Our Australian landscape is filled with Gothic imagination.
Rosa Caroline Praed – John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.
Women trapped in marriages with unkind and sometimes violent husbands is a theme that Rosa Praed returns to repeatedly. She was one of early Queensland’s most important writers. A member of the squattocracy, she came from a socially prominent family with interests in both literature and politics. Her unhappy experience of marriage is reflected in her work.
While not strictly Gothic novels, the three novels Rosa set on Curtis Island, An Australian Heroine, The Romance of a Station and Sister Sorrow, are pervaded by the oppressive isolation of the bush and trapped women.
More than half of her 45 to 50 novels are set in Australia, but most of her life was actually spent in England where she developed a writing career and achieved celebrity in literary and political circles.
She also had an interest in spiritualism. It emerged in the unhappy early days of her marriage on Curtis Island and it increased in her later life. Her novel Nyria had its genesis in seances and Rosa believed that Nyria, a Roman slave, was reincarnated in her companion Nancy Haward.
Rosa Praed’s novels portray much of her own life. It is impossible to read, for instance, descriptive passages in any of the three novels set on Curtis Island, An Australian Heroine, The Romance of a Station and Sister Sorrow, without feeling the oppressive isolation of the bush that she experienced there. Anyone looking down today, from the bare hill on which Monte Christo homestead stands, or approaching Curtis Island across the Narrows in a small boat would see the same desolate scenes as Rosa Praed, and the same endless mangroves ahead. Similarly it is impossible to read her novels portraying unhappy marriages without reflecting on the sadness within her own marriage.