Verna Susannah Coleman

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Verna Coleman (Scott), 1944.

Verna Susannah Coleman (née Scott; born 13 September 1925 – 4 November 2011) was an Australian biographer of international reputation, whose work was characterised by stylish and readable writing, meticulous research, and a gripping narrative skill.[1][2][3] She concentrated on neglected aspects of expatriate literary and political figures, and the social, political and literary milieus in which they lived. Her books on novelists Miles Franklin and Frederic Manning, and activist Adela Pankhurst, have proved particularly valuable to scholars of feminist history, and of First World War literature.[4][5] Her book on Adela Pankhurst is the only biography of this polarising figure, about whom it had been suggested that a biography could never be written.[6][7]

Life and work[edit]

Verna Susannah Coleman was born in Sydney, the second daughter of Jack and Ruby Scott, and educated at Our Lady of Mercy College, Parramatta[8] and the University of Sydney.[9] After graduating in Arts, she worked as a librarian in the Mitchell Library (the specialist Australian collection of the State Library of New South Wales) and in the library of the University College, Canberra.[10]

She wrote literary reviews for various journals from 1950–2005, but her first biographical subject was novelist Miles Franklin, whom she had assisted as a young librarian in the Mitchell Library.[8] Miles Franklin in America: Her Unknown (Brilliant) Career covered Franklin’s previously largely unknown political career with the feminist and union movements in Chicago.[11][12] The next biography The Last Exquisite explored the life of the Australian expatriate poet and Great War novelist Frederic Manning, who left Sydney at the age of 21 to become a controversial literary figure in London.[13][14]

The final biography, The Wayward Suffragette, was a study of Adela Pankhurst, daughter of the famous British activist Emmeline Pankhurst. Coleman documented her extraordinary career following her emigration to Australia, where she became prominent at both ends of the political spectrum, moving from the Communist Party and to the far right Australia First movement.[1][4]

At the time of her death Verna Coleman was working on was a study of the emergence of Modernism in fiction, as illustrated by the careers of the New Zealand writer Katherine Mansfield and Katherine's Sydney-born cousin, Elizabeth von Arnim.[8]

Verna Coleman was married to writer and politician Peter Coleman, and had two daughters, Tanya, who became a lawyer and later wife of Deputy Liberal Leader Peter Costello, Ursula, a children's writer, and a son William, who is an economist.[8]


Her Unknown (Brilliant) Career: Miles Franklin in America (1981) Angus and Robertson, Sydney. ISBN 0207145369, 9780207145360

The Last Exquisite: A Portrait of Frederic Manning (1990) Melbourne University Press, Melbourne. ISBN 0522843700, 9780522843705

Adela Pankhurst: The Wayward Suffragette 1885–1961 (1996) Melbourne University Press, Melbourne. ISBN 0522847285, 978-0522847284

Other biographical and critical writings[edit]

"Walsh, Adela Constantia Mary Pankhurst (1885–1961" (2004) The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Oxford University Press, United Kingdom. ISBN 9780198614111

Foreword (1981) My career goes bung : purporting to be the autobiography of Sybilla Penelope Melvyn Miles Franklin by Miles Frankin Virago Modern Classics, London. ISBN 086068220X

"Portrait of the artist as a young girl" on the Australian writer Amy Witting Quadrant, Sydney, 1990, Vol. 34 No. 263, pp. 110–111

The Good Reading Guide: 100 Critics review contemporary Australian fiction (1989) Helen Daniel (editor) McPhee Gribble, Melbourne. ISBN 0869141678, 9780869141670 entries on Jessica Andersen, Janette Turner Hospital, Barry Humphries, George Johnston, Christopher Koch, Morris Lurie, Peter Shrubb, Christina Stead.


  1. ^ a b Mitchell, David (4 October 1996). "The Wayward Suffragette". Times Literary Supplement, London (4879): 40. 
  2. ^ Semmler, Clement (December 1996). "Adela Pankhurst's Long March". Quadrant: 83, 84. 
  3. ^ "Review of "The Wayward Suffragette" by Verna Coleman". Salisbury Review: 51. Autumn 1996. 
  4. ^ a b Faust, Beatrice (1996). "A most refactory girl". Australian Rationalist, Melbourne (41): 52, 53. 
  5. ^ Roberts, Andrew (14 August 1999). "The Story of the Trenches". Daily Telegraph, London. 
  6. ^ Henderson, Anne (August 1996). "Australian Pankhurst". Australian Book Review: 13, 14. 
  7. ^ Summers, Anne (5 October 1996). "Australian suffrage's neglected daughter". The Sydney Morning Herald. 
  8. ^ a b c d "Late blooming writer told lost tales". The Sydney Morning Herald. 15 November 2011. Retrieved 6 March 2012. 
  9. ^ Barcan, Alan (2002). Radical students: the Old Left at Sydney University. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press. p. 167. ISBN 0-522-85017-0. 
  10. ^ McKenna, Mark (2011). An Eye for Eternity: the Life of Manning Clark. Melbourne: Miegunyah Press, Melbourne University Press. p. 300. ISBN 0522856179. 
  11. ^ Wilde, Hooton, Andrews, W.H. (1994). The Oxford Companion to Australian Literature. Melbourne: Oxford University Press. pp. 330, 511. ISBN 019553381X. 
  12. ^ Oldfield, Audrey (1992). Woman Suffrage in Australia: A Gift or a Struggle?. Melbourne: Cambridge University Press. p. 243. ISBN 0521436117. 
  13. ^ Carpenter, Humphrey (21 December 1990). "A private on parade – review of "The Last Exquisite"". Times Literary Supplement, London (4577): 1368. 
  14. ^ Coorey, Andrew (6 June 2006). "The great novel". Eureka Street. Retrieved 6 March 2012.