This thesis argues that Eleanor Dark’s mid-century writing is important for the study of Australian literature, global modernism and world literature. Focusing on the five novels that she wrote between the two world wars, Slow Dawning (1932), Prelude to Christopher (1934), Return to Coolami (1936), Sun Across the Sky (1937) and Waterway (1938), I show that Dark’s interwar fiction brings into the field of modernism studies a number of important engagements that modernism and modernity have traditionally been defined against, including colonialism, regionalism, nationalism, commercial culture, the middlebrow, and liberal humanism. Dark’s writing has the potential to defamiliarise our understandings of modernism and expand our conceptions of how modernity was experienced, translated and mediated in and across various locations in the mid-century period.
Employing the middlebrow tactics of balancing and mediating, Dark’s work negotiates a ‘middle’ space between a number of seemingly-opposing aesthetic and ideological positions. Her interwar fiction combines elements of high modernism with popular cultural forms, particularly romance, in what can be described as a unique accommodation of ‘middlebrow modernism.’ Dark also balances cosmopolitan commitments with more place-based attachments to nation and local community, seeking to reconcile the two through a position of ‘regional cosmopolitanism.’ Her fiction brings together experimental modernist narrative techniques with liberal humanist ideas, and in doing so, points to an important and under-examined relationship between the two. In each of these cases, Dark’s ‘middle’ position has important implications for challenging binary approaches that have too often structured accounts of twentieth-century Australian literature, and of modernism/modernity more generally. Rather than an either/or approach to culture and aesthetics, her work suggests a relational and dialogic one, and calls for a similarly agile methodology that is capable of balancing a transnational paradigm with one that is sensitive to regional and national differences.