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Colonial Australian Women Poets

Colonial Australian Women Poets

Political Voice and Feminist Traditions

By Katie Hansord

‘Colonial Australian Women Poets’ considers the political and feminist significance of non-canonical women poets, particularly those who were writing in newspapers and periodicals, in colonial Australia.

Hardback, 250 Pages


June 2020

£80.00, $125.00

  • About This Book
  • Reviews
  • Author Information
  • Series
  • Table of Contents

About This Book

‘Colonial Australian Women Poets’ examines the significant roles of five women poets: Eliza Hamilton Dunlop, Mary Bailey, Caroline Leakey, Emily Manning and Louisa Lawson. The work of these poets can outline the development of women’s poetry in Australia and internationally across the nineteenth century, and their inclusion radically alters current scholarship, rethinking the ways in which women poets, feminist politics, and the legacies of Romanticism relate to colonial poetry. Colonial poetry in Australia has generally been interpreted through a lens of oppositionality or insularity.

Bush nationalism had come to be considered the essential ‘Australian literature’ and the colonial writings that preceded it have often been viewed as ineffectual precursors. Such masculine nationalist approaches have not acknowledged that colonial Australian women’s poetry represents an intellectually sophisticated, extensively networked and important contribution to the development of Australian poetry. Further, this poetry is often highly politically radical in ways that extend beyond emergent masculine nationalism. Australian literary studies have also typically viewed Romanticism as an absence. The gaps between the scholarship questioning the role of Romanticism in colonial Australian poetry and scholarship concerned with Australian women’s poetry produced at this time also suggests the legacy of Romantic issues around gender and political voice. These women poets were all concerned with what a feminist approach to class and all in various ways reflect ideas of both a class fall and radical social reform, closely associated with concepts of Australia’s relationship to the old world, through Romantic legacies. In positioning women poets from colonial Australia in relation to European and North American movements, this study challenges the dominant cartography of Australian literature’s relationship to Romanticism, as well as considers ways in which their inclusion re-maps Australian literary history. It foregrounds women’s contributions, particularly in assuming and mobilising a political voice, to ‘both’ a transnational Romantic tradition and what Katie Hansord terms a regional Australian Romanticism.

The poets are examined through a transnational frame, which foregrounds challenges to women’s subjugation, as well as oppression relating to class and race. Since studies of colonial Australian women writers have tended to focus on those writing novels or journals, women’s poetry of the period has received less critical attention. The highly gender-conscious writing of these poets reflects knowledgeable and innovative political dialogues that consistently demonstrate the global context of colonial women’s poetry. These poets often took what may be considered a cosmopolitan approach, which extended beyond British or emergent Australian nationalisms, in which gender was recognised as a unifying category far more than nation or Empire, extending their interests across ancient cultures, including Greek, Roman, as well as Indian, Italian, North American, French and European cultures, and sometimes incorporating discourses around slavery, Indigeneity, and new and old-world dichotomies. These approaches were Anglophone, white and Eurocentric, but the cultural breadth of their feminist approaches often disrupts nationalist modes of thinking, and emergent Australian masculine nationalism specifically, and this is what Hansord means when she uses the term transnational in the book as a whole. Certainly, this transnational framing coincides with imperialist frames and these are operating simultaneously. In the contexts of these women’s writing, these frames are inseparable. This book is concerned with the related historical relationships of women’s political writing and gender to colonialism, literary Romanticism and emerging national identities. Themes explored in this study, demonstrating these poets’ access to a political discourse of gender and class, include abolitionism, Hellenism, eroticism and spiritualism. In prioritising the contributions of women, particularly through print culture, this study seeks to recognise colonial Australian women’s poetry as a transnational literature, politicised by its engagement with imperialist and nationalist discourses at a transnational level.


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Author Information

Katie Hansord is a writer and researcher living in Melbourne, Australia.


Anthem Studies in Australian Literature and Culture

Table of Contents

Abstract; Acknowledgements; Introduction: Re-reading Colonial Poetry; 1. Anti-Slavery and Gender in Women’s Poetry: 1820–40, Eliza Hamilton Dunlop; 2. Hellenism, Bluestockings and the ‘Colonial Times’: 1840–50, Mary Bailey; 3. The Embowered Woman and Tasmania: 1850–60, Caroline Leakey; 4. Spiritualism and Periodical Print Culture: 1860–80, Emily Manning; 5. Fin de Siècle Transnational Poetics and Feminism in ‘The Dawn’: 1880–1910, Louisa Lawson; Conclusion: Beyond ‘The Dawn’; Works Cited; Index.

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