‘My Little Ghost-Slave’: The Queer Lives of Rosa Praed

Rosa Praed's position in Australian literary history has her firmly placed within the romantic voices of the colonial period. She is one of the 'Lady Novelists' and likewise is often grouped with her contemporaries Ada Cambridge and 'Tasma' (Jessie Couvreur). Recent academic interest in Praed comes mainly from feminist scholars such as Dale Spender, Fiona Giles, and Susan Sheridan. Their work has reclaimed Praed and her writing as part of a feminist romantic tradition occupied with the position of women (particularly in relation to marriage), and questioning the overtly masculinist and nationalistic discourses of the Australian fin de siecle. Their discussions focus primarily on Praed's Australian life, her early years in Queensland, unhappy marriage to Campbell Praed and antipodean novels such as An Australian Heroine (1880), Policy and Passion (1881) and Lady Bridget in Never-Never Land (1915). These feminist interventions have produced a valuable academic discourse on the Australian colonial romance genre and its masculinist/nationalist context.

However, such feminist re-readings and literary excavations of Praed's corpus and life have elided, or simply failed to consider worthy of analysis, her occult novels and beliefs. More disturbing is the almost universal silence surrounding Praed's life with and love of the trance medium Nancy Harward, and her subsequent textual exploration of same-sex female desire. 3 This silence, I believe, constitutes a violent adherence to what Judith Butler terms 'the naturalizing narratives of compulsory heterosexuality' (146). Lesbian literary theorist Liz Yorke has called for an attentive approach to the silences; 'to identify, theorize, and explore ... the gap between lesbian lives and those dominant discourses which problematically avoid, distort, suppress, or condemn the actualities of lesbian existence' (187). The heterosexual feminist readings of Praed by Sheridan, Giles and Spender have effectively reduced Nancy Harward to a ghostly eccentricity in Praed's life and work, a queer spectre adding peculiarity to the margins. However, often ignored biographical material reveals a different story, where the woman Rosa called 'my little ghost-slave', occupies a central place within the narrative.

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Published 1 October 1996 in Volume 17 No. 4. Subjects: Lesbian relationships, Literary influences, Love, Sexuality & sexual identity, Spirituality, Writer's craft, Rosa Praed, 19th Century Women Writers.

Cite as: Barlow, Damien. ‘‘My Little Ghost-Slave’: The Queer Lives of Rosa Praed.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 17, no. 4, 1996, doi: 10.20314/als.947a4e86ec.