‘The Only Russian in Sydney’: Modernism and Realism in the ‘Watch Tower’

In the post-war period, the dichotomy between Realism and Modernism seemed to summarise all the important rivalries in Australian fiction — nationalist enthusiasm and political responsibility lined up against cosmopolitan sophistication and formalist experimentation. Given the approximate and tendentious nature of the terms of this dichotomy, it was inevitable that writing that could not fall easily into one or other of its broad categories would be met with some uncertainty and perhaps eventually ignored. The aim of this article is to show how a novel which met such a fate, Elizabeth Harrower's The Watch Tower, both discusses and defies the simple dichotomy that Australian literary critics in the 1960s were so keen to maintain as their paradigm. Harrower's novel, like the work of Christina Stead before her and Helen Garner after her, attempted to subject the techniques and concerns of the traditional social novel — especially the question o f the nature and function of domestic power — to the self-consciousness that modernism demanded, without giving in to the temptations of either formalist machismo or realist belligerence.

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Published 1 May 1992 in Volume 15 No. 3. Subjects: Characterisation, Modernism, Power (Personal relations), Realism, Elizabeth Harrower.

Cite as: Mansfield, Nicholas. ‘‘The Only Russian in Sydney’: Modernism and Realism in the ‘Watch Tower’.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 15, no. 3, 1992. https://doi.org/10.20314/als.c676c0020d.