Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Barbara Hanrahan

Annette Stewart's new biography of Barabara Hanrahan (Wakefield Press, come on down) was launched by Barry Oakley in Sydney recently as part of this here event (click on image to embiggen):

Which I wish I could have been at. I have now, through sheer serendipity, scored a review copy and am racing through it. It's a straightforward and basic account of Hanrahan's life and work, heavily reliant for its material on her copious diaries, her life partner Jo Steele, and a handful of her friends. There are worse sorts of sources.

And it's reminding me how highly I've always rated Hanrahan. In general I have an intense dislike of literary league tables, 'Best Of' lists and attempts to identify the Great Australian Novel, but in this case I'm willing to make an exception: for sheer verbal and visionary power and originality, I think Hanrahan is up there with Patrick White, Christina Stead, Les Murray, David Foster, and the Jack Hibberd of A Stretch of the Imagination.

And that list in turn reminds me, as the biography evokes Hanrahan's singular personality -- her ferocious fantasies and 'fits', her rages, her jealousies, her depressions and paranoias and interior struggles of many kinds -- that there's no correlation at all between being an artist of genius and being a sociable, urbane, easy personality. No correlation at all.

It makes you wonder whether the nice, by definition, are lesser artists. Which would be very bad news for writers' festivals, because if that were a reliable theory then you'd have to choose, when drawing up the invitation lists, between calm, co-operative, sociable, competent writers with chip-free shoulders who turn up on time, prepare for their sessions, interact nicely with the punters and take organisational glitches in their stride, and geniuses who, erm, don't.


  1. Oh wow, my aunt S just told me she'd found BH's bio and I thought she was talking about 'Michael, Me & the Sun'... but there's a new one! Yay!

    Absolutely agree, although there are plenty of grumpy unsociable bad artists out there.

    BH was exceptional in every way; her art got cheerier as her health deteriorated. I have the most glorious little etching, hand-coloured from her sick bed. It's my favorite piece of anything in my house.

  2. As Martin Amis said of his Dad, the best part of him is the books. Hanrahan was seriously underrated, enough to make anyone grumpy.

  3. look forward to reading the biography. I also think Hanrahan was underrated. At her best she is inspired but occasionally I felt she was almost going through the motions eg Chelsea Girl. However I love 'Michael, Me & the Sun' and Scent of eucalyptus (of course)and Where the queens all strayed.
    Does the biographer write of her love for the West Torrens footy club?
    As I travel through Thebarton it still woriies me that they knocked down her home...