These letters were the starting point for Kate Grenville’s bestselling novel A Room Made of Leaves. They inspired the portrait of her imagined Elizabeth Macarthur: shrewd, subtle, passionate. And they offer a glimpse into the complex inner life of one of our most powerful foremothers. Yet, until now, a general reader could only access a handful of them.
This book offers an edited selection, with commentary from Grenville, of the many letters Elizabeth Macarthur wrote ‘home’ from colonial Sydney over her long life—letters in which we can hear the voice of a remarkable woman. Circumstances confronted her with huge challenges, but also gave her opportunities unknown to most women of the time. It was a life of tumult, of griefs and joys—all faced with spirit, and recorded in this lively and engaging correspondence.
‘Excellent…So beautifully observed and written…An accomplished novel with all the experience that a writer like Kate Grenville brings to her work…Really a superb piece of work.’
‘Kate Grenville’s ‘A Room Made of Leaves’ - an almost flawless novel about our early colonial history told through the fictional eyes of Elizabeth MacArthur - it’s deep in research and beautifully realised.’
‘Kate Grenville is a literary alchemist, turning the leaden shadow of the historical Elizabeth Macarthur into a luminescent, golden woman for our times. Intelligent, compassionate, strategic and dead sexy, Grenville’s Macarthur is an unforgettable character who makes us question everything we thought we knew about our colonial past. A polished gem of a novel by a writer who is as brave as she is insightful. I simply loved it.’
‘Grenville’s editorial asides allow the reader to glimpse something of the possible reality that lies beneath, and offer a window into the complexity of Grenville’s relationship with this compelling, difficult and sometimes “unattractive” muse.’
‘More than 250 years after she was born, Elizabeth finally speaks in her own voice, no longer ventriloquized through a novelist’s imagination…Grenville provides a short introduction to each letter, and the vivid energy of the volume derives from the fascinating dialogue between these two voices: the colonial wife, writing to family and friends alike in achingly constrained prose; and the contemporary novelist who is by turns obsessed, compelled, and discomforted by her enigmatic subject…[A] compelling perspective.’
‘[Elizabeth Macarthur’s Letters] gives insight into Grenville’s writing process and narrative decisions…In A Room Made of Leaves, Grenville took Elizabeth’s letters as starting inspiration. She could imagine the woman Elizabeth might have been and who Grenville wanted her to be. In doing so, she could bring Elizabeth into line with contemporary cultural values. But in the Letters, Grenville must instead rely on her own accompanying voice, which is witheringly clear.’
‘A life of tumult, of griefs and joys—all faced with spirit, and recorded in this engaging correspondence.’
‘An intriguing compendium.’
‘This book should be read as a companion to A Room Made of Leaves. Enjoy the fiction, then get to know the real woman.’