‘Women are cursed, all right. If you wither on the virgin stem you go all pathological; if you go off the deep end you get some foul disease; and if you marry and have dozens of young you die of exhaustion.’
These seem to be the options for women in 1936, but Eve, Marc and Thea are determined – in their very different ways – to cut a place for themselves in the world. Eve is an obstetrician; Thea, contemplating on MA, has an affair with Professor Glover; Marc, thoroughly modern, is a social worker with special interest in delinquent children. As Eve and Marc watch the progress of Thea’s affair the differences between them emerge.
Dymphna Cusack’s novel is the first psychological exploration of women’s sexuality and aspirations in Australia. Published in 1936 it broke new ground in dealing with issues that had previously been taboo in women’s writing. And, it evokes the charm and innocence of Sydney in the years preceding World War II.
If you’re curious about the life of Australian women in the ’30s, Jungfrau should be a must-read. It is quite an impressive time where women have tried their best to write both fiction and non-fiction. These include Katharine Prichard, M. Barnard Eldershaw, Eleanor Dark, Kylie Tennant as well as my favourites Christina Stead and Dympna Cusack. Many of their writings are worth every read, many of which felt real-life experiences rather than simple historical artefacts. Their writings will resonate with you for sure.
The book is set in Sydney, talking about many landmarks like the Archibald Fountain. It is a clear celebration of the women of the era and how they work with the situations given to them. Their passions, their pains, and the prejudices against them were front and centre in this book. There is no doubt that Australian society revolutionised over the past eight to nine decades. Even then, some women still deal with the same issues that Cusack explored in this novel.