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A Splendid Adventure

Australian Suffrage Theatre on the World Stage

Susan Bradley Smith

Australia led the world in the achievement of woman’s suffrage and the nation’s cultural history reflects this ambitious and progressive atmosphere. The impressive achievements of suffrage feminists in Australian theatre, however, are an untold story, as is their contribution to the development of international women’s theatre of the time. A Splendid Adventure brings these experiences and experiments to light through a group biography exploring the theatrical careers of Katharine Susannah Prichard, Stella Miles Franklin, and Inez Isabel Bensusan. Chosen because of their expatriate involvement in the women’s movement, their international profile as enfranchised Australian women, and their exceptional contribution to both the development of Australian drama and international feminist theatre, these women embody the energies and passions of Australian suffrage playwrights. The biographies of these major figures are accompanied by the dramatic stories of the New Women playwrights, the theatrical endeavours of women university students, and a consideration of international feminist theatre on tour in Australia, including the work of migrant suffragette Adela Pankhurst. The volume also includes the full text of a play by each playwright. Australian suffrage playwrights emerge from this study as exceptional feminists, expatriates, and theatre workers, whose «splendid adventures» have considerable implications for international women’s theatre, feminist dramatic criticism, and Australian theatre historiography.
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Chapter 5 Stella Miles Franklin: The Suffragette Speaks

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CHAPTER 5

Stella Miles Franklin: The Suffragette Speaks

As a girl growing up in the bush, she only ever wanted to be a writer. More, she wanted to write plays that changed the world. Did Stella Miles Franklin have what it takes? Could she write? Did she have the sensibility, persistance and talent? Certainly, she had the contacts: ‘You know, Miles my dear, you’re rather sloppy about Americans’, wrote St John Ervine to Franklin, commenting on her dramatic characterisation. ‘They aren’t all charming, and a vast majority of them are plain damned fools’.1 Ervine went on to concede that Americans could be unsurpassably likeable, but unlike Franklin he felt under no obligation to exalt them whilst simultaneously belittling the English. Franklin sought out and nurtured mentors her life long. Sometimes she was slavish to their advice, other times more trusting of her own writerly self. Franklin never stopped striving to achieve her writerly ambitions, and her biggest decision to that end was to choose the life of an expatriate.

Franklin had strong opinions about her chosen expatriate homes, first the USA and later England. Her years abroad – the years in which she was intensely engaged in her ambitions to succeed as a playwright – left her both permanently enriched and astoundingly exhausted. More than twenty major plays were written during this period of her life, but she was unable to secure a commercial success or critical acclaim as a playwright. Exploring those desires for places...

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