is. She looks after Hugh, dotes on him, allows him to have sex with her when his mother's death leaves him deeply depressed. Later in the novel, he "claims her as his woman" (i.e. asks her to sleep in the house) so that Sam Geary (owner of a neighbouring cattle station, who represents the sexually exploitative white man the Watts despise) won't get her, and she's bewildered – and, it's later revealed, hurt – that he won't have sex with her the way that men do with "their" women. This is awkwardly written, though; she spends more time "confused" than she does visibly upset about it. From the little we get her thoughts, her concerns are always how best to serve Hugh, and I don't see this as "being in love"; this is submitting to her servitude.

To the extent that they have a relationship, it is totally that of dominator and dominated. I don't think a relationship between a white cattle station owner and his Aboriginal domestic servant could be anything else. They're so unequal (and don't even speak to each other all that much) that you could never call this a love story; a story of a dark and twisted one-time sexual relationship, perhaps.

The ending of the novel is the worst part of it. Sam Geary, who's been lusting after Coonardoo all novel long, turns up at Wytaliba unannounced and rapes her. Once Hugh finds out, he beats Coonardoo to a pulp and throws her into the campfire, because apparently she betrayed him by getting raped. He then expels her from "his property", and she stays away – not because she thinks it's a good idea to avoid Hugh if this is how he'll treat her, but because she wants to follow his wishes, as she's always done. This part of the book talks about how she doesn't understand how she displeased him, and that kind of thing – she blames herself, just as he blames her. It's distressing.

I do think that Prichard did a good job with the characterisation of the white people, particularly the white women. Some of them were extremely unlikeable, but their characters made sense (with the possible exception of Hugh). They were also, for the most part, very different from one another (which, for instance, the Aboriginal characters were not, although they did at least have proper names). The novel depicts a whole range of different types of racism that white Australians in the early twentieth century could be instilled with. It also depicts a lot of different kinds of women, from working-class women who betray their roots and become obnoxious wealthy socialites, to women who want to escape being stifled by bourgeois expectations and be free. The parts of the book that focus on these themes are much less uncomfortable.

So, to wrap up this lengthy review… this book is very much a product of the time and place it was written in. Prichard may have been progressive for that context, but for ours, this book is a painful read. I couldn't say I recommend it, but if you have particular interests that this aligns with, then go for it. ( )
  Jayeless | May 27, 2020 |
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A powerful novel about race that's become a classic of Australian literature. A tough, uncompromising novel about the difficult love between a white man and a black woman. Coonardoo is the moving story of a young Aboriginal woman trained from childhood to be the housekeeper at Wytaliba station and, as such, destined to look after its owner, Hugh Watt. the love between Coonardoo and Hugh, which so shocked its readers when the book was first published in 1929, is never acknowledged and so, degraded and twisted in on itself, destroys not only Coonardoo, but also a community which was once peaceful. this frank and daring novel set on the edge of the desert still raises difficult questions about the history of contact between black and white, and its representation in Australian writing.

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