Review of Sumner Locke Elliott: Writing Life. A Biography, by Sharon Clarke, and Pioneer Players: The Lives of Louis and Hilda Esson by Peter Fitzpatrick

There are intriguing similarities between the lives of Sumner Locke Elliott and Louis Esson. Both felt themselves pioneers in particularly philistine, early twentieth-century provincial culture. This failed to support their writing and theatre careers at the level of structural and economic recognition which we now, somewhat complacently and maybe precariously, assume as a given. Both carne from shattered families where absent parents left life-long wounds. Esson's mysterious father vanished from his life before birth and he was raised in Carlton by an extended Scottish clan of his mother's Paterson relatives, while she immediately remarried, advantageously and twice, to become a fitful presence in her son's life. Elliott saw his father once, while his own mother, the novelist, journalist and playwright Helena Sumner Locke, died of complications from his birth leaving the infant to be raised by her numerous and devoted, if strong-minded and squabbling sisters; the tug-of-love situation memorably fictionalised in his novels Careful, He Might Hear You and Water Under the Bridge. Even their photos show similarities in pose and gaze: fine-featured with arrestingly beautiful eyes, they peer keenly from their respective covers as though mustering wary intelligence in the face of a world from which frequent rebuffs are to be expected.

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Published 1 October 1996 in Volume 17 No. 4. Subjects: Biographies.

Cite as: Kelly, Veronica. ‘Review of Sumner Locke Elliott: Writing Life. A Biography, by Sharon Clarke, and Pioneer Players: The Lives of Louis and Hilda Esson by Peter Fitzpatrick.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 17, no. 4, 1996. https://doi.org/10.20314/als.32ca8a690a.