Introduction by Fiona McFarlane
Written with unerring skill and insight, The Dyehouse is a masterly portrait of postwar Australia, when industrial work was radically transformed by new technologies and society changed with it. Mena Calthorpe—who herself worked in a textile factory—takes us inside this world, vividly bringing to life the people of an inner-Sydney company in the mid-1950s: the bosses, middlemen and underlings; their dramatic struggles and their loves.
This powerful and affecting novel was first published in 1961, and is the hundredth book in the Text Classics series. The new edition comes with an introduction by Fiona McFarlane, acclaimed author of The Night Guest.
About the Author
Mena Calthorpe was born in Goulburn, New South Wales, in 1905, and grew up there. After marrying, Calthorpe moved to Sydney and lived for most of her life in the Sutherland Shire. Working in office jobs and writing in her spare time, she was active in literary groups and in the Labor Party—for some years she was a member of the Communist Party, and she opposed B. A. Santamaria’s attempts to stop communism in trade unions.
The Dyehouse (1961) was followed by The Defectors (1969), which dramatised unions’ internal power struggles. Mena Calthorpe’s third and final novel was The Plain of Ala, an Irish migrant story, which was published in 1989. She died in 1996.
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Comments about The Dyehouse:
This is a reissue of a classic Australian novel, originally published in 1961. It's set in the dyehouse of the title, where we meet the whole gamut of characters concerned with its workings. They are depicted both at home and at work, where their lives are affected, usually for the worse, by the devious Renshaw who is himself caught between the workers and the demands of senior management. The author knows her setting and her characters well, and brings alive both these and an Australia of the not too distant past.
Comments about The Dyehouse:
"There was something disturbing about his expressionless face. The fair, straight hair, the shrill eyes, the droop of the mouth. He picked up a pen and began doodling. A circle. Then another and another. And suddenly the eyes, withdrawn, opened wide. The dead mask of the face was swept away. The smile was sudden and electric"
The Dyehouse is the first of only three novels ever written by Australian author, Mena (Philomena) Calthorpe. It was first published in 1961, and this Text Classics edition (which is their 100th Text Classics book) sports a gorgeous colourful cover by the talented W H Chong, and an introduction by Fiona McFarlane.
It is set in post-war Sydney, a supposedly fictitious suburb called Macdonaldtown, the site of many factories including the dyehouse of the Southern Textiles Dye Works. It takes intimate dips into the lives of the employees: the office ladies, the manager, the pressers, the Company Secretary, the head dyer, the General Manager, the engineer, the Chairman of Directors, the setters.
Competition and changes wrought by the introduction of nylon and the difficulty it presents to dyers underlie the dramas in the lives of the dyehouse employees: a late-in life pregnancy, a seduction, unrequited love, poverty, the threat of unemployment. Calthorpe highlights the management's "us and them" mindset.
Poor working conditions, compete and callous disregard by management of employee loyalty, experience and expertise, management's lack of compassion, sexual harassment, all fuel the imminent industrial action that is hinted at but does not yet happen. Calthorpe's personal experience working in a textile factory is apparent on every page.
Calthorpe describes a time when ladies always wore hats and gloves and stockings, when all records were written by hand, when a telephone call was almost an event, when few owned cars and most walked or took public transport, when calculations were done by adding machine. This will undoubtedly resonate with r
'[The Dyehouse] is executed with a singular combination of charm, grace and tough-mindedness.' Meanjin 'The Dyehouse is an extraordinary book-a true ensemble novel, written with astonishing control and animated by compassionate intelligence. With its indelible Sydney setting, it deserves-more than deserves-to take its place among the great Australian novels about work, and to be celebrated as the 100th Text Classic.' -- Fiona McFarlane 'In Mena Calthorpe's unforgettable novel work and workers' lives are portrayed with visceral, Zola-like clarity.' -- Gabrielle Carey '[The Dyehouse is] a reminder of how rarely these days fiction tackles the world of work that so dominates our lives...Worth reading as much for its social history and its understanding of human nature as its rendering of the labour/capital clash.' Australian 'Vivid, fresh and utterly unsentimental...Re-reading The Dyehouse now I am struck by how technically accomplished it is, and how each of its many characters is made distinct and alive with extraordinary economy...Calthorpe's own experience of factory and office work provides The Dyehouse with many authentic touches (including much detail about the dyeing process) but that is not what generates this novel's compelling power. What is so remarkable is how it captures and presents a microcosmic world, in which the human elements are all parts of a moving whole.' Sydney Morning Herald 'The Dyehouse has themes that are as true today as they were at the time of writing...Beautifully written.' Booksellers New Zealand '[Calthorpe's] descriptive prose is economical and evocative...An impressive debut.' BookMooch 'A masterly portrait of post-war Australia...vividly bringing to life the people of an inner-Sydney company in the mid-1950s.' Womankind 'The Dyehouse is the perfect novel for the Text Classics centenary. It's a shining example of a book 'we've never heard of' that is very good reading indeed...I started reading The Dyehouse last night when I went to bed at 10 o'clock. I became so absorbed in it, that I didn't turn the light out till four o'clock in the morning. That speaks for itself, I think!' ANZ LitLovers 'Fresh and lively...I really can't recommend this book enough.' Whispering Gums '[A] fascinating novel of women and work.' Australian Women's Weekly
Series: Text Classics
Number Of Pages: 304
Published: 29th August 2016
Country of Publication: AU
Dimensions (cm): 19.7 x 13.0 x 2.7
Weight (kg): 0.23