At an author event hosted in 1947 by the Fellowship of Australian Writers, Ruth Park met head-on the polarised reactions stirred by her novel The Harp in the South, as it appeared in instalments in the Sydney Morning Herald just prior to its publication as a book. Amid the raucous was one particularly belligerent man, as Miles Franklin recounts in a letter written after the event, who ‘kept on and on till people tried to laugh him down. He said he did not want to read stories about pregnant women and slums, that that was not literature.’17
Initially disparaged for its ‘low-brow’ and distinctly feminine themes, Park’s fictional account of the lives of the Darcy family of Plymouth Street, Surry Hills, is of course now recognised as one of the first Australian novels to take seriously the lived experience of Sydney’s urban poor through a sympathetic portrayal in fiction. Still, the novel is not entirely accepted as part of the Australian literary canon and there is much to make the modern reader uncomfortable in the casual racism of some its stock characters. Yet the fact that Park’s novel has remained in print ever since its first publication is, of itself, a remarkable feat. It is an anomaly, too, for a book dealing so readily with ‘pregnant women and slums’. Other novels of Park’s era have not fared nearly so well.
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