Ages of Reason: Ethics, Metaphor and the Work of Jennifer Maiden
In Sartre's novel, at the much quoted point at which the protagonist affirms 'I recognize no allegiance except to myself ... all I want is to retain my freedom', he finds himself being chided by his brother: ‘I should have thought that freedom consisted in frankly confronting situations into which one has deliberately entered and accepting one's responsibilities. You have reached the age of reason ... but you try to pretend you are younger than you are’ (The Age of Reason 107). In Jennifer Maiden's ten books of poetry, in her two published novels as well as in her reviews and essays there is a response to this challenge not to live a kind of ethical infantilism. But a complex and extended body of work engaging such issues requires in its turn a continuous response from the community of readers. In fact there has been no extended criticism of Maiden's work and the sum total of attention she has received in reviews hardly amounts to a tradition of interpretation even though some of these (such as Finola Moorhead's review of Maiden's second book) do constitute extended engagement with individual works. There are many possible reasons for this neglect, one of which might be that Maiden has an equivocal status within recent conceptualisations of Australian women's poetry, something which engaged Moorhead's attention. It is difficult, though, not to suspect that the lack of attention ultimately derives from the complexity of much of the poetry. Maiden is one of the most challenging of Australian poets and her difficulties are of a particular kind. They do not derive from any radical transformation of the nature of poetry itself, or at least not a transformation as radical as that of many of her coevals, but rather they are often difficulties of expression, narrative conceptualisation, and thematic focus. Faced with the task of finding a suitable descriptive method, I have chosen to focus on an early work, 'The Problem of Evil', as an encapsulation of many of the topics which aggregate themselves around Maiden's work. Tactically, however, the best approach to 'The Problem of Evil' is through a number of poems which appear in the first book.
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