I wouldn’t have looked at this book twice because I hadn’t heard of Marjorie Bligh, except that Pip Lincolne mentioned the book on the Meet Me At Mike’s blog, and I wanted to know more. But, as I often regret, I’m just not as sweet as Pip.
While it was certainly interesting enough, and it’s written by an Australian woman, I’ve realised that I can’t review this book. I can’t focus on it as a work. I’m much too distracted by the subject. And while I love craft, and gardening, and making things from scratch, and reusing and repurposing things, I’m not sure I care for Marjorie herself — or at least, the Marjorie in this book, which is the only Marjorie I know.
The writer of the biography, Danielle Wood, seems to have done her best with the subject, but she says herself near the end of the book that she had trouble pinning Marjorie down. And I can’t help but think that she had trouble because there wasn’t much to pin down. The Marjorie she portrays was (and is) no great intellectual, no fantastic writer and not great with people.
Bligh came across as shallow, remarkably insensitive (for instance, she married her third husband, a five-months-widowed bloke, after a three-month courtship, and was shitty that her new husband’s children weren’t completely thrilled) and unhealthily driven to present her idea of the perfect house (possibly to the detriment of relationships with the people around her). Potentially as a way of presenting herself as the perfect housewife.
She also seemed devoid of taste and obsessed with reusing things, usually to create (to steal a phrase from Mansfield Park) something of little use and no beauty — for instance:
“I created many dazzling gowns for myself…one was of white lace with a full circular skirt. When it showed signs of wear, I cut it into strips about 4 inches wide and oversewed the edges on the machine and made a lovely nightgown case…in the centre I put a celluloid doll cut off at the waist. I made a frilly blouse of lace for it, and it graced my bed for many years. It’s marvellous what you can do with left-overs and some deep thinking.”
Mmm. You would need “deep” thought indeed to take a tacky-sounding dress and think to turn it into something as useless as a nightgown case, then make it even less classy by getting it to resemble a toilet-roll doll. Sounds like something Regretsy would love.
I was also appalled by some of the details about Bligh’s own books; for instance, her complete disregard for copyright, when it came to quoting and attributing things (I was wondering how Bligh’s publishers let this happen, but then I realised that the books, which are apparently highly sought-after in Tasmania, were all self-published).
Some of the samples of Bligh’s writing included in the book were also just bizarre — terrible poetry abounds, but it pales in comparison with this quote from Bligh’s autobiography, which Wood ostensibly includes to show how “dense” Bligh’s writing was, but which I get the feeling she included to illustrate how strange the autobiography is:
Early January, our friend Tony Boghman was back in hospital with the second heart attack (and died on the 14th February). We called to see him (and another dear friend, Mrs. Pinner, who was to have an operation) on our way to … celebrate my son Ross’s birthday on the 20th, but Mrs. Pinner passed away before we returned home. When we arrived home, Freda Fi Fi* had to go to the vet as she had a grass seed in her vagina. Having it removed cost $19.50.
*Freda Fi Fi was Bligh’s dog.
Bligh’s also not what you’d call one of the feminist sisterhood. Apart from even more embarrassing poetry describing what a mother should be, a wife should be, a husband should be (all more offensive than the last), there’s a truly astonishing anecdote about the time she had some sort of panic attack when she realised she was boarding a plane with a female pilot and apparently refused to get on. As Wood says, “her expectations of how women and men ought to behave are as pink and blue as you can get”.
Most disturbing of all, however, were the parts about Bligh’s abusive first husband, who she described in her dairy as a rapist, but who she once wrote to, telling him that their “sexual relations” were “perfect” apart from the times when he forced her. I really don’t know where to go from there.
I’m wondering if I just don’t “get it”, not coming from Tasmania and not having grown up with her as part of the scene.
But I can’t review this book.