Happy Valley by Patrick White

1. First lines. 2. Published 2012 Text Publishing. First published 1939 by George G. Harrap & Co London. 3. Commercial Street, Kooringa, South Australia by Aussie~mobs [Public Domain] via flickr 4. Hallum Movius, Salt Creek [PRG 1218/34/433B] • Photograph [Public Domain] via State Library of South Australia.

Doom and gloom in a town that’s not a happy place.

Happy Valley is a fictional country town, based on the town of Adaminaby in the Snowy Mountains area of Australia. The story follows some of the characters living in the town, a common theme being their restlessness, and need to go and live somewhere else. Among the characters are the Belpers at the bank, Ernest Moriarty the schoolteacher, Alys Browne the piano teacher, the Quongs, (storekeepers), and the Furlows (squatters). Newcomers Clem Hagan, (overseer at the Furlows), and Oliver Halliday, (the doctor) strain relations among the townspeople, and a violent event takes place.

“Happy Valley flickers up into excitement when the autumn race meeting comes round, kindled by a sense of self-importance and craving for display that you feel a week or two before the arrival of these two days, the Friday and the Saturday, not to mention Friday night when they hold the dance at the School of Arts, or as the bills have it, the Grand Race Week Ball.”

“Mr Belper’s first chin rested on the red flap of the one immediately below.”

“There is something relentless about the hatred induced by human contacts in a small town.”

“During the summer you looked at things with your eyes half closed, and the landscape was almost impressionist, colour and forms broken by the heat.”

“Mother cried because she thought the fire would pass Ferndale and reach Glen Marsh, … the crackle of green wood, the spitting of sap, they beat the fire with boughs. … It did not reach Glen Marsh. It burnt itself out. It was not the men, nothing they had done, it just burnt itself out, a sort of hari-kiri of the fire. And Mother said, thank God, because she felt it would not be blasphemy to say it on such an occasion as this, so much saved, lives perhaps, and the way the men had worked, as if it had been the men, and not the fire that had died of its own free will.”

“But the fact is I’m a failure, Moriarty said. I can’t cope with them. All those children. Sitting there. You don’t know doctor, how those children can hate. Half their life is pure hate. They hate you when they know you’re weak. They hate you when they know you’re strong, because they’re afraid, they think you’re going to make use of your strength. And d’you know, doctor, I – I’m afraid of them I think.”

~Quotes from “Happy Valley” by Patrick White.
  • Guardian: “Patrick White’s first novel bears testament to his genius. … White is a mesmerising narrator whose prose illuminates the most ordinary object and event in new and gripping ways. The stream-of-consciousness passages sometimes seem a little striving, not as certain as in his later work.”
  • Kirkus: “The author has an uncanny faculty for stressing psychological nuances, undertones, and so on. It is an interesting and very perceptive first novel, but it’s not a book that will be easy selling or easy reading.”

Background note: Patrick White based this novel, his first, on his own experiences as a jackaroo at Bolaro, near Adaminaby. The book was first published in 1939 when the author was 27 years old, and was not republished until after the author’s death. It is said that he would not allow it to be republished in English in his lifetime. Happy Valley won the Australian Literature Society Gold Medal in 1941, and White went on to write twelve more novels, as well as plays and collections of stories. He was awarded the 1973 Nobel Prize for Literature.

Left: Other editions

Awards: 1941 Australian Literature Society Gold Medal


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