Archive for March, 2013

THE HARP IN THE SOUTH BY RUTH PARK

harpRuth Park’s harp in the south was truly great. It deals with poverty, domestic violence, abortion, alcohol, aging, coming of age, parenthood, aboriginal issues, and immigratione, but none of these make it great. With these alone it would just be another forgettable piece of gritty, worthy social realism.

What makes it great is that it did all this in 1940s and was hugely popular at the time, so much so the book was serialised by the SMH in 1947 (This is the first episode as it appeared to SMH readers back then) and subsequently went on to be made into movies, tv shows and to be on the hsc english curriculum.

I would say there are several likely reasons it managed this amazing trick of both portraying in documentary detail the poverty and dysfunction of sydney’s surry hills in the 40s, whilst also being successful in the popular culture mainstream.

  • The language is both easy and vivid.
  • The characters appear to be larger than life, even stereotypes, worthy of any soap  but they all have an inner life and go on an inner journey over the course of the book.
  • It is politically very clever because although it is a social justice manifesto screaming that attention be paid to the poverty in the heart of a rich city, which presumably made people of the time uncomfortable, it is also peppered with patronising moral judgements of the the ‘lower classes’, which presumably softened the challenge of that call to action.

The bookgroup mostly loved it, although there was some criticism of the moral judgments, the simplistic language and the ending. It does certainly come across as an artifact of its time, but i found it great to read such a forensic account of my neighbouring suburb, from not so long ago.

To stay in the mood we met at shakespeares hotel because it is pub in surry hills not changed much since the time of the book, and it is the kind of place at which hughie darcy from the book may have had a drink, or ten. I was very excited to find the lane adjacent to the pub to be very much in the style of the time of the book. I was even more excited to find that one of the houses in the lane was numbered 3 1/2, because the darcy’s house in the book was number 12 1/2.

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March 17, 2013 at 10:35 am Leave a comment


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