It is with sadness that we note that following the recent deaths of Peter Porter and , last week saw the passing of another major contributor to Australian literature , Jessica Anderson. Anderson was part of the generation of women writers (including (b. 1918), Olga Masters (b. 1919) and Elizabeth Jolley (b. 1923)) who were slow to come to publishing fiction, but nonetheless produced important novels of a type that set them apart from the younger Australian women who also started publishing in the 1970s and 80s.
Anderson spent her childhood years in Brisbane before moving to Sydney in her late teens. Although working intermittently as a writer Anderson did not publish her first novel, An Ordinary Lunacy (1963), until she was in her late forties. This and her second novel, The Last Man’s Head (1970) were both crime or detective fiction. Anderson produced an historical novel with The Commandant (1975), before finding her true range with Tirra Lirra by the River (1978). In the character of Nora Porteaus the novel provides one of the most fully realised fictional accounts of an Australian life between the wars. Tirra Lirra by the River was highly awarded, including the Prize. Later novels included The Impersonators (1980, and also awarded the Miles Franklin Prize), Taking Shelter (1989), and One of the Wattle Birds (1994).
Anderson’s best fiction will be remembered for its artful and succinct control of narrative and character, superior dialogue, and an acute rendition of social manners amongst the ambitious but uncertain middle classes.
Anderson was the subject of Elaine Barry’s Fabricating the Self: The Fictions of Jessica Anderson (UQP, 1992), and interviews with her can be found in Jennifer Ellison’s Rooms of Their Own (Penguin, 1986), and Candida Baker’s Yacker 2 (Picador, 1987).