Treading Air: using historical fiction to explore women's criminality and sexuality in the interwar period

Van Luyn, Ariella (2015) Treading Air: using historical fiction to explore women's criminality and sexuality in the interwar period. In: Proceedings of the 20th Conference of the Australasian Association of Writing Programs, pp. 1-10. From: AAWP 2016: 20th Conference of the Australasian Association of Writing Programs, 29 November-1 December 2015, Melbourne, VIC, Australia.

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Abstract

In this paper, I use a practice-led research methodology to reflect on the dilemmas of representing women's sexuality in Treading Air (2016), a novel of historical fiction. The creative work is based on the life of Lizzie O'Dea, alias Betty Knight, who lived in Townsville and Brisbane during the interwar period. I uncovered Lizzie O'Dea's story in the National Library of Australia’s digitised newspaper archives. Lizzie's criminal record was described as 'unenviable' (Townsville Daily Bulletin 5 Aug, 1928). Many of Lizzie O'Dea's crimes in Townsville occurred in or around The Causeway Hotel and Heraud Street, known as a red light district. The newspaper articles reveal that, as a criminal and prostitute, Lizzie O'Dea was subject to a set of discourses that, at once, exposed her to the public gaze and excluded her from the 'proper' realm of the domestic housewife. However, the decade of the 1920s was one of shifting attitudes towards sexuality, particularly as a result of women's suffrage, which lobbied against the earlier view that sex work was a necessary evil, advocating instead that conditions for women could be improved by giving women equal wages (Frances 2007). This paper proposes that fiction, as Greenblatt (1998:525) conceives of it, is a space to 'survey a complex new world, testing upon it dark thoughts without damaging the order those thoughts would seem to threaten'. The paper demonstrates how the tensions between discourses of women's criminality and sexuality can be explored through the representations of a historical figure based on newspaper articles found in the archives.

Item ID: 45282
Item Type: Conference Item (Refereed Research Paper - E1)
Keywords: creative writing, historical fiction, practice-led research
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ISBN: 978-0-9807573-9-2
Date Deposited: 12 Sep 2016 04:38
FoR Codes: 19 STUDIES IN CREATIVE ARTS AND WRITING > 1904 Performing Arts and Creative Writing > 190402 Creative Writing (incl Playwriting) @ 100%
SEO Codes: 95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9501 Arts and Leisure > 950104 The Creative Arts (incl. Graphics and Craft) @ 100%
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