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Imagining Mary Dean: Representing another's life in text

Brien, Donna L. (2004) Imagining Mary Dean: Representing another's life in text. M/C: a journal of media and culture, 7.

Abstract

Leon Edel expressed the central puzzle of writing biography as "every life takes its own form and a biographer must find the ideal and unique literary form that will express it" (qtd. in Novarr 165). My primary challenge in writing Poisoned: The Trials of Mary Dean – a biography in the form of a (fictionalised) first-person memoir purportedly written by the subject herself – was the location of a textual voice for Mary that, if not her own, could have credibly belonged to a woman of her time, place and circumstance.

2The 'Dean case' caused a sensation across Australia in the mid-1890s when George Dean was arrested for the attempted murder of his 20-year-old wife, Mary. George was a handsome Sydney ferry master who had played the romantic lead in a series of spectacular rescues, flinging himself into the harbour to save women passengers who had fallen overboard. When on trial for repeatedly poisoning his wife, his actions and motivations were not probed; instead, Mary's character and behaviour and, by extrapolation, those of the entire female sex, were examined and analysed. This approach climaxed in defence counsel claims that Mary poisoned herself to frame her husband, but George was found guilty and sentenced to hang, the mandatory punishment for attempted murder at that time.

Impact and interest:

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ID Code: 240
Item Type: Journal Article
Additional URLs:
Keywords: Biography, Creative writing, Autobiographical narratives, Nineteenth century, Australia
ISSN: 1441-2616
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > LANGUAGES COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE (200000) > COMMUNICATION AND MEDIA STUDIES (200100) > Communication and Media Studies not elsewhere classified (200199)
Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > STUDIES IN CREATIVE ARTS AND WRITING (190000) > PERFORMING ARTS AND CREATIVE WRITING (190400) > Creative Writing (incl. Playwriting) (190402)
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Creative Industries Faculty
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2004 (please consult author)
Deposited On: 04 Nov 2005
Last Modified: 09 Jun 2010 22:21

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