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y separately published work icon The Catherine Wheel single work   novel  
Issue Details: First known date: 1960... 1960 The Catherine Wheel
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AbstractHistoryArchive Description

'The wind from Siberia as announced by the BBC came down Bayswater Road from the direction of Marble Arch…Searing skin, and petrifying metal and wood, it took possession of London and this early day of the new year. Gently, somehow sympathetically, with a secret sort of throb, my ears ached against it, but rather more drearily and with a sense of injustice my eyes watered as I narrowed them at the steely dark sky and swirling smoke. The centre of the universe! The brilliance of the winter season!

'Twenty-five-year-old Clemency James has moved from Sydney to a chilly bedsit on the other side of the world. During the day she studies for the bar by correspondence; in the evenings she gives French lessons to earn a meagre wage. When she meets Christian, a charismatic would-be actor, she can see he’s trouble—not least because he’s involved with an older woman who has children. She is drawn to him nonetheless: drawn into his world of unpayable debts and wild promises.

'First published in 1960, The Catherine Wheel is Elizabeth Harrower’s third novel and the only one of her books not set in Australia. In it she turns her unflinching gaze on the grim realities of 1950s London, and the madness that can infect couples.'

Source: Publisher's blurb (Text ed.).


* Contents derived from the Melbourne, Victoria,:Text Publishing , 2014 version. Please note that other versions/publications may contain different contents. See the Publication Details.
Introduction, Ramona Koval , essay

Publication Details of Only Known VersionEarliest 2 Known Versions of

    • London,
      United Kingdom (UK),
      Western Europe, Europe,
      Cassell ,
      1960 .
      Extent: 220p.
    • North Ryde, Ryde - Gladesville - Hunters Hill area, Northwest Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales,: Sirius Books , 1988 .
      image of person or book cover 5303504329712154373.jpeg
      This image has been sourced from online.
      Extent: 220p.
      ISBN: 0207159483 (pbk.)
      Series: Sirius Books Sirius Quality Paperbacks Angus and Robertson (publisher), series - publisher
    • Melbourne, Victoria,: Text Publishing , 2014 .
      image of person or book cover 378043758502701137.jpg
      Image courtesy of publisher's website.
      Extent: 352p.p.
      • Published 27 August 2014.

      ISBN: 9781922147950
      Series: y separately published work icon Text Classics Text Publishing (publisher), Melbourne : Text Publishing , 2012- Z1851461 2012 series - publisher novel 'Great books by great Australian storytellers.' (Text website.)

Other Formats

Works about this Work

Projecting the Sixties : Mediation and Characterology in The Catherine Wheel Julian Murphet , 2017 single work criticism
— Appears in: Elizabeth Harrower : Critical Essays 2017; (p. 112-122)
'One of the indelible moving images of the postwar era is Marlon Brando’s screen-andT-shirt-ripping realisation of Stanley Kowalski in the screen version of Elia Kazan’s A Streetcar Named Desire, in 1951. It is worth dwelling for a moment on that date, because there is something extraordinary and almost uncanny about it. This is a film whose visual style (noir-ish chiaroscuro and heavy set design) associates it with the late 1940s, but whose acting style lifts it into the 1950s thanks to Karl Malden and Kim Hunter, both engaged in a new naturalism cribbed from Stella Adler. But then, on top of that palimpsest, another layer is added: for somehow, Brando’s performance belongs neither to the 1940s nor the 1950s, but is projected ahead into the future, and – in its hulking, electric, infantile combustibility – manages to incarnate something essential and true about the 1960s to come. And this is an anomaly that cannot be said to inhere in Tennessee Williams’ play text either, since it only emerged, fully fledged on the New York stage, through Brando’s muscular interpretation of the role, which shocked Williams and turned audiences into unwitting supporters of a character that he had intended mainly as an unsympathetic brute.' (Introduction)
Addiction, Fire and the Face in The Catherine Wheel Brigitta Olubas , 2017 single work criticism
— Appears in: Elizabeth Harrower : Critical Essays 2017; (p. 101-111)
'My point of departure for this discussion of The Catherine Wheel is the connection (observed, in passing, by D.R. Burns)  between Elizabeth Harrower’s 1960 novel and Henry Handel Richardson’s Maurice Guest, published nearly half a century earlier (1908). The points of similarity between the two novels are instructive: both trace the inexorable decline of moderate talent and ambition in the face of searing obsession; both treat the question of performance, musical or theatrical, which trumps the force of words and language; both displace their narratives away from Australia to northern cities, reflecting in a further shift their authors’ own departures from Australia; and both focus narrative attention on the impossible, liminal promise of youth and talent, on student life, life without parents or family, pursuing a mode of living where adult maturity is barely imaginable. But while both are heavily invested in melodramatic incident, the dramas of The Catherine Wheel are largely internal, unvoiced, or they take place off-stage, or in the novel’s unimaginable future. And Harrower’s characters are remarkable not for their external acts so much as for their interactions; it is in their relationships rather than their individual personalities that we find the crackle and hum, the pyrotechnics promised by the novel’s title. There is also a dramatic scaling back of narrative scope in Harrower’s mid-century setting compared to Richardson’s: we move from Wagner’s Leipzig to Clemency James’ London bedsit, and much of The Catherine Wheel’s action takes place over the telephone, a mediation working as a further and technologically specific kind of displacement. And while Maurice Guest resolves tempestuously with the suicide of its protagonist, Clem’s narrative (as always with Harrower) concludes bleakly, with the opaque, inconclusive conviction that it is “too late”.' (Introduction)
Weather and Temperature, the Will to Power, and the Female Subject in Harrower's Fiction Kate Livett , 2017 single work criticism
— Appears in: Elizabeth Harrower : Critical Essays 2017; (p. 71-85)

'The opening sentence of the first short story Elizabeth Harrower ever completed 3 plunges the reader into a dramatic meteorological event:

And then, as if the lightning that ripped the sky apart wasn’t enough, the lights round the edge of the swimming pool, and even the three big ones sunk into it on cement piles, went out. At once the solid blackness rang with shrieks and laughter; only Janet was struck dumb to find that she had been obliterated. It was like nothing so much as that astronomical darkness into which she had been plunged last year when they took out her tonsils. (Introduction)

'The Wind from Siberia' : Metageography and Ironic Nationality in the Novels of Elizabeth Harrower Robert Dixon , 2017 single work criticism
— Appears in: Elizabeth Harrower : Critical Essays 2017; (p. 54-70)

'Elizabeth Harrower’s third novel, The Catherine Wheel (1960) – the only one set outside Australia – begins with an example of what Jon Hegglund terms modernist “metageography”: that is, a use of maps and the conventions of cartographic representation in such a way as to defamiliarise the social production of space, and of national and personal identity. 1 Clemency James, a young Australian woman, has come to London in the late 1950s to study for the bar, and as she returns to her bedsitting room from a shopping trip to Notting Hill Gate, she takes her bearings from a weather report that locates London in relation to the landmass of hemispheric Europe:

“The wind from Siberia as announced by the BBC came down Bayswater Road from the direction of Marble Arch somewhere in a straight line beyond which, half a world away, Siberia was taken to be”. 2 Zooming in to a local scale, Clem locates her “centre of the universe” (3) in a boarding house just off Bayswater Road: Across the road the enigmatic façades of a row of semi-public buildings ended where the railings of Kensington Gardens began. Just opposite this corner of the gardens Miss Evans had her service-house, and it was here I had a room with a diagonal view of bare black avenues and paths and empty seats and grass. (4)' (Introduction)

A Wrong Way of Being Right : The Tormented Force of the Harrower Man Nicholas Birns , 2017 single work criticism
— Appears in: Elizabeth Harrower : Critical Essays 2017; (p. 38-53)
'Elizabeth Harrower’s fictions are often severe and enigmatic, and, although riveting in their surface action and exquisite in their style, do not immediately disclose their meaning. Yet it could well be said that if Harrower has a subject it is gender. All her novels are about gender relations and hierarchies. Indeed, the only way to ignore this is if we persist in seeing gender as a minor and provincial sphere, not heeding to the way that, as Raewyn Connell puts it, gender institutions affect all social institutions. This is even more salient as we realise how, in Connell’s words, gender differences can appear in one sense so “stark and rigid” and in another so “fluid, complex, and uncertain”.' (Introduction)
[Review] The Watch Tower [and] The Catherine Wheel Nola Adams , 1980 single work review
— Appears in: Westerly , September vol. 25 no. 3 1980; (p. 108-113)

— Review of The Watch Tower Elizabeth Harrower , 1966 single work novel ; The Catherine Wheel Elizabeth Harrower , 1960 single work novel
[Review] The Catherine Wheel 1960 single work review
— Appears in: The Times Literary Supplement , 28 October 1960; (p. 10)

— Review of The Catherine Wheel Elizabeth Harrower , 1960 single work novel
[Review] The Catherine Wheel Eleanor Green , 1961 single work review
— Appears in: Biblionews , April vol. 14 no. 4 1961; (p. 5)

— Review of The Catherine Wheel Elizabeth Harrower , 1960 single work novel
Fiction Chronicle Harry Payne Heseltine , 1961 single work review
— Appears in: Meanjin Quarterly , December vol. 20 no. 4 1961; (p. 474-491)

— Review of The Catherine Wheel Elizabeth Harrower , 1960 single work novel
Limited Skill Van Ikin , 1980 single work review
— Appears in: The CRNLE Reviews Journal , May no. 1 1980; (p. 10-14)

— Review of The Catherine Wheel Elizabeth Harrower , 1960 single work novel ; The Long Prospect Elizabeth Harrower , 1958 single work novel
Out of Print, Out of Mind Don Anderson , 1988 single work criticism
— Appears in: The Sydney Morning Herald , 3 December 1988; (p. 88) Real Opinions : Polemical and Popular Writings 1992; (p. 145-147)
The Active Passive Inversion : Sex Roles in Garner, Stead and Harrower D. R. Burns , 1986 single work criticism
— Appears in: Meanjin , Spring vol. 45 no. 3 1986; (p. 346-353)

Five novels by Australian women novelists, namely Christina Stead's 'For Love Alone' (1945), Helen Garner's 'Monkey Grip' (1977) and Elizabeth Harrower's 'Down in the City' (1957), 'The Catherine Wheel' (1960) and 'The Watch Tower' (1966) are critically analysed to explore the reversal of gender roles in them. It is suggested that the women in the novels attend to their men's needs and problems by performing an active role in a passive manner, while the males are actually passive within their active appearances.' (Publication abstract)


Interview : Elizabeth Harrower Jim Davidson , 1980 single work interview
— Appears in: Meanjin , Winter vol. 39 no. 2 1980; (p. 163-174) Sideways from the Page : The Meanjin Interviews 1983; (p. 247-262)

'Elizabeth Harrower, renowned writer, speaks about the inspiration behind her writing and who influenced her the most. Harrower also elaborates on some of her novels and the meaning behind them.' (Introduction)


The Novels of Elizabeth Harrower Robyn Claremont , 1979 single work criticism
— Appears in: Quadrant , November vol. 23 no. 11 1979; (p. 16-21)
'The most recent study at any length of Elizabeth Harrower's work is found in R.G. Geering's Recent Fiction (Austrahan Writers and their work), O.U.P., Melbourne, 1974. In explaining the choice of writers for consideration - Stow, Kenneally, Harrower and Hazzard - he speaks of them as 'a small group of novelists of a younger generation, who already have a substantial body of work to their credit that deserves more than cursory treatment and who might be expected to add to their reputations in the years to come' (p.3). Unexceptionable as this judgment is, and important though the fact of this study might be, it still leaves unexamined several significant areas of her work.' (Publication abstract)
Elizabeth Harrower's Novels : A Survey R. G. Geering , 1970 single work criticism
— Appears in: Southerly , vol. 30 no. 2 1970; (p. 131-147)

'Elizabeth Harrower, one of the most talented of our younger novelists, is a writer whose steadily developing work deserves fuller consideration than it has so far been given. Her books may lack the more obvious and insistent attractions that have won numerous readers for Randolph Stow, Thea Astley, and Thomas Keneally, but they are the products of a truly creative writer, subtie, disciplined, and perceptive. Her fiction does not lend itself to quick illustration and cursory discussion; its strength lies in her absorption in the relationships she traces between her characters. Her talents begin to manifest themselves only when we follow her as she works through the spectrum of a whole scene and then pause to consider its place in the general design. Unlike some of her contemporaries who have tasted success, she never hurries into print, and, allowing for differences of opinion about The Catherine Wheel, we are justified in claiming for her work as a whole a gradual expansion of imaginative power as she extends the range of her subjects and intensifies their treatment, and a steady progress in technical accomplishment as we move from one book to the next. Her four novels are spread over a period of ten years: Down in the City (1957), The Long Prospect (1958), The Catherine Wheel (1960) and The Watch Tower (1966). They are, without exception, short novels (interestingly enough, all almost exactly the same length, just over 200 pages each), but from The Long Prospect onwards they manage to pack a good deal into a short space. Before looking at each in some detail it will be as well to offer a few generalizations.' (Publication abstract)


Last amended 22 Apr 2020 08:10:07
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