Posted in:

A Certain Style: Beatrice Davis, a literary life, 2nd Edition

Originally written some twenty years ago, A Certain Style has now been reissued, presenting in the author Jacqueline Kent’s words ‘something of time capsule, a salute to a time in literary history that has gone’.

Beatrice Davis was a woman who in so many ways, was unique for her time in the heady years of book publishing in Australia.   Born in 1909, her father Edward was a lawyer, her mother Emily, came from a Sydney family of great style, but very little money.

Growing up in a family who were ‘bookish’ she grew into a young woman who was well read, intelligent and very sure of who she was as a woman, in a world that was dominated by men, but a world that was changing rapidly. Her love of literature and her academic abilities saw her earn a place at the University of Sydney to study Arts. The straightened family circumstances after her father’s death, saw her apply for a scholarship to teachers’ college, which came with a small financial allowance and had the fees paid. Beatrice became a secondary schoolteacher earning some much-needed money to support the family.

From her early days at University she developed her own style, a style which was to become her trade mark as she moved from teacher to secretary and eventually into the world of publishing, becoming a book editor with the then massive publishing company of Angus and Robertson, thanks to her association with Mervyn Archdale, with whom she worked and her friendship with Fredrick Bridges.

Over the many years of her colourful life she became a woman who was revered, feared, respected and in many ways adored by her suitors and authors, of which there were a few or many, depending on who you talked with, for her flamboyant, intellectual lifestyle and ability to be able to dissect an author’s work to create a book which would sell.

The heady days of publishing in this slow and thorough style, where the author and the editor would develop a relationship which could in many instances last for years, have long since disappeared to make way for mass marketing, something which Beatrice found incomprehensible.

Jacqueline Kent has created a masterful manuscript in re-creating the life and times of Beatrice Davis, a woman who lived her life to the fullest, rose to become one of the most influential women in the world of book publishing in Sydney, listing amongst her friends and associates many of the more colourful, influential and intellectual men of the time.

She was one of the first judges of the famous Miles Franklin Award, a role she carried out well into her later years, setting the standard for what she considered ‘constituted good Australian writing’. Her legacy lives on through the medium of her vision for Australian literature, always pressing the point that good writing has to go further than the medium of storytelling, to explore ways of writing that that dominate and transform their subject matter.

After a long period of ill health, she died peacefully in her sleep on 24 May 1992, a woman who set the benchmark high at a time when literature in Australia was still in its infancy. Many a book editor who learned their craft during the later years of Beatrice Davis life may still ask the question when pondering a difficult manuscript, ‘What would Beatrice have done?’ Her legacy will live on long into the future through the Miles Franklin Awards, and a travelling fellowship for editors named after her.

A Certain Style is a wonderful, warm, rich and totally enjoyable biography about an undoubted lady once referred to by her long-time friend Hal Porter as ‘always being attracted to the devil in the basement’ while novelist D’Arcy Niland summed her up as ‘a gentlewoman… and she’s a little beaut, too!’

A Certain Style is a work of love and respect well worth the reading, as it offers so many insights not just into the world of Beatrice Davis, and publishing in Australia, but a lifestyle which has passed, as so much does into the realms of history, but formed the basis for what is now modern-day Australia, with a literary legacy that rates up amongst the top authors in the world.

AuthorJacqueline Kent
PublisherNew South Publications
DistributorNew South Books
ReleasedSeptember 2018