Dramatising the Self: Beverley Farmer’s Fiction

There is a clear autobiographical dimension to Beverley Farmer's fiction: her own life and experience provide the material that goes into her writing, and the latter charts her progress, as it were, down the years. Unlike many other novelists such as Keneally, Malouf or Hall, she does not have to research her subjects - she looks within, as her muse is truly Mnemosyne's daughter. In A Body of Water she evokes the sense of growth to which she aspires both as a human being and as an artist, and the need to harness together personal and artistic development: 'Is the past all I am, or at least all I can know of what I am? If my new stories can't reach into the new time, grow from the new self, better to be writing none' (166). Her fiction must confirm her evolution, her maturation, or it is not worth writing. Its function, then, is largely to dramatise the writer's self, reflect all its many facets, including the more private or painful ones, and thus exorcise the pain, the doubts and the bitterness, making further evolution possible.

Farmer is in this sense a lyrical writer whose main purpose is to transcribe in literary form the powerful or delicate emotions which she experienced as a person. The method of her fiction is to set up a dramatic construction which highlights the personal problems with which the protagonist, often a projection of her own self, has to cope, to provide an appropriate setting for this character to voice raptures and agonies. Her narratives have little plot in them; while her short stories often revolve around a single seminal incident - the death of the narrator's mother in 'Inheritance', the finding of a dead girl's body in 'A Girl on the Sand' - they seldom fall into the conventional dramatic pattern in which incident shapes the story. The incident (often of an unpleasant kind) provides an opportunity to look into the soul and record all its vibrations, its joys and its sorrows. This pattern is even more in evidence in Farmer's novels: these do tell a story, usually a very simple one as far as incident is concerned but, again, the story matters less than the emotional resonance of a particular situation, such as Bell being back in Greece, in her former mother-in-law's house, after she's been divorced for years (The House in the Light). The plot is reduced to the heroine's arrival, her staying a week, and her departure. What twists tahere are have to do with unexpected insights into the characters' psyche (for instance the discovery that, long ago, Sofia eloped with her lover, and that her family forced her to marry a man she did not love), not with incident.

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Published 1 October 1995 in Volume 17 No. 2. Subjects: Australian novels & novelists, Autobiographies, Imagery, Narrative techniques, Self perception, Writer's inspiration, Beverley Farmer.

Cite as: Pons, Xavier. ‘Dramatising the Self: Beverley Farmer’s Fiction.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 17, no. 2, 1995. https://doi.org/10.20314/als.563da5d599.