Jill Ker Conway Criticism - Essay

Keith Henderson (review date 26 July 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “An Arduous Journey from Outback to Ivied Halls,” in Christian Science Monitor, July 26, 1989, p. 14.

[In the following review, Henderson offers a positive assessment of The Road from Coorain, praising Conway's perception and tenacity.]

Early in her book Jill Ker Conway describes the differing impact Australia's vast interior had on her mother and father. “She saw no landmarks to identify direction, only emptiness. My father saw strong fertile soil, indications of grazed-out saltbush, dips and changes in the contours of the land and its soils, landmarks of all kinds.”

It was from this land, or the chunk of it they named...

(The entire section is 625 words.)

Christian Century (review date 4 October 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of The Road from Coorain, in Christian Century, Vol. 106, No. 28, October 4, 1989, p. 894.

[In the following review, the critic offers a positive assessment of The Road from Coorain.]

This autobiography [The Road from Coorain] by the Australian-born historian later to be president of Smith College is a standard for the genre. Conway is a beautiful stylist, reflective yet restrained in her consideration of her early years on a western Australia sheep ranch (she never met another girl-child until she was seven), her school years in Sidney, and the years spent coming to realize her vocation. She describes, without indulging in psychologizing, the trauma of losing her father and oldest brother to death and her mother to frustration and despair, and treats without rancor the development of her feminism. One discovers that stoicism and restraint are part of the Australian temperament to an extent that we Americans, who feel such kinship with our fellow frontier-settlers, may not understand. We look forward to the next set of memoirs from this empathetic scholar.

Valerie Miner (review date 4 April 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “They Did It Their Way,” in Los Angeles Times Book Review, April 4, 1993, p. 12.

[In the following mixed review of Written by Herself: Autobiographies of American Women, Miner praises the inspirational autobiographies included in the anthology, but criticizes Conway's failure to provide smooth transitions and questions her inclusion criteria.]

Jill Ker Conway's anthology, Written by Herself: Autobiographies of American Women, is part of an avalanche of recently published or republished memoirs, journals and autobiographies. What makes this self-writing so popular among writers and readers?

The writers' motives vary: to...

(The entire section is 1114 words.)

Lynn Z. Bloom (review date Fall 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Talent, Grit, and Guts,” in Belles Lettres, Vol. 9, No. 1, Fall, 1993, p. 50.

[In the following positive review of Written by Herself: Autobiographies of American Women, Bloom explores the various obstacles overcome by the twenty-five women whose excerpted autobiographies appear in the anthology.]

Americans have for two centuries been reared on the exemplary lives of George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Frederick Douglass—all embodiments of the male version of the American Dream. In the traditional male plot, the hero overcomes a series of obstacles through prodigious effort before attaining power, wealth, social position, and a faithful...

(The entire section is 592 words.)

Ruth Hayhoe (review date May 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of The Politics of Women's Education: Perspectives from Asia, Africa, and Latin America, in Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 53, No. 2, May, 1994, pp. 508–09.

[In the following positive review, Hayhoe outlines the various issues surrounding women's education that are presented in The Politics of Women's Education: Perspectives from Asia, Africa, and Latin America.]

This volume [The Politics of Women's Education: Perspectives from Asia, Africa, and Latin America] provides many insights into the lives, aspirations, achievements, and frustrations of women in Asia, Africa, and Latin America as they wrestle with issues of education and social...

(The entire section is 860 words.)

Barbara Landis Chase (review date 14 August 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Middle of Her Journey,” in Washington Post Book World, Vol. 24, No. 33, August 14, 1994, p. 3.

[In the following review, Chase offers a positive assessment of True North, praising Conway's passion and insight.]

Jill Ker Conway is an immensely engaging storyteller. Her eye takes in every detail of her surroundings and experience, and none of those details escapes her memory. Her insights sort out and render fathomable the mysteries of human interaction. Conway's earlier memoir, The Road from Coorain, recounted the haunting tale of her solitary childhood in the Outback of Australia. Those who have waited impatiently for more of her story...

(The entire section is 926 words.)

Merle Rubin (review date 22 August 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “A Life in Academia, Fighting Gender Bias,” in Christian Science Monitor, August 22, 1994, p. 13.

[In the following favorable review of True North, Rubin examines Conway's academic perseverance and her tenacious approach to women's education reform.]

One widely held perception that has long puzzled me is the assumption that academia is the last place a writer should look for interesting material. Certainly, Jill Ker Conway's account of her own academic career, set forth with admirable clarity and élan in True North: A Memoir, should do a lot to dispel this popular misconception.

Academia is not all that Conway, a former...

(The entire section is 650 words.)

Diane Cole (review date 2 October 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “An Explorer and Advocate: College President Jill Ker Conway's Account of Life in Her New Home, America,” in Chicago Tribune Books, October 2, 1994, p. 5.

[In the following review, Cole offers a favorable assessment of True North.]

The search for identity—the need to discover who we are—takes us on many journeys whose ultimate destination cannot be predicted, even in our dreams. For Jill Ker Conway, who recounted her struggles growing up on, and then flight from, her family's isolated Australian sheep station in her moving memoir of youth, The Road from Coorain, the metaphor of travel is especially apt because she begins her second, equally...

(The entire section is 1244 words.)

Madeline Marget (review date 4 November 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “A Woman of Parts,” in Commonweal, Vol. 121, No. 19, November 4, 1994, pp. 34–35.

[In the following review, Marget offers a mixed assessment of True North, faulting the book for covering too much material and being overly ambitious.]

This second volume [True North] of Jill Ker Conway's memoirs is an instructive, and often vivid, travelogue of her experience, and of her knowledge and ideas. It begins where The Road from Coorain left off, at the time of the author's leaving Australia for the United States in 1960, and ends in 1975, as she is about to assume the presidency of Smith College. The decade-and-a-half she writes about was an...

(The entire section is 1028 words.)

Edwards Park (review date December 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of True North, in Smithsonian, Vol. 25, No. 9, December, 1994, pp. 144–46.

[In the following review, Park offers a positive assessment of True North.]

As a child living on “Coorain,” her family's sheep station, little Jill Ker knew only the schooling of the Australian outback. She played with farm animals and her two brothers, joined in the rough and demanding duties of a 32,000-acre property, never saw another girl child until she was 7, and was 14 before she set foot in a formal school—which she hated. Years later, at the pinnacle of a blazing academic career, she was named president of prestigious Smith College. How in the world did...

(The entire section is 841 words.)

Marilyn Gardner (review date 18 June 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Autobiography as Vestibule,” in Christian Science Monitor, June 18, 1998, p. B8.

[In the following review of When Memory Speaks, Gardner examines Conway's opinions on the purpose of the autobiography genre.]

The first person singular serves as the most fascinating of all pronouns. In person and in print, it raises a tantalizing question: Who is the real person behind the “I,” however bold or meek, self-righteous or self-effacing the “I” might be?

As Jill Ker Conway explains in When Memory Speaks, even autobiography can fail to answer that question. Describing memoir as “the most popular form of fiction for modern...

(The entire section is 440 words.)

Martin Stannard (review date Spring 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Franklin Speaking?,” in Biography, Spring, 1999, pp. 262–66.

[In the following negative review of When Memory Speaks, Stannard criticizes Conway's selection of material for the collection and faults several of her theories regarding the genre of autobiography.]

Any book by Jill Ker Conway demands respect. A distinguished feminist scholar, she is also a fine autobiographer. The Road from Coorain and True North established her as a leading voice of the genre. Her academic work investigating the suppression and release of the female voice is no less powerful, and the two volumes she edited entitled Written by Herself are...

(The entire section is 2369 words.)

Joyce Antler (review date December 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of When Memory Speaks: Reflections on Autobiography, in Journal of American History, Vol. 86, No. 3, December, 1999, pp. 318–19.

[In the following review, Antler offers a positive assessment of When Memory Speaks, calling the collection “insightful.”]

Intended for a general audience, this trim volume [When Memory Speaks] argues that autobiography as a narrative form is based on cultural scripts that offer readers symbolic reflections of their own inner lives. Conway believes that, unlike other genres, autobiography has become a universal medium because it addresses complex problems of personal identity using language...

(The entire section is 544 words.)