Jean Devanny

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Jane (Jean) Devanny (7 January 1894 – 8 March 1962) was an Australian writer and communist. Born in Ferntown, New Zealand, she migrated to Australia in 1929, eventually moving to Townsville in northern Queensland, where she died at the age of 68.

She is best known for the novels Sugar Heaven and The Butcher Shop, but she also wrote short stories and political papers.

Literary connections[edit]

Devanny was one of the founders of the Writers' League with Katharine Susannah Prichard and Egon Kisch. In 1935 she became the League's first president. The Writers' League became the Writer's Association in 1937.[1]

She was a close friend and correspondent of Miles Franklin, Marjorie Barnard and Winifred Hamilton, and was in frequent contact with other Australian writers throughout the mid-20th Century.[2]

In 1948, she approached Mary Gilmore to write a forward to Travels in North Queensland, but Gilmore declined on the basis that Devanny should write it herself, as 'I have written so many that I have decided not to write any more for a time, as they will have no value by now'.[3]

Political activity[edit]

Devanny joined the Communist Party of Australia in the early 1930s. She later had a number of disagreements with the leadership of the party that lead to her expulsion in 1940. She rejoined the party in 1944, but left in 1949.[1] Although she remained a staunch Communist for years after leaving the party, she often expressed disagreement and dissatisfaction with many other communists of the time – most notably Picasso, of whom she reportedly said: 'Picasso hasn't got any political opinions. His work proves that. He's only got a sentimental attachment to the idea of social justice'.[3]

Devanny was known to use her novels as a way of expressing ideological concepts and principles. During the 1930s she toured North Queensland to spread propaganda for the Communist movement. Sugar Heaven was written during this period and was intended to be a form of propaganda.[3]

Later years[edit]

Devanny later regretted viewing her novels as a way to convey ideology, rather than trying to write to the best of her abilities. She later noted: 'I realise now that I have not exploited the small measure of ability for writing I possess one whit. I never really got down to it and THOUGHT. Thought was reserved for politics'.[1] Devanny moved to North Queensland during the 1940s and spent the last two decades of her life in the region. During the 1950s she wrote many articles and stories, which documented many details about the region during the mid Twentieth Century. She died on 8 March 1962 in Townsville, having been diagnosed with chronic leukaemia. Her remains were cremated in Rockhampton.

Her daughter Pat also became a communist activist.

Records and collections[edit]

The James Cook University Library holds copies of all of Devanny's published works in the North Queensland Collection. Many of Devanny's private papers are also held in the Library's Special Collections.[4]

Selected works[edit]

Novels and collected stories[edit]

  • Bird of paradise (1945)
  • Bushman Burke (1930)
  • The butcher shop (1926)
  • Cindie : a chronicle of the canefields (1949)
  • Dawn beloved (1928)
  • Devil made saint (1930)
  • Lenore Divine (1926)
  • Old savage : and other stories (1927)
  • Out of such fires (1934)
  • Paradise flow (1938)
  • Poor Swine (1932)
  • Riven (1929)
  • Roll back the night (1945)
  • Sugar heaven (1936)
  • Taipo (1944)
  • The virtuous courtesan (1935)
  • Cindie (1949)

Autobiographical works[edit]

  • By tropic sea and jungle; adventures in North Queensland. (1944)
  • Travels in North Queensland. (1951)
  • Point of departure: the autobiography of Jean Devanny (1986)

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Ron Store, 'Devanny, Jane (Jean) (1894–1962)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Online Edition, Copyright 2006, updated continuously, ISSN 1833-7538, published by Australian National University http://www.adb.online.anu.edu.au/biogs/A080316b.htm
  2. ^ Ferrier, C. (1992). As good as a yarn with you : letters between Miles Franklin, Katharine Susannah Prichard, Jean Devanny, Marjorie Barnard, Flora Eldershaw and Eleanor Dark. Oakleigh, Vic.: Cambridge University Press.
  3. ^ a b c Ferrier, C. (1999). Jean Devanny : romantic revolutionary. Carlton, Vic.: Melbourne University Press
  4. ^ JCU Library Archives: Jean Devanny Retrieved 20 January 2011, from http://www.jcu.edu.au/old_library/Specials/Archives/devanny.shtml