Janet Upcher ( Gin­nin­derra Press, 2014, $ 22.50)

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - BOOKS - WAR­REN BREWER

SOME may have over­looked the sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tion of Dr Mar­garet Scott to Tas­ma­nia’s lit­er­ary her­itage.

She is a for­mer Pro­fes­sor of English at the Univer­sity of Tas­ma­nia and re­cip­i­ent of the 2005 Aus­tralia Coun­cil Writ­ers Emer­i­tus Award. Tas­ma­nian au­thor and edi­tor, Janet Upcher gives a provoca­tive cri­tique and anal­y­sis of Mar­garet Scott’s work in this el­e­gant and schol­arly work.

I first met Mar­garet Scott in the sum­mer of 1959. Her hus­band had taken up a teach­ing ap­point­ment at the pres­ti­gious Ho­bart High School. It was soon af­ter their ar­rival and clearly the travel, heat and alien en­vi­ron­ment had taken their toll. She was ini­tially sub­dued, even reclu­sive. Lit­tle did we know that be­neath her mod­est and self- ef­fac­ing ex­te­rior was an enor­mous lit­er­ary talent, an in­ci­sive wit and an in­flu­en­tial so­cial ac­tivist. Fore­most, how­ever, was her in­domitable spirit. Dur­ing her life­time she ex­pe­ri­enced recurring ill health and other ad­ver­si­ties in­clud­ing the de­struc­tion of her home and be­long­ings by fire. Rather than be­ing di­min­ished by these cir­cum­stance she en­dured and her lit­er­ary works flour­ished.

Janet Upcher or­gan­ises her anal­y­sis here into prose and po­etry. Scott’s po­etry in par­tic­u­lar, is vo­lu­mi­nous. Her deep in­sights and imag­in­ings re­flect most as­pects of her daily life. They are of­ten in­tensely per­sonal and fre­quently defy in­ter­pre­ta­tion. Her nov­els, how­ever, speak pro­foundly. They are bril­liantly re­vealed here. In par­tic­u­lar, the truths in her first novel The Baby Farmer, im­merses the reader in the ter­ri­ble in­equities of Vic­to­rian so­ci­ety. Upcher’s timely and en­gag­ing work makes a com­pelling case for Mar­garet Scott’s in­clu­sion among Tas­ma­nia’s lit­er­ary elite, along­side Koch, Lohrey, Flana­gan, Har­wood, Reynolds, Pierce and Vi­vian Smith.

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