Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

In Tirra Lirra by the River, expatriate Australian Nora Roche Porteous comes back to suburban Brisbane to live out her days in her family home after forty-five years away. She arrives with pneumonia, and alternating between the present and the past, she ends up reconstructing and restoring her sense of self. Spinning her “globe of memory” so that even its dark side is no longer hidden, Nora reviews her lifelong quest for self-acceptance, self-knowledge, and freedom, a journey often foiled by the oppressive requirements of the traditional female role.

Now in her seventies, Nora remembers herself as an imaginative girl, whose embroideries earned high praise though she did not think much of them at the time. Restless and unhappy, an outsider in her provincial hometown, she escapes through relentless walking and through her imagination. An avid reader, she recites Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem “Lady of Shallot,” from which the book’s title is taken. Through the distortion of a cheap piece of window glass, she envisions her own Camelot in her backyard, complete with a dim, grief-filled memory of Lancelot. After her friend Olive Partridge inherits enough money to leave Brisbane, Nora’s vision of other, better worlds nudges her into marriage with Colin Porteous. Thinking that she is leaving behind stodgy, rule-bound tradition, she moves with him to Sydney. Like the Lady of Shallot, however, Nora dies many times over in the world of reality.

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(The entire section is 604 words.)