A Simple Enigma: Juliet Dawson Profile – Part 2

A Wolf In Wolf’s Clothing had been the subject of a bidding war, waged on both sides of the Atlantic, and in her answers to my questions Juliet showed that she had followed the to and fro of offer and counter offer by Hammer Press and Charles Darley, while maintaining her usual reserve. It suited her, always, to appear bored with the sort of subjects which interested other people, but this subject was different. It was the first time she got to see close up how publishing works, and that couldn’t fail to engage a woman with an inquiring and athletic mind, but more than that she was at the heart of this issue, and that was the key. She was interested in her. She found herself fascinating, because she was fascinating – there was no getting away from the fact.

When I raised this issue with her she was silent for some time, and then she spoke, slowly at first: “Yes, I suppose that’s right. I am interested in me. It’s an awful form of conceit isn’t it? Most embarrassing to admit, but true nonetheless. Sometimes I can view myself, the public me, as another person, as if my exterior self and my interior self are separate, and that’s when I can most understand the games that the press play with me – the stories and magazine covers. Seen through the prism of the media, I’m an enthralling woman who leads an extravagant life surrounded by luminous people. The truth isn’t like that. But it can be. The lines are blurred, and I know where they blur.” She lit a cigarette. “I expect the nuns would be appalled if they could hear me talking like this. We were taught to be humble, you know. That was important. To be respectful and to know humility. Or at least to be able to fake it.”

The nuns were the Sisters of Martinini and they were teachers and advisers, disciplinarians and friends at St. Bertha’s College, Murdoch Flat in rural New South Wales. The Dawson family was not a wealthy one, they had been wheat farmers for four generations, but all the girls were sent to St. Bertha’s, and although it wasn’t easy Juliet’s mother and father, Annie and Mick Dawson, continued the tradition. There were two older sisters, a sporty one (Kate) and an academic one (Vanessa), while Juliet was the rebel, although as she tells it, she wasn’t completely cut out for that role either. “I often just couldn’t be bothered. I only tried to run away once, and that was because there was a dance in town, and the whole of sixth form had been barred from attending, and there was a man involved. Well, a boy, a beautiful boy with golden hair. He drove a car and I knew he’d be at the dance. So I escaped for love, and I was only discovered, ‘rumbled’ as we used to say, when I was breaking back in. I never wanted to escape, you see, just get out for the night. Other than that I was caught smoking on numerous occasions, but that was almost expected of me, and I never got in a lot of trouble for it. They just let me go really. They knew I knew my own mind and the nuns were always talking about thinking for yourself and being an independent woman, and I think when they encountered one they recognised the fact. I was almost like the eccentric they tolerated, by the time I was in my last year at school. I studied the subjects I wanted to study and came to classes I wanted to come to, and I spent my other time writing and working on my own stuff. Poems mostly, just about unreadable now, but that’s what I spent most time doing.”

It sounds positively idyllic. There were, of course, many infringements which lead to canings by Sister Horace when Juliet was a younger girl, the nun enjoying a reputation for brutality at the time, but her relationship grew and changed with the girls as they got older, and she became a confidante of many in the older years. Letters are still regularly exchanged between Juliet and Horace and the two women are able to spend some time together over Christmas every few years.

University, by contrast, was hard. It was hard because it didn’t seem hard, because no-one talks about university life being difficult. The work load was onerous and life was full of commitments, and there was a man too, which made it all harder: harder and sweeter, but mostly harder. And there were no nuns around to tell you, or gently advise you, what to do.

Published in: on March 7, 2013 at 7:33 pm  Leave a Comment  

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