"Let me tell my story" : choosing Isabel and how a metaphor made her right

Publication Type:
Thesis
Issue Date:
2009
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The thesis consists of a novel, The Russian and Mrs Greene, and an exegesis concentrating on the “character” problem. How would the story be delivered? After much indecision, the novel was written as if told by the character “Isabel Greene”. Isabel travels from her Tablelands home up to Brisbane where she stays with her wealthy cousin. Her marriage is dry. Through her connection with a working class Irish-Australian family she meets the Russian Bolshevik, Lev. It is 1918, war-time and the young men are fighting overseas while at home political ferment stirs. Isabel falls in love and in spite of her doubts and evasions she begins an affair with Lev. In Russia, the longed-for revolution has arrived and the Bolsheviks stranded in Australia want to go home. As war ends, the soldiers return bringing with them the Spanish ’Flu. Many of them also bring a loathing of the Reds. Isabel is caught up in the Red Flag Riots of 1919 as ex-soldiers take to the streets, attempting to burn out the Russians. All around her, lives are in turmoil. The Irish family falls apart, both her husband and lover are hurt by Isabel’s withdrawals and society is ravaged by sickness and political struggle. And Lev is arrested. The bare bones do not hint at the struggle to find “Isabel”. The original intention, precious to the author, was to write about an Irish-Australian family before, during and after the First World War. The Eden-like youth of family members would be shattered by war. Their labour politics would be spotlighted. Instead, the novel did not yield until the lead character was found in Isabel Greene, a middle class lady caught up in her erotic situation. Fresh historical research had a negative impact on the original intentions. In the exegesis, tracing early drafts shows that other characters might have taken the lead and how assimilation fed into the ultimate figure of Isabel. An analysis of limitations in her first-person narration with its ironic gap and emphasis on Desire seem to make her “wrong”. But is she wrong? The relationship between the author and Isabel is significant in the choice of character, and Isabel “relates” to other characters on the level of theme. In her loss of faith she also represents Us. Most importantly, through metaphor Isabel has lived the meaning of the most precious of the original intentions, the myth of the Garden.
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