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.

Women and voting

Thankfully all of the electioneering is over now, it was a seven week long campaign in Scotland so there were quite a lot of party political broadcasts to dodge in that time. I count myself as being moderately interested in politics, if only to see what lies and excuses they can come up with for their nonsense. I’ve always used my vote, as my own mother did. Quite often my parents went to the poll station and basically cancelled out each other’s votes, but it was still important to them to do it.

So I was absolutely flabbergasted one day last week when I was watching the news and they asked a woman in Northern Ireland who she would be voting for and her reply was – I’ll ask my dad who I should vote for. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t actually heard her say it, she was probably in her late 20s or early 30s, although I have to say I’m rubbish at guessing peoples ages, anyway she wasn’t 18.

To make matters worse my husband told me that a male colleague of his tells his wife who to vote for, because she isn’t political, they are both about 26 years old.

I’m left wondering how common this is in the 21st century. My Granny was one of those women who had to wait until she was 30 before she got the vote and she never missed a chance to use hers. So are we going backwards now with young women taking everything so much for granted that they are quite happy to slip back into such a Victorian attitude?

When I started work it was accepted practice for woment to be given a lower wage for the same work as a man. Then when we went into the European Union things like that had to stop because we had the Equality of the Sexes laws. In the library which I worked in at the time we weren’t allowed to wear trousers, not even smart ones and it was a big thing for us to be able to say to out boss that HE couldn’t stop us from wearing trousers anymore.

It seems that when some women have things too easy they get complacent, but I don’t suppose they really know what it was like in the bad old days of getting treated like an inferior just because you were female. The Suffragettes will be birling in their graves!