Member Loginmenu
The Women in Black

The Women in Black: Text Classics

Text Classics

Madeleine St John

Introduction by Bruce Beresford

The Ladies in Black stage musical by Carolyn Burns, with music and lyrics by Tim Finn, is based on this wonderful Australian classic.

At the very end of the Ladies’ Frocks Departments, past Cocktail Frocks, there was something very special, something quite, quite wonderful; but it wasn’t for everybody: that was the point. Because there, at the very end, there was a lovely arch, on which was written in curly letters Model Gowns.

Written by a superb novelist of contemporary manners, The Women in Black is a fairytale which illuminates the extraordinariness of ordinary lives. The women in black are run off their feet, what with the Christmas rush and the summer sales that follow. But it’s Sydney in the 1950s, and there’s still just enough time left on a hot and frantic day to dream and scheme…

By the time the last marked-down frock has been sold, most of the staff of the Ladies’ Cocktail section at F. G. Goode’s have been launched into slightly different careers. With the lightest touch and the most tender of comic instincts, Madeleine St John conjures a vanished summer of innocence. The Women in Black is a great novel, a lost Australian classic.


ABC Radio National: The Bookshelf    
Read Bruce Beresford's introduction in the Guardian. 
Read a lovely review at the Good Reading Copy blog. 
Phinney Books in Seattle loves The Women in Black! 
New York Times 

Madeleine St John
About the Author

Madeleine St John was born in Sydney in 1941. Her father, Edward, was a barrister and Liberal politician. Her mother, Sylvette, committed suicide in 1954, when Madeleine was twelve. Sylvette’s death, Madeleine later said, ‘obviously changed everything’.

St John studied Arts at Sydney University, where her contemporaries included Bruce...

Read Moreright
About the Introducer

Bruce Beresford has directed more than two dozen films, including Breaker Morant, Tender Mercies, Driving Miss Daisy, Black Robe, Double Jeopardy and Mao’s Last Dancer. He has directed Rigoletto for the Los Angeles Opera and A Streetcar Named Desire for Opera Australia, and is the author of Josh Hartnett Definitely Wants to Do This. He lives in...

Read Moreright
Text publication date:
26 April 2012
First published:
AU Price:
NZ Price:
Loading Rating
Praise for Madeleine St John
andThe Women in Black

‘Funny, affectionate, moving and written with a light, comic touch.’

‘A delicious book. Funny and happy, it’s like the breath of youth again.’

‘Seductive, hilarious, brilliantly observed, this novel shimmers with wit and tenderness.’

‘A major minor masterpiece, a witty and poignant snapshot of Sydney the year before yesterday.’

‘St. John casts an airy spell with the deftness of her prose, which moves gracefully, swiftly and with perfect manners.’

‘This glorious, witty snapshot of Australia in the 1950s…it really is a gem in the rough.…This is no nostalgia piece for a lost way of life, but a clever, funny argument for why things had to change.’

‘Wickedly humorous yet tender…Full of old fashioned elegance and witty humour. I loved every page.’

‘Like the deceptively simple (but perfectly crafted) little black dress, this delicious and sly masterpiece works its magic from the very first sentence. Once you slip into its folds– full of hope and new beginnings, of luck and laughter and love– I dare you not to catch yourself smiling, and wanting to twirl, for days and days and days.’

‘Funny and light…perfect for lovers of chick lit with a dash of romance and historical fiction for good measure.’

‘Department store particulars are part of the charm of The Women in Black, a deceptively smart comic gem that tracks four women through the pandemonium of one holiday season in 1950s Sydney. Laced with a fierce intelligence that captures the limited options for women and postwar xenophobia views, it’s also a love letter to department stores of yore. Let’s raise a glass to this heroic comic novel that’s not only still alive but getting a second wind.’

‘Tart, beguiling, witty and compassionate…A literary boost for the spirits.

‘A delightful confection of a novel, an almost bucolic comedy of manners staged in the throes of Christmas season, where four women toil in a department store…Warm and very charming.’

Other editions ofThe Women in Black
  • The Women in Black
    ISBN: 9781921921896
    26 April 2012
    Buy ebook
  • The Women in Black
    ISBN: 9781921656798
    25 October 2010
  • Paperback
    ISBN: 9781921520204
    30 March 2009