Miss Marryat’s Circle
Miss Marryat’s Circle is a comprehensive and well-researched exploration of the role of women in South Australian history. Focusing on the influential Marryat family, Williss chronologically details the contributions of the Marryats from their 1836 arrival to Miss Mabel Marryat’s death in 1949.
Williss attempts to tell the story of the first 110 years of South Australian women’s history in one 300-page non-fiction book, under the guise of focusing on one woman. Walking through the buildings of North Terrace and the rest of the city, the reader is entreated to the history of such landmarks as Trinity Church, Adelaide University, and West Terrace Cemetery, explaining their creation and their role in influential Adelaide women’s legacies. Further highlighting the role of the Marryats, Williss has selected newspaper clippings, letters, and diaries of South Australians to recreate the atmosphere of a small settlement trying to find its feet and bloom into a functioning society.
Miss Mabel Marryat’s role during both World War I and II revolutionised South Australian women’s role in society, with their collective aim to provide support to Australian troops overseas. Her involvement in the Red Cross, at Keswick Hospital, and League of Loyal Women in various leadership roles, cemented her position in history as a pioneer and social philanthropist, only for her to then be denigrated as someone who simply partook in “home duties” on her death certificate.
It is important to record women’s role in our history as it has been dismissed in our national narrative. However, Williss seems to have bitten off more than she could chew in writing this supposed biography. It read like a history textbook with dates and names thrown at the reader with no explanation of why they were important to the life story of Miss Marryat and her dedication to her “diggers”.
In order to set the scene, it took Williss 100 pages to introduce and focus on the titular woman. She recounted a brief and superficial history of Adelaide, rather than providing the reader with a deep, focused biography on the aptly named “fairy godmother” of Australian soldiers. It often took paragraphs – if not chapters – of trawling through dates, names and quotes to reach the point that Williss wanted to make, resulting in a book that drags along slowly.
Overall, Williss has provided an extensive history of South Australia and some of the women who have been forgotten, allowing them a play a role in our state and national narrative. However, to do Miss Marryat justice, a more focused study should have undertaken to truly tell her story.
Miss Marryat’s Circle is available for purchase through Wakefield Press here.
Words by Georgina Banfield
Georgina Banfield is currently studying a Bachelor of Arts majoring in English at Flinders University. When she’s not reading, writing or listening to podcasts she can be found looking at conspiracy theories and true crime. She loves anything to do with history, literature and unsolved mysteries.