(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Like many stories by Henry Lawson (and like those of Anton Chekhov and Katherine Mansfield), “The Drover’s Wife” has remarkably little action: The plot, such as it is, suggests the absence of action that characterizes life in the Outback (the dry, sparsely settled, and inhospitable areas distant from the few major urban settlements of Australia) during the long intervals between recurrent natural disasters, such as floods, bushfires, and droughts. This indicates a technical aspect that Lawson mastered in his short stories: the construction of a coherent fiction on the flimsiest of plots. One of his aims was always to use a slight plot.

In its simplest form, the plot is limited to the discovery of a five-foot black snake in the woodheap, watching it go under the house, and waiting through the night for its reemergence so that it can be killed. The variety and violence of life in the Outback are indicated by the omniscient narrator’s allusions to memorable episodes that have punctuated the drover’s wife’s life, which is frequently marked by her solitude from adult companionship. (She has not heard from her husband for six months as the story begins.)

She has two boys and two girls (“mere babies”) and a dog, Alligator, for company; she has two cows, a horse, and a few sheep as possessions; her husband is often away driving sheep and cattle, and has been away for periods of up to eighteen months. During one of his absences she...

(The entire section is 596 words.)