An Inspiring Collection: Read an Extract from Elizabeth Macarthur’s Letters, Edited by Kate Grenville

An Inspiring Collection: Read an Extract from Elizabeth Macarthur’s Letters, Edited by Kate Grenville

8 October 1789, to her mother

In October 1788 Elizabeth Veale, the daughter of a farmer in Devon, married John Macarthur, the son of a draper. Macarthur was an ensign—the most junior rank of officer—in the army. He had little money and few prospects of advancement. He may also have had a debt of some five hundred pounds that he had no way of repaying. So, when there was an opportunity to be promoted into a new regiment, he took it—even though it would mean service on the other side of the world, in the primitive conditions of a struggling penal colony.

When this letter was written, Elizabeth was the mother of Edward, a sickly boy of seven or eight months old. Apart from travelling to Chatham Barracks near London for John to take up his military service, she’d never gone far beyond the little village of Bridgerule where she’d grown up.

This letter—the earliest in the library archive—was a rich source for my exploration of the idea of false stories. Elizabeth describes herself as appearing ‘timid and irresolute’: could this really be so? Within a year she was throwing herself into a challenging life in New South Wales in a way that was anything but timid, anything but irresolute.

In A Room Made of Leaves I used, verbatim, several parts of this letter—they were the parts that sounded like someone embroidering an elaborate frill of language to prettify the truth.

Elizabeth was trying to reassure her mother, not necessarily to say what she really thought. The crops she describes as ‘ flourishing in a way nearly incredible’ had in fact failed. To my eyes this was a lovely bit of doublespeak that she might have enjoyed devising.

Yes, the success of those crops was indeed ‘incredible’—that is, not to be believed…

Continue reading the extract here…

Buy a copy of Elizabeth Macarthur’s Letters here.

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          Publisher details

          Elizabeth Macarthur’s Letters
          Author
          Kate Grenville
          Publisher
          Text Publishing
          Genre
          Non Fiction
          Released
          29 March, 2022
          ISBN
          9781922458582

          Synopsis

          These letters were the starting point for Kate Grenville’s bestselling novel A Room Made of Leaves. They inspired the portrait of her imagined Elizabeth Macarthur: shrewd, subtle, passionate. And they offer a glimpse into the complex inner life of one of our most powerful foremothers. Yet, until now, a general reader could only access a handful of them.

          This book offers an edited selection, with commentary from Grenville, of the many letters Elizabeth Macarthur wrote ‘home’ from colonial Sydney over her long life—letters in which we can hear the voice of a remarkable woman. Circumstances confronted her with huge challenges, but also gave her opportunities unknown to most women of the time. It was a life of tumult, of griefs and joys—all faced with spirit, and recorded in this lively and engaging correspondence.

          Kate Grenville
          About the author

          Kate Grenville

          Kate Grenville is one of Australia’s most celebrated writers. Her international bestseller The Secret River was awarded local and overseas prizes, has been adapted for the stage and as an acclaimed television miniseries, and is now a much-loved classic. Grenville’s other novels include Sarah Thornhill, The Lieutenant, Dark Places and the Orange Prize winner The Idea of Perfection. Her most recent books are two works of non-fiction, One Life: My Mother’s Story and The Case Against Fragrance. She has also written three books about the writing process. In 2017 Grenville was awarded the Australia Council Award for Lifetime Achievement in Literature. She lives in Melbourne.

          Books by Kate Grenville

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