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'Typical characters under typical circumstances:’ The Slum Fiction of Dorothy Hewett and Ruth Park

Culture and languages

WIP seminar within the English research seminar series. Ronald Paul presents his ongoing research.

27 Apr 2021
15:15 - 17:00
Online via Zoom, please email the contact person for link

Professor em. Ronald Paul, University of Gothenburg
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Seminar language: English and Swedish

For a copy of the proposed paper, please contact Zlatan Filipovic.
Department of Languages and Literatures


In this article I compare the representation of working people in two novels, Ruth Park’s The Harp in the South (1948) and Dorothy Hewett’s Bobbin Up (1959), as well as the ensuing critical debate about realism in their depictions of slum life in Sydney. I show that while Hewett’s work is more class-conscious and agitational, Park’s novel comes alive in deeper intersectional ways through her awareness of the interwoven structures of gender, class and race. Although Hewett’s novel culminates in a strike by women mill workers, Park reveals more of the individual strategies of survival that form part of the working-class lives she portrays. Thus, using Friedrich Engels’ critical point about ‘typical characters under typical circumstances’, I argue that while both writers try to capture the fundamental experience of working-class people, this is more successfully done in Park’s novel, both in terms of its literary realism and implicit radical politics.