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Dorothy Blewett was born in Northcote in 1898 and was educated at the Methodist Ladies College. She was a novelist, playwright, short story writer, and active promoter of Australian literature through her work with International PEN, as a literary agent, and as secretary of the London-based, Society of Australian Writers during the 1950s.
Blewett worked as a teacher as a young woman, then as a secretary and stenographer for a number of large companies in Melbourne, including at the Melbourne Head Office of Thomas Cook Travel where she worked from 1947 to 1951. During this time she wrote articles on Australia for Cook's Staff Magazine. Leaving Cook's, she moved to London in 1951. She and her sister, Elizabeth Blewett who was also a writer, lived there for most of the decade before returning to Australia in 1959. She traveled frequently throughout Europe and the UK, representing Australia at International PEN meetings in a number of countries. Blewett became a literary agent upon her return to Australia, representing a number of writers including Hesba Brinsmead, author of Pastures of the Blue Crane.
Blewett's published two novels, Vision (1931), under the nom-de-plume, Anne Praize, and Pattern for a Scandal (1948), published under her own name. She also wrote a number of plays for stage and radio. Her play, Quiet Night was produced widely in Australia and was also produced in the United Kingdom. The First Joanna : A Play in Three Acts won the Playwrights Advisory Board award for best play in 1947 and it received numerous productions in 1948, including as a radio play. J. C. Williamson were interested in producing the play and a contract was entered into in the late 1940s. Maxwell Wray also optioned the play for a London season, but it was not produced. It was adapted to television in 1961 and produced on the ABC.
Two of Dorothy Blewett's sisters, Esme Rice and Elizabeth Blewett were writers, and another sister, Rowena Blewett, ran a correspondence school called 'Merry Days' that served country and expatriate Australian families.
In 2016, Dorothy Blewett's The First Joanna was digitised by AustLit and produced by Drama students at The University of Queensland. It was the first performance of the play in 54 years.
Blewett wrote many other works and adapted others' work for radio; her full publication record remains unclear. Research continues.
AustLit is publishing some of Blewett's plays from 2017 as a part of the Australian Drama Archive, alongside two of her novels while links have been to her short stories and other writing published in Australian newspapers.
In The First Joanna Dorothy Blewett explores Australia's acceptance of its convict heritage, tracing the fictional history of the Deverons, owners of a leading South Australian vineyard. The property, situated near the Onkaparinga River, was established in the early years of the colony by settler Stephen Deveron. The central characters of the play are the Joanna Millay, a young convict woman who becomes the matriarch of the Deverons, and Joanna Deveron, the wife of the second Stephen Deveron - the grandson of the first Joanna and the first Stephen Deveron.
The narrative begins on Joanna's birthday in 1945 and introduces the Deveron family. Joanna has only recently arrived at the vineyard and is still suffering from the effects of several years spent as a prisoner of war in Poland. Joanna and Stephen had married in England shortly before the outbreak of war but were forced apart after she became trapped behind enemy lines. Having led a peripatetic upbringing in Europe Joanna finds the dull monotony of life on the vineyard unbearable and is thinking of returning to Europe. Her love of Stephen is making the decision all the more painful.
When Stephen's maiden aunts give her a chair belonging to their mother, Joanna is at first horrifed by the thought of its staid existence. She at first can't bear think about it, but after discovering within the chair a set of diaries written by the first Joanna she becomes fascinated. The diaries reveal a life of trauma, loss, murder, illegitimacy, and eventually, triumph through love. Through her reading of the diaries the play's dramatic action segues into "interpolated scenes" depicting key moments in the lives of Stephen's forebears during the nineteenth century - 1837, 1849, 1862, 1871, and 1885. The diaries ultimately allow the contemporary Joanna the capacity to imagine a future at the vineyard with the man she truly loves.
Characters in the play (in order of appearance):
1945: Stephen Deveron, Mrs Collins (who “obliges” at Chateau Deveron), Joanna Deveron, Jocelyn Cuming (Stephen’s second cousin), Halley van Druyten (Captain in the United States Army), Editha and Viola Deveron (Stephen’s twin great-aunts, aged 92), Jackson (the chauffeur)
1837: Sir Bertram Tavener (Governor of a women's jail in Tasmania), Lady Caroline Tavenor (his wife), Miss Beatrice Tavenor (his sister), Captain Jules Smith (of the British Army, aged 29), Stephen Deveron (1st, aged 22), Joanna Millay (the first Joanna, aged 17).
1849: Stephen (aged 34), Joanna (29)
1862: Joanna (42), Stephen (47), their children: Augusta (20), Phillip (14), Editha and Viola (10); Major Jules Smith (54)
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'Setting her action in a large hospital, Miss Blewett has undertaken no simple task in dealing with nursing from both its practical and psychological aspects, complicated in two cases by individual emotional strains. The play covers the hours of one hectic night in the hospital, in which the emotional preoccupations of several of the staff intrude on their professional duties' ('Australian Play' Argus 10 March 1941, 6).