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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.



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! 

Madeleine St John
About the Author

Madeleine St John was born in Sydney in 1941. She studied Arts at Sydney University, where her contemporaries included Bruce Beresford, Germaine Greer, Clive James and Robert Hughes. In 1993, St John published her first novel, The Women in Black, the only book she set in Australia. Her third novel, The Essence of the Thing (1997), was...

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Text publication date:
26 April 2012
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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.’

Other editions ofThe Women in Black