Today, 14th October, marks the birth dates of three literary luminaries of the twentieth century – Miles Franklin, Katherine Mansfield and Hannah Arendt. These three women have made a big impact on western cultural life and thought and continue to do so.
Miles Franklin’s, novel, My Brilliant Career, has a secure place in Australia’s literary canon. This is extraordinary for a book written by a woman, first published in 1901 and coming from the pen of a twenty-one year old. Miles Franklin threw herself into life and writing, taking herself off to live in the United States before World War I, moving to England, nursing soldiers in dangerous circumstances in Macedonia before moving back to Australia. In the words of her biographer, “Miles was no wimp”. She did not make her fortune but through frugal living she conceived and endowed Australia’s premier literary award through her will.
You can find many reviews of My Brilliant Career online. It is still a wonderful book to read. I have reviewed another book she wrote, a family saga called All that Swagger. Jill Roe’s biography of the author, Stella Miles Franklin: A Biography is definitely worth the read. I have reviewed it on this blog and written about it for the Australian Women Writers Challenge (where you can also find reviews of Franklin’s work). To understand how Miles Franklin continues to drive Australia’s literary life, explore the website for the Miles Franklin Literary Award and another significant literary award inspired by her work, The Stella Prize.
People in Australia who are using the Google search engine today will see a Google Doodle in honour of Miles Franklin, but New Zealanders get a plain search screen today even though one of their literary greats shares the same birthday. Katherine Mansfield had a short but productive life. She grew up in Wellington but lived most of her adult life in England where she moved in the same circles as D H Lawrence and Virginia Woolf. Katherine Mansfield’s work is regarded as a significant example of modernist literature. A Google Doodle of her would certainly sit well on the UK Google search page as well as New Zealand’s search page.
Annie Pfeifer writes about Mansfield’s work on the wiki of the Modernism Lab at Yale University. You can read some reviews of her work at the ANZ Litlovers LitBlog. Read a brief biography of Mansfield on that invaluable New Zealand resource, Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand.
I found out from Twitter that there was a Google Doodle of Miles Franklin today so I wanted to see it. From my desk in Singapore I opened a Google search window and found a Google Doodle of… Hannah Arendt. Google has a different version of its search interface for each country hence the different Doodle.
The phrase ‘the banality of evil’ will be forever linked to Hannah Arendt’s name. Like Miles Franklin and Katherine Mansfield she lived through a horrific time in the world’s history, but Arendt was a target of violence unlike the two antipodean authors Arendt’s account of the trial of Adolf Eichmann, one of the chief architects of the Holocaust, continues to reverberate today. She sought to understand the darkness that led to the Holocaust by examining the person and the morals of one of its chief instigators and opposed the attempt to dismiss someone who committed such a crime against humanity as aberrant. It was the normality of Eichmann that was so disturbing noted Arendt.
Arendt was an intellectual giant of the twentieth century. There are many articles about her work. This overview of Arendt’s writing about Eichmann in The Guardian by Judith Brett caught my eye as did this article in The New York Times written by Roger Berkowitz about the ongoing intellectual debate surrounding Arendt’s account of Eichmann.
It is because of what Arendt wrote about that I am ambivalent about today’s Google Doodle of her. In this image Arendt looks to me like a homely and wise school teacher, not someone who wrote about crimes against humanity, strode the global stage and whose interests and conversation would have been very out of place in a 1950s school mothers club meeting.
All three writers – Miles Franklin, Katherine Mansfield and Hannah Arendt – lived outside twentieth century notions of womanhood. Their impact demonstrates that the words from a woman’s pen are just as important, vital and resonant as those from the plumes of men.
If ever there was a day to remind us of the importance of what can come out of pens of women, fourteenth of October is indeed the day.
Coincidentally today is also Ada Lovelace Day which recognises the considerable achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths. Read about the story of my mother who struggled through school in country Australia determined to study science and maths, and who ended up becoming a programmer – a girl studying maths and science, working in a laboratory 1959-1963, university and computers.
… Because we need a world with both writing and science
…and women excel at both.