Review of Louisa by Brian Matthews
Was Louisa Lawson a termagant? Was she. in the luridly apposite words of the Shorter Oxford's definition, 'a savage, violent, boisterous, overbearing or quarrelsome person . . . a blusterer, a bully', and specifically 'a woman of this character'? One tradition has tended to affirm such a stereotype: 'she was a real bitch', asserts the most glibly extreme of the haters and (usually male) opponents Matthews cites. The type-casting which he undermines has doubtless been responsible for much of the discrediting that the book redresses. At the same time, the recently preferred image of Louisa Lawson as an Australian feminist pioneer has not until now been fleshed out, nor have the areas of uncertainty been shaded into the picture. Matthews' case 'for' Louisa is really won long before the issues are fully and finally worked through, above all in the tonally controlled considerations of her most ordinary and intimate experiences, as a child in the bush, as wife, mother, writer and campaigner.
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