Farmer, Beverley 1941–
Farmer, Beverley 1941–
PERSONAL: Born February 7, 1941, in Melbourne, Australia; married, 1965 (divorced); children: one son. Ethnicity: "Anglo-Celtic." Education: University of Melbourne, B.A.
CAREER: Author, c.1980–. Writer-in-residence at University of Tasmania, 1985, Deakin University, 1988, Flinders University of South Australia, 1995, and University of Århus, 1996. Also worked as a teacher and in various hotels and restaurants.
MEMBER: Australian Society of Authors.
AWARDS, HONORS: Australia Council Literature Board, new writer's grant, 1981, fellowships, 1998 and 1993, senior fellowship, 1996–99; New South Wales Premier's Award for Fiction, for Milk; resident at Hawthornden Castle in Scotland, Varuna in Australia, and Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Ireland.
Alone (novel), Sisters (Carlton South, Victoria, Australia), 1980.
Milk (short stories), McPhee Gribble (Fitzroy, Victoria, Australia), 1983.
Home Time (short stories), McPhee Gribble (Fitzroy, Victoria, Australia), 1985.
A Body of Water: A Year's Notebook, University of Queensland Press (St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia), 1990.
The Seal Woman (novel), University of Queensland Press (St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia), 1992.
The House in the Light (novel), University of Queensland Press (St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia), 1995.
Collected Stories, University of Queensland Press (St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia), 1996.
The Bone House (nonfiction), Giramondo Publishing Co. (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 2005.
SIDELIGHTS: Novelist and short story writer Beverley Farmer was born and educated in Melbourne, Australia. At first Farmer worked in restaurants and taught secondary school. She married in 1965, and her first story, "Evening," was published in 1968. Farmer started her first book in 1969, after moving to her husband's family farm in Greece. The novella Alone was published ten years later, in 1980. A Publishers Weekly reviewer wrote that Farmer "possesses a distinct gift for exaggerating isolated moments of human passion." Alone is the sensual and sensitive story of Shirley, a young women who takes her life when her lesbian love affair ends. It is also about Shirley's dream of becoming a writer. Lyn Jacobs wrote in Australian Literary Studiesthat Farmer "demonstrates the distance between her protagonist's acute introspection and the objectivity of the artist as she reuses the images, characters, rhythmic variations, and sequences of T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land as a matrix for the novel."
Farmer and her husband returned to Australia in 1972 for the birth of their son and opened a restaurant in southwest coastal Victoria. Over the next six years, Farmer lost her parents, and she and her husband separated. With the help of a grant, she wrote Milk, her first collection of short stories, which drew on her experiences with both the Greek and Australian cultures. The stories are about couples and the intergenerational members of families, with themes of nurturing, loss and isolation. "The most impressive quality is the author's ability to confront and immerse herself in the experience of her characters, no matter how distressing it is, without becoming self-pitying or maudlin," wrote Laurie Clancy in Contemporary Novelists.
Farmer's next collection, Home Time, features several writers as protagonists, and most are estranged, alone, or alienated from others in their lives. Characters cross over from one tale to another and some stories are continuations of those in Milk. The character Bell, whose life parallels Farmer's own, is featured in two stories. In "Place of Birth," she is pregnant and wants to return from Greece to Australia to have her child, which creates havoc in the household of her in-laws, who want them to stay in Greece. Jacobs said that Farmer "portrays both the household's tensions and the moments of warmth, peace, and good humour that bear witness to the enduring positives to which Bell later returns. In the story aptly titled 'Pomegranates,' Bell, like Persephone, having experienced her season in the 'underworld' of Australia, returns to the light and grace of Greece where genuine affection between the young woman and her ex-mother-in-law transcends the pain and severance of divorce. Time has provided a necessary maturity and modified the effects of distance."
Jacobs concluded by saying that "these stories of subtlety and unusual power and their effectiveness resides in the careful integration of form and content, the clarity and precision of this writer's use of image and in the elegant synthesis of traditional and contemporary textual evidence. The 'Greek and bleak' aspects of content are undeniably there and it is not only the women who are the victims of time or fate, but this artistry encompasses and gives new meaning to such disparate strands of experience."
A Body of Water: A Year's Notebook is a collection of Farmer's poetry, fiction, and journal entries that touch on her love affairs, friendships, thoughts, and readings over the period of one year, from February, 1987 to February, 1988. Farmer's stream-of-consciousness narration coalesces in the process of writing of five short stories included in the book. The past in Greece is one strand; another is Buddhism, Zen and Tibetan.
In The Seal Woman Farmer's protagonist, a Danish woman named Dagmar, vacations in Victoria, Australia, in the house of absent friends. There she contemplates the loss of her sailor husband in a fire at sea and falls in love again. The novel deals with green issues—ozone depletion, global warming, dioxins and chlorofluorocarbons in the environment, and the downward spiral of the whale and seal populations. Clancy called The Seal Woman "dense with imagery and symbolism."
The House in the Light takes Bell back to Greece to celebrate Easter with the family of her former husband. He has remarried in Australia and is about to become a father again. Bell is fifty and alone, now that her son is grown. Bell is respectful of her elderly mother-in-law while clinging to her own values. Clancy felt that "again, it becomes apparent that the most central fact in the universe of Beverley's fiction is solitude…. At the end, though, in a beautifully written scene, Bell and the family come to some kind of tentative accommodation. The House in the Light is a profoundly desolate but moving novel."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Novelists, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.
Jacobs, Lyn, Against the Grain: Beverley Farmer's Writing, University of Queensland Press (St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia), 2001.
Australian Literary Studies, May, 1990, Lyn Jacobs, "The Fiction of Beverley Farmer," pp. 325-335.
Publishers Weekly, October 18, 1985, review of Alone, p. 62.