H(esba) F(ay) Brinsmead Critical Essays


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

H(esba) F(ay) Brinsmead 1922–

Australian novelist for young adults and younger children.

Brinsmead is among the first Australian writers to write specifically for young adults. Her belief that their needs and feelings are important is reflected in her novels. With directness, understanding, and relevance, she depicts realistic characters learning to cope with themselves and their world. Brinsmead began writing for a teenage audience when her own sons reached adolescence and she discovered the lack of suitable, interesting titles for them. She decided to write novels which would tell the truth about life, doing so with hope and humor; her respected position among young adult readers suggests the achievement of her goal.

Brinsmead is considered adept at portraying background and characterization. She sets her books in both urban and rural Australia, an unfamiliar landscape to most readers, but one she describes evocatively; her stories reflect both the beauty and the harshness of this land. She often writes both inside and outside her characters, analyzing their emotions while narrating their adventures. Usually concentrating on groups rather than on individuals, she shows the growth and development of each member during the course of her stories. Brinsmead creates memorable adolescents and equally well-defined adult characters.

Many of Brinsmead's books deal with social problems and the tensions caused by racial and class prejudice. In her first novel, Pastures of the Blue Crane, Ryl discovers she is part Aborigine; in Listen to the Wind a black boy and white girl go into partnership to restore a trawler in a fishing community where whites and blacks, both upper and lower class, live alongside each other. Beat of the City is perhaps her most controversial work. Brinsmead drops her usual role of detached narrator to angrily expose the attitudes and actions of youth in the mid-sixties. Although Brinsmead's overt authorial voice is often considered moralistic and pretentious, critics recognize the relevance of her subject and the accuracy of its depiction. Brinsmead has drawn from her own childhood for Longtime Passing and several of her recent books for younger readers.

Brinsmead's flaws, such as her lack of discipline, repetitiveness, and tendency to spoil the flow of her narratives with tedious messages, are often felt to be compensated for by her sincerity and exhilaration. Her genuine interest in young people and knowledge of human nature are perhaps the main reasons for Brinsmead's universal appeal. Brinsmead received the Australian Children's Book Council book of the year award in 1965 for Pastures of the Blue Crane and in 1972 for Longtime Passing. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 21-24, rev. ed.)