The Red Witch
Novelist, journalist and activist Katharine Susannah Prichard won fame for vivid novels that broke new ground depicting distinctly Australian ways of life and work – from Gippsland pioneers and West Australian prospectors to Pilbara station hands and outback opal miners. Her prize-winning debut The Pioneers made her a celebrity but she turned away from jaunty romances to write a trio of inter-war classics, Working Bullocks, Coonardoo and Haxby’s Circus. Heralded in her time as the ‘hope of the Australian novel’, her good friend Miles Franklin called Prichard ‘Australia’s most distinguished tragedian’. This biography of a literary giant traces Prichard’s journey from the genteel poverty of her Melbourne childhood to her impulsive marriage to Victoria Cross winner Hugo Throssell, and finally on to her long widowhood as a ‘red witch’, marked out from society by her loyalty to the Soviet Union and her unconventional ways. Through meticulous archival research and historical detective work, Nathan Hobby reveals many unknown aspects of Prichard’s life, including the likely identity of the mysterious lover who influenced her deeply in her twenties, her withdrawal from politics during her remarkable five-year literary peak and an intimate friendship with poet Hugh McCrae. Lively and detailed, The Red Witch is a gripping narrative alert to the drama and tragedy of Prichard’s remarkable life.
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Nathan Hobby is a Perth author, librarian and honorary research fellow at the University of Western Australia. His novel The Fuy (Fremantle Press 2004) won the TAG Hungerford Award. He blogs at nathanhobby.com.