Her novels reflect many aspects of her life--her pioneering childhood, her young adulthood as the daughter of a Queensland cabinet minister, her antagonism toward the bonds of marriage, her belief in reincarnation, her interest in theosophy, her occult experiences, and her friendships with women. Her early novels set in Australia were remarkable for their acute observation of the political and social mores of colonial Queensland, "Leichardt's [sic ] Land" in her fiction. When she turned to the milieu of London's "Upper Bohemia," she was recognized as a gifted social satirist. In her fiction set in England she showed an extraordinary ability to catch, in fact to help to create, the mood of the moment--for instance, the advent of theosophy and the groundswell of feminist opposition to the legal bonds of marriage.
Rosa Caroline Murray-Prior was born on 27 March 1851, the third child of squatter (settler) Thomas Lodge Murray-Prior and his wife Matilda (née Harpur) at Bungroopim, the Aboriginal name for a place also known as Bromelton. It was on the Logan River in what later became southeast Queensland but was then still part of the colony of New South Wales. All her life Rosa was conscious of the special nature of her childhood as a daughter of early pioneers of the remote Moreton Bay District. Her background gave her the authority to write about the emotional impact of the Australian bush, European/Aboriginal conflicts, and pioneering life at a time when there were few such authentic voices and when there was great interest in the strangeness of the Australian continent and its effect on European colonizers.
When Rosa was five years old, her father, like many other squatters with a vision of riches, decided to move from the Logan River further out to where land seemed limitless. He took his family north to Naraigin or Hawkwood, a vast station (ranch) on the Auburn River, a tributary of the Burnett, in what later became central Queensland. Their home was a two-roomed slab hut with a bark roof in remote country that had been home to the Yiman people for countless centuries. Like other squatters, the Murray-Priors saw themselves as heroic pioneers of country discovered by Europeans only a few years previously; to the Yiman they were hostile invaders. On 27 October 1857 eleven Europeans were killed and mutilated by Aborigines at Hornet Bank station, to the west of Hawkwood. The Hornet Bank massacre and the subsequent brutal retaliation by Europeans, initially organized by Thomas Murray-Prior, became an infamous and much written about event on the European/Aboriginal frontier. When her family retreated from Hawkwood, Rosa took with her not only memories of Hornet Bank, which she later wrote about in her autobiographical and fictional work, but also a dimly realized knowledge of the timeless and transcending nature of Aboriginal spiritual beliefs. Although obscurely perceived in childhood, these beliefs satisfied some of her instinctive and later overwhelming interest in spirituality and the supernatural.
For some years the family lived in or near Brisbane, and Rosa and her brothers and sister were taught intermittently by governesses. When she was fourteen, her father bought two large stations, Maroon and Rathdowney, near the Queensland border with New South Wales, where the family resumed an isolated bush existence. When no governess could be found to accompany the children, teaching became part of the duties of their mother, Matilda. She fostered her children's literary talents in an imaginative and innovative way by encouraging them to begin a handwritten monthly magazine, which they filled with fiction, poetry, and historical items. Rosa was the main contributor.
After her mother's death, Rosa took over the education of the younger children, at the same time reading omnivorously in her father's well-stocked library. She also began attending social events at Parliament House and Government House in Brisbane as companion for her father, who, in 1866, had been appointed to a ministerial position as postmaster general in the Queensland government and a member of the Legislative Council. She listened for hours to the parliamentary debates, absorbing the atmosphere, fixing in her mind scenes of Queensland political life that appeared later in her Queensland novels. As she observed the clashes of personality and policy in the Parliament and at social events, she also kept a sharp eye on the developing romances and sexual intrigues among the viceregal set--politicians, public servants, squatters, and their families.
When she became aware that her father's remarriage to Nora Barton was imminent, Rosa felt some pressure to marry, over and above the need to conform to the mores of a society that recognized no other role for women. Years later she looked back on her predicament and satirized it in her novel Miss Jacobsen's Chance: A Story of Australian Life (1886), in which the daughter of a widowed postmaster general is given six months to find a husband among the political and social elite of "Leichardt's [sic ] Town." After only a superficial acquaintance, at the age of twenty-one, Rosa married twenty-six-year-old, English-born Arthur Campbell Bulkley Mackworth Praed, a son of a family distinguished in banking and conservative politics. Rosa seemed as unaware of her husband's lack of interest in intellectual pursuits and his demanding sexuality as she was of her own aversion to heterosexual relations. Soon after their marriage on 29 October 1872 they left for Campbell Praed's cattle station, which occupied almost the whole of Curtis Island off the coast of Queensland between Gladstone and Rockhampton. One cannot read any of the three novels Rosa Praed set on Curtis Island--An Australian Heroine (1880), The Romance of a Station (1889), and Sister Sorrow (1916)--or her autobiographical account in My Australian Girlhood: Sketches and Impressions of Bush Life (1902) without feeling the oppressive isolation of her situation. At her lowest ebb, in a highly disturbed state, she turned to her dead mother for help. In reply she received a message of hope, which she believed came from her mother and which she recorded by the process known as automatic writing. This apparent experience of the supernatural was an early step in what was to become an almost overwhelming interest in the mystical.
Her release from Curtis Island came when her husband sold the station in 1875. Early the following year they left for England with their two children--two-year-old Maud, who had recently been found to be deaf, and Bulkley, an infant. Although their trip to England was originally planned as a visit, Rosa Praed never again lived in Australia. The inspiration for a considerable part of her best writing was already swirling in her mind from the experiences of her Australian girlhood. In novel after novel she revisited the terrors of Hawkwood, the wild ruggedness of the mountain reaches of Maroon, the romantic intrigues of Brisbane society, the political machinations in the Queensland Parliament, and the rank oppressiveness of Curtis Island.
In England the Praeds finally settled at Rushden, a village near Wellingborough in Northamptonshire, where Campbell became managing director of a brewery bought by members of the Praed family. Rosa Praed's third child, Humphrey, was born in 1877, and her fourth and last child, Geoffrey, late in 1879. She had arrived in England with dreams of finding a ready market for stories she had already written, but for an unknown colonial to find a publisher was not as easy as she had imagined. The break came when she met Frederic Chapman, a partner in the firm of Chapman and Hall, publishers of such writers as Charles Dickens, William Makepeace Thackeray, Thomas Carlyle, and George Meredith, who was the firm's principal reader. When Praed submitted a manuscript of the first volume of what was later published as An Australian Heroine --the checkered romance of an ingenuous girl, Esther Hagart, living on an isolated island off the Queensland coast--Meredith was encouraging. Praed hurriedly wrote the second part, in which she transported Esther from the island to English country-house society. She was devastated by Meredith's criticism. He advised her to spend six months brooding over the germ of a story and in the meantime to read French novels.
Praed was more determined to be an author than Meredith may have imagined. She did not give up writing for six months but "set hot-headed to work" to rewrite her novel at furious speed. The second version went to another publisher, Richard Bentley and Son, but the verdict was again qualified condemnation. Again she tenaciously rewrote and sent it back to Chapman and Hall, where after being read by a less "hypocritical" reader than Meredith, it was accepted. An Australian Heroine was published early in 1880 under Praed's maiden name, R. Murray Prior. The first review appeared in the Queen (London) on 27 March 1880 and in the following month or so it was reviewed in almost all the leading newspapers and periodicals in Britain. One favorable review followed another, and so Praed's writing career had begun. The novel was praised as "amongst the most powerful and interesting novels of the season" and "one of the most readable we have come across for some time." One reviewer stated that there had not been "a more freshly, more naturally interesting novel" in a long time. Another stated that the author "had exceptional ability" and "considerable future promise."
With this encouragement Praed returned to some material she had written previously and, working at great speed, turned it into a three-volume novel that was published by Richard Bentley in 1881 as Policy and Passion: A Novel of Australian Life , usually regarded as one of her best stories. Against a background of Queensland politics, the plot centered on the sexual and political intrigues of Thomas Longleat, premier of "Leichardt's [sic ] Land," and the search for romantic and sexual fulfillment by his daughter, Honoria, caught between a fascinated, almost mesmeric attraction to an English cad and the claims of a loyal but boring Australian, a theme that recurred in Praed's Australian fiction. When he read her novel at proof stage, George Bentley was alarmed at Praed's frankness in writing sexual scenes and forced her into many changes. He supported his argument by citing the rigid Victorian attitude toward morals currently adopted by both the public and the press "after an extraordinary run the other way." Over a short time Praed received an avalanche of letters from Bentley urging her to "tone down" her story. In reply she argued that Australian society was extremely different from English society. "There is less varnish--situations must be more unconventional. There are fewer lights and shadows, and as a whole society is purer." In a weak position if she wanted to have her novel published, Praed ended by accepting Bentley's arguments. The novels she wrote over the next few years struck similar opposition.
Policy and Passion, which appeared in March 1881, was the first book Praed published as Mrs. Campbell Praed, the name she used for the rest of her writing career. Policy and Passion was widely and favorably reviewed in England, described in the Athenaeum (London) as "unusually powerful" with fresh scenes and unfamiliar types of characters and in the Graphic (London) as "strikingly dramatic" and of "decided interest." Australian opinion was more critical, partly because she had raised the taboo subject of convict ancestry (the downfall of Premier Longleat occurs when his history as a former convict is revealed). "It is not agreeable to have such an episode put forward as a possibility in an Australian colony," the Australasian (Melbourne) reviewer wrote. Australian reviewers often criticized Praed's novels, partly because of what they perceived to be her unnecessary frankness in presenting colonial life.
With two well-reviewed books published in a little more than a year, Praed had laid the basis for a literary career. She could now pursue the life of an author, one that was eventually to give her what she treasured most, "independence, money to enable me to live my own life--& certain friends & entrance into a literary circle." Independence was important to her. Her marriage, never satisfactory, had become a tie at which she strained. Increasingly, bouts of ill health that necessitated her spending the winter in the south of France provided temporary escape.
Her next book, Nadine: The Study of a Woman (1882), was written at great speed--the first chapter in one night and the entire novel in six weeks. At first George Bentley was enthusiastic, telling Praed she had entirely refuted the opinion that she could write only on Australian subjects, but he quickly retreated from his first assessment. Although he remained convinced of the "power" of the story and the "excellence" of the style, he declined to publish on the grounds that the story was "unwholesome" and the heroine "rotten to the core." Nevertheless, he believed the book would be a commercial success. Nadine was snapped up almost immediately by Chapman and Hall. It proved successful, its popularity helped by the rumor that the inspiration for Praed's character of half-Russian ancestry, Nadine Seguin, was Olga Novikoff, whose name was linked in gossip with British prime minister William Gladstone. Apart from its daring plot--the main character defied conventions of the time by becoming pregnant by a lover--Nadine introduced several themes that recurred in Praed's fiction, including the concept of dual personalities, drug-caused dreams, and the incursion of the supernatural.
Reviews on the whole were not favorable. The Graphic declared NadineGraphic "a lamentable error of judgment" and "an experiment that has failed." But reviews, such as one in the Athenaeum, which referred to scenes likely to be a "shock to the nerves of some undiscriminating readers," ensured that it was noticed. Praed was, according to the Brisbane Grammar School Magazine (1900), "launched on the sea of fiction." The Praeds had recently moved to London, and Rosa Praed was soon part of the London celebrity world of literary, theatrical, and artistic personalities. A new style in hats was named the Nadine after "Mrs Campbell Praed's story Nadine which has made some noise in the world" (Le moniteur de la Mode, December 1886). Another indication of Nadine reception was an invitation to Praed to lunch with Edward, Prince of Wales, while she was spending the winter at Cannes. The prince told her he had read Nadine with great interest. He urged a fellow guest, Catherine Gladstone, to "read Mrs Praed's book but you mustn't give it to your daughters."
Two more novels followed quickly. Moloch: A Story of Sacrifice (1883) was originally planned as a story involving an incestuous marriage, a story line Praed abandoned under pressure from George Bentley. Instead, she had the heroine find lasting companionship with a woman friend. Zéro: A Story of Monte Carlo (1884)--a sensational, macabre story involving drugs, mind control, compulsive gambling, and terrorism--was written while Praed was in a tense mental state caused by an accumulation of worries, not least of which was the treadmill she had created for herself with her writing. Increasingly, she was having to turn out novel after novel, not only to maintain the literary recognition she had gained but also to sustain financially the way of life that had resulted from her success.
Her writing output was phenomenal. In five years (to 1885) she had published five novels as well as coordinated the publication of For Their Sakes (1884), a fund-raising book to support the Training School for Teachers of the Deaf and "Diffusion" of the German System. Her daughter, Maud, attended the school attached to this institution. In 1885 Praed published a further three books, each representative of a strand that was developing in her writing. Australian Life, Black and White: Sketches of Australian Life was a semi-autobiographical account of her family background and early life. The first part followed closely her father's reminiscences concerning the conflict on the Aboriginal/European frontier, particularly the Hornet Bank tragedy. She based this account on notes written by her father at her request. In the retelling, the event became so vivid that she wrote herself into the story, claiming a central role.
The Head Station: A Novel of Australian Life , a romance novel of nine hundred pages centered on variations of the colonial versus English-suitor theme set in a locale similar to her father's Maroon station, continued her succession of novels set in the Queensland of her youth. The Athenaeum said of The Head Station: "The story is lively and not without pathos; but Mrs Campbell Praed has written better." In Australia the Argus (Melbourne) complained about "the inordinate amount of lovemaking" but considered Praed's pictures of Australian life and scenery "among the best she has done." Apart from the vividness of her memory, she relied on information in letters from her stepmother, Nora; her sister, Lizzie Jardine, who lived at Aberfoyle station in the far west of Queensland; and several of her brothers.
Praed's other book published in 1885, Affinities: A Romance of To-day , entered a new field, portraying in fiction the impact on English society of the new wave of occultism and theosophy. Praed was already a spiritualist and a believer in reincarnation, and she believed the living could communicate with the dead. When she came under the influence of Colonel Henry Olcott and Madame Helena Blavatsky, who introduced the theosophical movement to Europe, some of their ideas presented an answer to her quest for spiritual knowledge. Many aspects of theosophy also took her back to the Aboriginal rituals she had heard as a child but only vaguely understood. Theosophy and occultism had a profound effect on Praed's spiritual life, and her belief in them deepened as she further explored esoteric knowledge.
On another level, the world opened up by theosophy presented priceless material that she could exploit in fiction. Within a short time of a meeting held at her home to introduce theosophy to London society figures, Praed had begun writing Affinities, in which she portrayed London and provincial society under occult influences. Although she modified her manuscript at the behest of publisher George Bentley, the physical characteristics and aestheticism of Oscar Wilde are unmistakable in the character of her main male character, as is Madame Blavatsky in the fictional Madame Tamvaco. Blavatsky pronounced the novel "simply dreadful," but Olcott thought Praed's occult scenes were "vivaciously" sketched. "Mrs Campbell-Praed has it all in her story," he wrote. Affinities was praised for its portrayal of London society. One reviewer described it as "the most accurate, the best drawn, the most vivid, and sparkling description of the society of the day which has appeared since Disraeli wrote Coningsby." Praed followed Affinities with a more deeply occult novel, The Brother of the Shadow: A Mystery of To-day (1886), in which she included many aspects of occult experience, such as mesmerism, astral body projections, and twin soul theories. The novel sold well; ninety years later it was republished in New York as part of the series "Supernatural and Occult Fiction." Praed's portrayal of occultism in popular fictional form was another example of her remarkable talent for turning one milieu after another into material for her writing.
Concurrent with her interest in spiritualism, she entered a friendship with the author, historian, and journalist Justin McCarthy, an Irish Nationalist member of the House of Commons, later leader of the Irish Nationalist Party. Praed and McCarthy were immediately attracted to each other through natures that were sympathetic and through their intellectual interest in the craft of writing. They soon began an unlikely literary collaboration, writing three political novels and a travel book. This joint authorship took Praed to the heart of British political life. As McCarthy's guest she visited the Houses of Parliament, a reminder of the days when as a young girl she had sat in the gallery of the Queensland Parliament. From her seat in the ladies' gallery she listened for hours to the proceedings in the House of Commons, gathering the atmosphere and the scenes that were to appear in novels jointly written by her and McCarthy. Praed supplied the plot for their first literary collaboration, "The Right Honourable": A Romance of Society and Politics (1886), the story of an ambitious politician willing to sacrifice everything for Kooràli, an Australian bush girl with radical views, trapped in an unhappy marriage. When it was published in 1886, "The Right Honourable" was the talk of London dinner parties. Chatto and Windus followed the three-volume edition with a single-volume edition the following year, and the novel continued selling until the sixth and last edition nearly ten years later. Two other joint novels followed. The Rebel Rose: A Novel (1888), a story on a Jacobite theme, was initially published anonymously to create a mystery about its authorship. Their next collaboration, The Ladies' Gallery (1888), was at first named "Binbian Jo" after one of the main characters who had discovered a gold lode in north Queensland that had made him fabulously rich and who then became part of the English political scene. Subsequently, Bentley did not regard either The Rebel Rose or The Ladies' Gallery as successful enough to warrant reprinting. They were reprinted by other publishers, The Rebel Rose under a new title, The Rival Princess: A London Romance of To-Day, with Praed's and McCarthy's authorship acknowledged. Though they planned other collaborations, their only other joint published work was The Grey River (1889), an expensively produced book on the River Thames. Praed and McCarthy wrote the text, and the Australian-born artist and etcher Mortimer Menpes supplied etchings of river scenes. Although their collaboration petered out, the close friendship between Praed and McCarthy remained. More than twenty years later Praed published Our Book of Memories: Letters of Justin McCarthy to Mrs Campbell Praed (1912), a remarkable record of the political and social life of London during the last decades of the nineteenth century, providing an insider view of the Irish Home Rule movement.
In 1887 Praed published The Bond of Wedlock: A Tale of London Life , in which she explored the powerlessness of women in marriage, the sexual double standard that condoned infidelity in men but not in women, and the flawed nature of the legal institution of marriage, which sanctioned violence and marital rape. The appearance of the novel at this time was an extraordinary example of her ability to catch the beginning of new movements (as she had with the advent of theosophy). Aspects of her own marriage attracted her to this subject, even demanded some fictional expression. Remarkably, however, The Bond of Wedlock and the theatrical version, Ariane (1888), caught the beginning of--even predated--a wave of debate in which the institution of marriage came under public attack. The Married Women's Property Act, passed in 1882, had given married women the right for the first time to possess property, but it did nothing to counter male dominance in marriage. At the same time, the bonds of marriage remained difficult to break through divorce, particularly for women. When the public realized that major problems remained unchanged, some female reformers adopted a more radical, fundamental criticism of marriage. This controversy came to a head in 1888 in a debate on what became known as the "Marriage Question" in the Daily Telegraph (London). It drew an extraordinary response--twenty-seven-thousand letters to the editor.
In The Bond of Wedlock Praed's protagonist, Ariana, is a victim of a violent first husband, of her father who manipulates her divorce and remarriage for his own purposes, then of her second husband when she is trapped in another unhappy marriage. The Athenaeum condemned the book as "a bald story of adultery" and "the mere narrative of a dishonourable and disgraceful transaction." The play Praed developed from The Bond of Wedlock attracted a further avalanche of criticism, also on the grounds that it was immoral and disgusting. When Ariane opened on 8 February 1888 at the Opéra Comique in London's West End, the Times (London) recommended audiences take with them a "portable disinfectant." There were calls for the play to be withdrawn (European Mail [London]), condemnation of its "immoral tone" (Morning Post [London]), and advice to Englishmen to keep their wives and daughters away ( The Standard [London]), while the Daily Telegraph critic said it did not include a scene or a character that did not bring a "shudder of disgust." Despite the reviews--or because of the interest they provoked--Ariane became a success, playing to crowded houses. Its fame intensified when it became the subject of a parody, "Airey" Annie, A Travestie of Mrs C. Praed's play of "Ariane," which opened at Easter in a theater opposite. Ariane continued to play to good houses through the spring of 1888, its run ending at the beginning of June after nearly four months.
Later that year the famous English theatrical couple William and Madge Kendal signed an agreement with Praed to stage a play developed from The Ladies' Gallery, the novel she and McCarthy wrote jointly, and if it was successful, to take it to London and then to the United States. The play had already been tried out under the name Binbian Jo at Margate in September 1888. After some rewriting, the play under a new name, The Two Friends, opened in Bristol on 23 November 1888 and at Norwich on 26 January 1889. All through the following month Praed and Madge Kendal worked on the play, but eventually the Kendals decided not to produce it in London. Although this decision ended a dream of a future as an international playwright, Praed was glad when the nervous strain was over. Her dearest wish had been to write plays, but, she wrote in an article in Pall Mall Gazette, she was trammeled by a feeling of limitation in writing for the stage as well as a "certain self-consciousness and fear of ridicule."
Sandwiched between her prolific collaboration with McCarthy and her venture into playwriting, Praed also continued her Australian strand with two novels. For Miss Jacobsen's Chance, a sparkling story that in 1891 she described as her best novel, Praed returned for inspiration to her own experiences as the daughter of a cabinet minister in Brisbane social and political circles. In The Romance of a Station she portrayed in fictional form some of her experiences as a young married woman on Curtis Island.
Praed had nothing published during the whole of 1890, however, apart from some articles for periodicals and two stories published in "Under the Gum Tree": Australian "Bush" Stories, edited by Australian expatriate Harriette Patchett Martin. The book was attributed to "Mrs Campbell Praed and various authors," no doubt to take advantage of Praed's name.
Because of a curious circumstance, a novel that should have appeared by 1890 was delayed. The first episode of The Soul of Countess Adrian had appeared in the first issue of a monthly journal, The Gentleman, in October 1888 but had been discontinued after Campbell Praed, who from the start of Rosa Praed's writing career had acted as her agent, brought a libel action against the publisher, William Graham. Although Campbell Praed won the case and was awarded damages, the evidence regarding his lifestyle, particularly his attention to other women, determined Rosa Praed to abandon her husband as her literary intermediary. The abrupt termination of the serialization left her with an unsold manuscript that was not published until 1891. Set in the drawing rooms of "Upper Bohemia" and the theatrical world, The Soul of Countess Adrian was propelled by occult themes, including a soul transference later reversed by occult power. As in many of Praed's novels, characteristics of some of her friends and acquaintances were not difficult to discern. Countess Adrian had a background similar to that of Praed's friend Lady Colin Campbell, recently a party to a sensational divorce case; the fictional actress, Beatrice Brent, was similar to American actress Ada Rehan; a flamboyant American hostess resembled newspaper proprietor Mrs. Frank Leslie, who had entertained Praed during her visit to New York in 1886; and a fictional exorcist was close to theosophist Olcott.
In 1892 Praed published two minor novels, The Romance of a Châlet: A Story, set in a Swiss village in the mountains above Lake Geneva, and December Roses: A Novel. Written during Praed's intensified interest in the Catholic Church, December Roses introduced aspects of church law regarding divorce, but its main emphasis was on the necessity for divorce as an escape from a violent marriage. These novels did not add to her reputation, although they were essential in maintaining her income from writing. They were written at a time when financial problems dictated a move from London to Woodlands, a country house in Hertfordshire. Away from the constant social demands of London life, Praed wrote some successful books of a markedly higher standard.
Outlaw and Lawmaker (1893) had been fermenting since she had met editor, author, poet, and Irish patriot John Boyle O'Reilly in Boston during a visit to the United States with Justin McCarthy. The outlaw and lawmaker of her title, a colonial cabinet minister by day who raises funds at night as the bushranger (outlaw) Captain Moonlight to finance the Fenian struggle in Ireland, was inspired by her meeting with O'Reilly. Outlaw and Lawmaker was one of Praed's most successful and best reviewed books, one of only four to be republished in recent years. In England it was described in the Athenaeum as "a stirring and spirited novel of Australian station life, chockful of flirtation, love-making, passion, and melodrama." Even in Australia, where Praed's novels were often criticized, the Argus said it was "a very moving story." It is now regarded by critics such as Robert Dixon, as an "ironic and self-reflexive novel which acknowledges the discursive construction of Australia as a site of masculine adventure and seeks to control it" and, according to Laura Clancy, as one of Praed's "most lyrical and tragic" novels.
In her next book, Christina Chard (1893), in which a woman achieves revenge for her seduction and abandonment, Praed raised social questions then coming under notice, including in this case illegitimacy, adoption, and careers for women. Mrs Tregaskiss (1895), set in the fictional Leura country in western Queensland, easily identified as the locale of the station home at Aberfoyle of Praed's sister, Lizzie, develops strength and depth from the complexity of the competing demands of sexual love and love for her children on Claire Tregaskiss. It has been described in Michael Sharkey's "Rosa Praed's Colonial Heroines" as Praed's "crowning work."
At the end of 1894 Praed visited Australia with two of her children, Maud and Humphrey. Although she made great efforts to come to terms with the Australia of the 1890s, her memories of the squatting age of her Queensland youth remained too vivid to be easily overlain by the impressions of a few months. She took voluminous notes, but her later fiction includes little or no indication that her emotions encompassed the changes she noted. The most enduring effect of her visit was to reinforce her view of the awesome, ancient nature of the Australian continent--that it was, as the theosophists claimed, a leftover part of the ancient continent of Lemuria. The first novel she wrote after her Australian visit, Nùlma (1897), was set not in the contemporary world but in viceregal circles in the Brisbane of her youth. Although in the long term her semi-autobiographical work My Australian Girlhood: Sketches and Impressions of Bush Life was to be enriched by her Australian experiences, the most immediate product of her trip, apart from articles on Ceylon and Japan, which she visited on her journey, was Madame Izàn: A Tourist Story (1899), set in Hong Kong and Japan--a novel in which she raised the daring subject of interracial marriage.
Praed returned from Australia to escalating discord in her marriage, disturbed domestic arrangements, and a period of considerable ill health. She confided guardedly regarding her marriage to her close women friends, American poet and critic Louise Chandler Moulton and English author Eliza Lynn Linton. Though she retained the ability to dash off Nùlma, Praed had great difficulty finishing the novel The Scourge-Stick (1898), started at the beginning of the decade, undoubtedly because of the emotional effect of incorporating a great deal of autobiographical material. Although she often depicted marriage as "legalised sensuality" in her novels, there is a heightened intensity about its treatment in this light in The Scourge-Stick. The bonds of marriage are portrayed as encircling tentacles from which there is no recourse, and the imagery of the snake recurs as a sinister phallic symbol and cause of death. When it was eventually published, reviewers were critical. Her son Bulkley wrote, "The critics have all gone off on one tack. . . . They don't like the subject." Private responses were more encouraging. They included an offer to dramatize the book and letters from several women who agreed with its attitude toward marriage.
In her constant search for spiritual experience, Praed had joined the Catholic Church in 1891, but her long-standing interest in occultism remained, particularly her belief in reincarnation, and she kept up close friendships with leading theosophists. Following a visit to Rome and the coincidence of several theosophists telling her about the life of a Roman woman of the Imperial era, which they had received in psychic sessions, she began a reincarnation novel, As a Watch in the Night: A Drama of Waking and Dream, in Five Acts (1901). In the novel the "sins" committed by a woman in a former incarnation in Imperial Rome meet with retribution in contemporary London. There are many indications that Praed identified with aspects of the lives of her character Herennia in ancient Rome and her modern incarnation, Dorothea, in London society--that she believed she had had a life in ancient Rome and that her life in contemporary England was affected by that life. Remarkably, at the time she was writing this novel, the first in which she directly explored a reincarnation theme, she met Nancy Harward, who could when in a trance describe vividly and at great length a previous incarnation as a slave, Nyria, in ancient Rome. Harward, born in India in 1864 to English-born parents, had come under the influence of the mysticism of the East. From their first meeting Praed and Harward were deeply attracted, and Harward moved immediately to London to live with Praed. On a practical level she took over the secretarial work associated with Praed's writing. On a personal level she and Praed developed a closer relationship than either had known previously. Their relationship was deeply satisfying--transcending ordinary human bonds. For Praed it represented the coming together of her spiritual searching with her quest for personal and psychic fulfilment. Harward was her "twin soul." Praed professed to know nothing of the physical aspects of lesbian relationships, but undoubtedly theirs was an all-consuming emotional relationship.
Harward's role as Praed's helper extended to providing Praed with material she had written, which Praed then rewrote and which was published under her name. The most obvious example was Praed's book The Mystery Woman (1913), which was based on "The Oracle," a novel written by Harward and submitted unsuccessfully to publishers. An infinitely more experienced writer, Praed made improvements to the story, and her name and reputation eased its way into print. The praise by The Times Literary Supplement (TLS) of the author's ability as a "social satirist" indicated Praed's hand in the novel, the main theme of which was "occult phenomena." Though Praed had written about occult subjects before, her writing became more deeply influenced by occult theory and practice under the influence of Harward's overwhelmingly mystic nature. The results were not always successful. Praed had collected the background and ideas for The Insane Root: A Romance of a Strange Country (1902) during a trip to Algeria more than ten years before. Now, under Harward's influence she added a sensational aspect in the alleged power of the mandrake, a Mediterranean plant associated with superstitious beliefs because of the resemblance of its forked root to a human figure. The Athenaeum found the story "not convincing, and, worse, not even stimulating" in a book that was "so much more Eastern than the East." The Bookman said all the old legends of the power of the mandrake, including metamorphosis, were "outdone by the marvels which Mrs. Campbell Praed has conceived and strung like malign gems on the thread of her story."
A more successful work, Fugitive Anne: A Romance of the Unexplored Bush (1902), also demonstrates Harward's involvement. Although it touches on many of Praed's experiences, physical and mental--including a childhood spent among Aboriginal people, the Hornet Bank massacre, and escape from an unhappy marriage, as well as her consciousness of the lost continent of Lemuria--its central story records the fantastic adventures of a woman revered by both an Aboriginal race and a prehistoric race of "Red Men" in the Australian interior. Praed explicitly stated that Harward was responsible for the Red Men. "It was all terrible nonsense," Praed wrote, "but at least Andrew Lang took it half seriously & wrote a leader on it in the Daily News & the book brought in a very fair sum of much needed money in days of adversity."
Harward's influence reached its peak with the publication of Nyria in 1904. In this work Praed recorded Harward's story of her life as a slave in ancient Rome, reworked in the form of an historical novel. In her preface Praed offered several explanations, including reincarnation, but left the question open by suggesting the possibilities of "the sub-conscious self, multiple personality, precognition, or pre- existence." Nyria was accepted by most critics and readers as an historical, not a reincarnation, novel.
From the turn of the century to the start of World War I, Praed produced an avalanche of books, many written hurriedly to make money. During these years the tragedies in her life began to escalate. Her daughter, Maud, who had overcome many of the disadvantages of deafness, began to develop signs of mental instability during the breakup of her parents' marriage and the advent of Nancy Harward. Campbell's death in 1901 precipitated a further decline, and she was confined to an asylum, where she remained for the rest of her long life. In 1904 Praed heard of the death of her second son, Humphrey, in Los Angeles in a motor car accident, one of the first of the motoring era. Her other sons also died violently, Geoffrey in 1926 after being gored by a rhinoceros while big-game hunting in Rhodesia and Bulkley in 1931 by his own hand.
Among the deluge of books Praed produced in these years were four collections of short stories--Dwellers by the River (1902), Australian stories set in the Maroon-like Ubi district; The Luck of the Leua (1907), Australian stories with an outback setting; Stubble before the Wind (1908), stories set in England; and A Summer Wreath (1909), a collection of mostly Australian stories. Some of the stories appear to have been begun as possible novels but were found to be unable to sustain sufficient length. These collections were quick additions to an already demanding writing schedule. The undistinguished books of this era include The Ghost and The Other Mrs Jacobs: A Matrimonial Complication, both published in 1903. The Ghost was criticized in the Athenaeum for carelessness and "slovenliness from a well-practised pen." In Australia the Bulletin (Sydney) noted that The Ghost was Praed's twenty-second novel: "But we have ceased to take Mrs Praed seriously"--apparently a comment aimed at her occult stories. Following these books came Some Loves and a Life: A Study of a Neurotic Woman (1904), a melodramatic story of a drug addict; By Their Fruits: A Novel (1908), a more substantial story in which twin sisters represent good and evil; The Body of His Desire: A Romance of the Soul (1912), the story of a charismatic preacher who has fantastic occult experiences; and an historical novel, The Romance of Mademoiselle Aïssé (1910), which was based on a true story Praed had read as a child. Praed was later to question her interest in Aïssé and came to believe that Aïssé was one of Nancy Harward's previous incarnations.
Praed admitted that during this time she wrote too many books. Some of them justified this comment in the Athenaeum: "Mrs Campbell Praed would never have made her reputation with this kind of thing." Her books set in Australia were generally of superior quality. Her semi-autobiographical book, My Australian Girlhood: Sketches and Impressions of Bush Life, was originally intended to comprise impressions of Australia during her visit in 1895, but the idea stalled, and when it resurfaced, she either did not have the time or enough material to write a full-length book. Instead, she included--with some rewriting and revision--much of the material about her father's squatting experiences and her own childhood from her earlier autobiographical book, Australian Life, Black and White, interspersed with impressions from her later visit. In recording these impressions she used a technique that gave her the freedom not to reveal more than she wished. Readers complained that there was not enough personal material in the book, and in her old age Praed implied that if she were to rewrite it, she would include more. Among her bundle of reviews she located some "surprisingly good ones."
Some of her Australian novels of this period raised important issues, particularly of women negotiating independence. The Maid of the River: An Australian Girl's Love Story (1905) is the tale of a naive victim of sexual exploitation who develops such independence that she sues her lover for breach of promise and then, when he offers to marry her, renounces him. In The Lost Earl of Ellan: A Story of Australian Life (1906), in the midst of a stirring adventure of shipwreck and station life set in North Queensland, she developed the concept of a superior form of love, predestined or inevitable and capable of satisfying transcendental yearning. Opal Fire (1910), though not regarded as one of her better novels, was praised in TLS as lacking "nothing of the dramatic movement and rich colour of all her work."
When World War I began, Praed and Harward were on the verge of leaving to settle permanently in the south of France but instead were stranded in England without permanent accommodation. Before the effects of this peripatetic wandering began to tell, Praed kept up the momentum of her writing with two books set in Australia--Lady Bridget in the Never-Never Land (1915) and Sister Sorrow (1916). The setting of Lady Bridget in the Never-Never Land and some of the events (the 1890s shearers' strike, for example) depended partly, as did her earlier novels Mrs Tregaskiss and Opal Fire, on information from the letters her sister Lizzie Jardine had written to her while living at Aberfoyle in western Queensland. For Sister Sorrow, a malevolent story of male power in marriage, Praed returned in unconscious symmetry to Curtis Island, the scene of her first novel. With the publication of this book, Praed had completed nearly fifty books, including nonfiction and those written in collaboration with Justin McCarthy. She was sixty-five years old, but there was no indication that her writing career was almost at an end. She had plans for a third novel she had agreed to submit to Hutchinson, the publisher of her two previous books. Writing became more difficult for her, however, and when, eventually, she submitted what she described as a potboiler, the publisher offered only a small advance. She withdrew the manuscript, confident she would find another publisher, but it was never published.
For eight years following World War I, Praed and Harward had no settled home, usually following a pattern of spending the winter in France and the summer in England, in both places living in small hotels or guest houses. Praed maintained a determination to write, but she was afraid she had been "too long out of the ring" and had "no longer the gift of interesting readers." Part of her difficulty was the deeply occult nature of a story she had been struggling to write since 1911. The central figure was a "nature man" whom Harward had seen in a vision near Menton in the south of France. Praed devoted an immense amount of time to this work, at first called "The Primal Passion" and then "The Word of Power," returning to it again and again, attempting to entwine reincarnation theories and threads of beliefs she had learned from Aboriginal people on the Burnett. The book was still unfinished when Harward, who had been suffering increasing illness, died in London in 1927. Praed spent the remainder of her life searching for eternal bonds between Harward and herself. In sessions with Hester Dowden, a renowned medium, she believed she had contacted Harward, although Praed hovered between unquestioning acceptance of her communications and a belief that "a great deal of psychic phenomena may come out of one's subliminal consciousness." Under the influence of almost continuous communication with Harward, Praed returned to an idea that had been in her mind since the publication of Nyria, to present the story of Nyria just as she had recorded it during Harward's trances. The Soul of Nyria: The Memory of a Past Life in Ancient Rome was published in 1931. In a favorable review TLS said that whether it was read "as a novel, as the account of a dissociated personality, or as an experiment in 'occultism,'" it was an "interesting" read. Students of occultism should read it with "keen attention," and "even sceptics should not find it dull." The Soul of Nyria effectively marked the end of Praed's writing career. She died at Torquay on 10 April 1935, two weeks after her eighty-fourth birthday. She is buried in an unmarked grave in Kensal Green Cemetery, London.
Rosa Praed has been described by Elizabeth Webby as "the first Australian-born novelist to achieve a significant international reputation" and by E. Morris Miller in Australian Literature from its Beginnings to 1935 (1940) as the "most distinguished woman novelist of the pre-federation era." Chris Tiffin, who has published a detailed bibliography of Praed's work and a guide to her papers, regards her as "one of the leading fictional interpreters of Australia" and "a successful analyst of English society showing considerable power and psychological penetration." Nevertheless, in Leonie Kramer's The Oxford History of Australian Literature (1981) Praed is said to have "surrendered her very real talents and her originality to the popular demands of the home [i.e. English] market." Renewed academic interest in Praed's writing in recent years is restoring her as an important literary figure. Whether exploring--with her own blend of freshness, power, and originality--the world of colonial society and politics, the foibles of London society at a transitional stage, the bonds of marriage, or the search for spiritual truth in theosophy and occultism, her psychological insights and ability to capture society's preoccupations illuminate her fiction.
From: Clarke,, Patricia. "Rosa Praed." Australian Literature, 1788-1914, edited by Selina Samuels, Gale, 2001. Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 230.