Lesbia Harford’s Homefront Warrior and Women’s World War I Writing
Sometime during the early 1920s, Lesbia Harford wrote The Invaluable Mystery, a novel which concerns Sally, an urban working-class woman, and her struggle to survive on her own when her German-born father, Mr Putman, and brother, Max, are interned as enemy aliens during the Great War. To a contemporary reader, the plot seems conventional, but the novel failed to find a publisher until 1987, after it was accidentally discovered by researchers Richard Nile and Robert Darby in the Australian Archives in Canberra. In their Introduction, Nile and Darby provide a history of this delay and, along with Helen Garner, speculate on why it was suppressed. In her Foreword, Garner suggests that the book's radical subject matter, 'the grotesque internment and maltreatment of foreign nationals in Australia during the First World War' (1), may have prevented its publication. But this is to misread the text, for the Germans (including the Putman men) who are imprisoned are not treated badly; their gaolers are strict and intolerant, but never abusive or cruel, and several of the Australian officers who capture them are affable, even kindly.
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Published 1 May 1995 in Volume 17 No. 1. Subjects: Australian literature and writers, Australian war literature, Australian women writers, Effects of war, Gender - Literary portrayal, Publishing, World War I.