Painted Clay by Capel Boake

Painted Clay cover

Painted Clay by Capel Boake was first published in Australia in 1917 but my copy is the 1986 Virago reprint. The author’s real name was Doris Boake Kerr and she also wrote under the name Stephen Grey. She spent most of her life in Melbourne, Australia which is the setting of this book.

Helen Somerset is an isolated young woman, brought up in Packington a suburb of Melbourne, by a reclusive father who has home schooled her. Her father has told Helen that her mother is dead and he has nothing good to say about her. He thinks that Helen will turn out to be like her mother and he’s a cold and aloof father, it’s a miserable life for Helen. Eventually Helen strikes up a friendship with the young women who live next door, she could hear them through the wall, their music and laughter and she longed to be part of it.

When her father dies Helen is only 16 and is in a sticky situation as she has to get out of what had been her home. Luckily she is taken in by the mother next door and her daughters Bella and Irene encourage Helen to get a job in a shop selling china. The work is dire as are the wages but Helen is happy to be out in the world. Eventually she’s encouraged to take evening classes in shorthand and typing to enable her to get a better job in an office.

As Helen’s life opens out and she makes friends with people who lead a more Bohemian lifestyle, living among artists she falls for an older man which is not exactly surprising since she had lacked a real father figure, but the relationship goes further than would be expected for the times, not that Helen feels guilty about that, she can’t see anything wrong with it, although knows that society would feel differently.

This is a really good read which deals with the changing attitudes of society and the changing lives of women who are more able to lead an independent life, but the men in their lives aren’t always as adaptable to the changes. Towards the end of the book the First World War breaks out which is obviously going to advance the cause of women’s independence albeit at a horrendous cost.

Capel Boake wrote three more novels and some poetry, but I don’t think the others have been reprinted which is a shame as I’d definitely read them if they were.

9 thoughts on “Painted Clay by Capel Boake

    • Sandra,
      I hope you find it, I can’t understand why they ever changed away from the original Virago design, they’re so much nicer.

  1. I would buy that for the cover art alone. Funny, all kinds of Australian books are suddenly popping up on the blogs I follow. I really want to read more Australian fiction so I’ll keep an eye out for this one.

  2. What interesting books you have been reading lately. I thought this one would be easier to find here (online) than The Glorious Thing, but it isn’t. I will put it on the list and it may turn up someday at a book sale.

  3. This books sounds like a delightful read, and I’ve never heard of this author. I haven’t read much by Australian authors either. Another one to go on my “to find” list!

    • Paula,
      I’ve not read many books by Australian authors either, apart from Nevil Shute I think I’ve only read The Overlanders by Dora Birtles which is also a Virago and is set in WW2. It’s really interesting to read about the war in that part of the world and how it affected the people.

  4. Hi Katrina, great to see a review of a largely forgotten Australian (and not one I’ve read). I’m one of a number of people working on the website Australian Women Writers dot com, writing about and reviewing books by Australian women authors up until the 1950s. One of our editors has just put up an essay about Capel Boake, and in a day or two there will be a short story as well, which is why I was searching and came upon your review.
    Bill Holloway

    • wadholloway (Bill),
      This is the only book by Boake which I’ve read, but I really liked it. Books by Australian women seem to be quite thin on the ground here, but I’ve read The Overlanders by Dora Birtles which was also published by Virago and is well worth reading. I’ll have a look at the website, thanks for dropping by.

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