Books

13 October 2014

Desert Queen: The Many Lives and Loves of Daisy Bates by Susanna de Vries


As a novel, this book does not work; however, it does work as a collection of interesting information about Daisy Bates and the period in which she lived and worked - late nineteenth century/early twentieth century. (Daisy, originally from Ireland, spent many years living in the Australian desert, studying Aboriginal culture). The writing, unfortunately, is mediocre and there is a lot of repetition which, as the book progresses, becomes extremely irritating. Whether this can be totally attributed to the author or to bad editing is difficult to say.

Having read The House of Mirth earlier in the year, it was interesting to compare Lily Bart of that book with Daisy Bates of Desert Queen. Both women are from the same period, and both are intent on attaining financial and social security in what is most definitely a man's world. It is, however, interesting to see that while Lily Bart lacks the moral strength to achieve what she sets out to achieve and, in all probability, commits suicide, Daisy Bates actually does have the moral strength but, in the end, although she probably would never have admitted it, is unable to break through the male-erected barrier to female academic recognition. This is the book's very sad reality: had Daisy been accepted on the same level as any male doing similar work, I doubt that she would have spent almost twenty years camped in the desert, handing out dishes of porridge to the native people. Instead, she would have had economic security which, together with the acceptance of others working in the same field, would have allowed her the freedom to pursue her important research in a variety of directions.

That said, Daisy's vivid imagination, and the fact that she invented an entire history for herself, does tend to reflect badly on the complete authenticity of her research: one cannot help but wonder where Daisy the scientist disappears into the background and where Daisy the imaginative story-teller takes over. However, I have chosen to accept that, in essence, her research is probably fairly accurate. As a Christian, she "... insisted Christianity was irrelevant for Aboriginal people who, she thought, should maintain their unique culture and traditional way of life..." which, I feel, says a lot about Daisy's moral values and also about her sincerity.

Like The House of Mirth the message in this book is depressing; however, while The House of Mirth is beautifully written and can, therefore, be appreciated as a work of literature, Desert Queen is a mere collection of depressing information (much of which we must take with a grain of salt), without the satisfaction that comes with good writing. To sum up, I found the book interesting because of the information about Daisy Bates, but I was totally disappointed with the book itself.