Literary fusion/romantic infusion: Rosa Praed and Justin McCarthy

Author: Susan Laverick


‘It’s quite curious how the styles blend. I don’t think anyone could tell, in this chapter, where you stop and where I go on’ – Praed Papers: 8/10/115  (July 17 1885).

Literary fusion – the convergence of styles and creative energy created by colluding authors – is seldom considered by Australian literary criticism and yet the Praed/McCarthy collaboration is exceptional. Rosa Praed (1851-1935), controversial author of Nadine (1882) met Charles Stewart Parnell’s parliamentary deputy, Justin McCarthy (1830-1912), at an English country house party. McCarthy, a political author himself, fell deeply in love with the brilliant young Australian; she regarded him as a beloved mentor.

Their communion of minds produced a richly textured collaboration infused by passion for the ‘writing compact’ as the ‘dearest colleagues’ described their mutual work. This was a creative fusion of the highest order, one indeed which twenty-first century media directors might envy: synergy in writing styles, unity of narrative vision and creative integrity. It also provided McCarthy with a vehicle in which love for Praed might be encoded and private fantasy indulged.

This paper explores the rhetoric of nineteenth-century literary fusion – intensely psychological, deeply emotional and finely-wrought. It also, however, acknowledges the negative kinetics of fusion – fragmentation – evident when McCarthy’s passionate love for Praed threatened to destabilize collaborative equilibrium.


In his Autobiography (1873), John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) paid tribute to his writing partnership with Hart Taylorier Mill (1807-1858) where even ‘thoughts and speculations were completely in common’ (241). For Mill, On Liberty (1859) epitomized the finest moment in their collaboration, for there was not ‘a sentence…which was not several times gone through by us together, turned over in many ways, and carefully weeded of any faults, in either thought or expression’ (Autobiography 251-2). Mill insisted that it was immaterial which partner wielded the collaborative pen (presumably for the sceptics who had dismissed Harriet’s role in his work) because ‘the one who contributes least to the composition may contribute most to the thought; the writings which result are the joint product of both, and it must often be impossible to disentangle their respective parts and affirm that thing belongs to one and that to the other’ (241).

Mill’s experience of co-authorship, ‘not the work of one mind, but the fusion of two’ (190), provides an eloquent entrée to a paper which explores another perfectly conceived, although less celebrated, nineteenth-century collaborative relationship: Australian author Rosa Praed (1851-1935) and the Irish Nationalist politician, Justin McCarthy (1830-1912). Examples of co-writing in the nineteenth-century Australian canon are rare, although a collaborative relationship featured in The Bulletin between literary editor Alfred George Stephens (1865-1933) and journalist J.F. Archibald (1856-1919). Yet Praed’s collaboration with McCarthy is only a footnote (if that) in Australian literary annals; even Dale Spender reduces it to a brief sentence in her excellent survey of the canon’s significant  women writers (174).  More famous literary partnerships are heralded into the twentieth-century by Marjorie Barnard (1897-1987) and Flora Eldershaw (1897-1956) writing as ‘M. Barnard Eldershaw’, or Vance Palmer (1885-1959) and Nettie Palmer (1885-1965) (Carter 266).

So how should we define collaboration?  How do the writings of Praed and McCarthy merit the term ‘literary fusion’ and a place in this fine new journal? These questions will be addressed in the paper’s following sections: ‘Victorian literary collaborations and theoretical contexts’ provides a theoretical orientation of collaborative writing in the nineteenth-century and locates the Praed/McCarthy partnership within it; ‘Mis-en-scène, two authors’ offers a snapshot of two authors poised on their collaboration (1884-1889); ‘Narrative mis-en-scène’ examines the work in which it is most perfectly realized,  The Right Honourable: A Romance of Society and Politics (1886) and includes reference to critical reception and narrative landscape; ‘Dialogic collaboration and atrophy’ examines literary fusion from the perspective of the authors’ correspondence during their drafting of The Right Honourable. These letters form part of the Praed Papers at the John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. They provide an intimate glimpse of a remarkable Victorian friendship between a sensitive, erudite man and a brilliant, but complex, woman.

In her outstanding biography of Rosa Praed, Patricia Clarke notes that the Praed/McCarthy collaboration had ‘petered out’ by 1889 (103) as other commitments claimed the authors’ attention: Praed’s urgent need to supplement a dwindling family income with more rapidly penned novels and McCarthy manic political schedule as the Parnell crisis deepened. There is, however, another dimension to the collaboration’s demise which should also be considered because embedded in the rhetoric of this deeply emotional and finely-wrought writing compact was an unequal love which gradually fragmented its perfectly calibrated literary fusion. McCarthy’s letters articulate an increasingly passionate attachment which Praed finds confronting because of her distaste for sexual love. Like many authors reluctant to expose their private lives to posterity, Praed destroyed her letters to McCarthy when they were returned by his executors after his death. Yet certain letters, possibly too precious to burn, survive as typed extracts pasted into her private notebook. Although this offers, as Clarke suggests, a ‘censored view’ (89) of the relationship, its nuances can be reconstructed thanks both to these extracts and McCarthy’s letters.

Victorian literary collaborations and theoretical context

So where does the Praed/McCarthy collaboration belong on the Victorian time-line of literary collaborations?  I have already mentioned John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) and Harriet Taylor Mill (1807-1858), but others include Robert Browning (1812-1889) and Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861), Charles Dickens (1812-1870) and Wilkie Collins (1824-1889), George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans) (1819-1880) and George Henry Lewes (1817-1878), Andrew Lang (1844-1912) and H. Rider Haggard (1856-1925), Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) and his step-son, Lloyd Osborne (1868-1947), Joseph Conrad (1857-1924) and Ford Maddox Ford (1873-1939) (Ehnenn 25). There were also the late-Victorian literary partnerships between women, including Vernon Lee (1856-1935) (Violet Paget) and “Kit” Anstruther-Thomson (1857-1921), Somerville and Ross (Edith Somerville (1858-1949) and Violet Martin (1862-1915)). I will return to the Dickens/Collins collaboration shortly.

What then is literary collaboration and what are its implications for textual authority? The Mills demonstrated how the fusion of intellectual and creative energy might produce seamless narratives in which textual authority was shared equally. Praed and McCarthy similarly proved how the single author could be set aside, sans complexe, in a collaborative writing partnership. As Praed and McCarthy co-draft The Right Honourable, plot gracefully unfolds, dialogue and prose merge seamlessly together, while strongly-sketched characters command a vibrant narrative landscape.  To date, however, the absence of scholarly research into the Praed/McCarthy literary partnership precludes a wider discussion of their method of writing.

A modern theoretical model can, on the other hand, yield some useful insights. At the time of their seminal work Singular Text/Plural Authors (1990), Lisa Ede and Andrea Lunsford were English professors at Oregon State University and Stanford University. Their rejection of primary and secondary authorship in their own collaborative academic writing led to an interest in co-authorship. After researching the co-writing practices of three business communities, including over twelve hundred participants, they observed two modes of collaboration. Firstly, the ‘hierarchic mode’ where co-writing is ‘carefully, and often rigidly structured, driven by highly specific goals, and carried out by people playing clearly defined and delimited roles’ which were ‘designated’ by ‘a senior member or leader of the group’(133). This writing was typically conservative and generally favored by male participants. Secondly, the ‘dialogic  mode’ which ‘is loosely structured and the roles enacted within it are fluid; one person may occupy multiple and shifting roles as a project progresses’ (133). Creative tensions in this mode are regarded as facilitating, rather than obstructing, narrative landscape and textual authority. Ede and Lunsford observed the dialogic mode in collaborations between the female participants of their research.

These ‘modes’ may arguably be applied to nineteenth-century literary collaborations: the Mills’ collaboration, for instance, would belong to the ‘dialogic mode’ and also, as will become clear in this paper, the Praed/McCarthy writing compact. The deep intellectual regard in which Mills and McCarthy held their female co-authors made them well-suited for a co-writing mode where roles were not assigned, creative tensions enhanced collaborative unity and partners had equal stature. Indeed, McCarthy placed publishing matters of pricing and royalties entirely in Praed’s hands because she was ‘a very good woman of business’ (Justin McCarthy to Rosa Praed, January 1888, Praed Papers, 8/9/9).

The non-hierarchic mode in which Praed and McCarthy write becomes even more striking when juxtaposed with the hierarchic mode of Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins, their nearest contemporaries in nineteenth-century collaborative writing. Like Praed and McCarthy, the authors had independently established writing careers and commitments to other projects during the collaboration. Charles Dickens was already a celebrated writer when the young Wilkie Collins started working on his periodical Household Words in 1855. Initially in awe of his brilliant mentor, Collins hoped Dickens’ disciplined writing practices would enhance his own work. Dickens, on the other hand, was attracted to the novelty of ‘writing a book in company’ with an author whose work he admired, while arrogantly secure in his self-described stature as ‘the Inimitable’ (‘Collaborating in Open Boats’ 203). Over the next decade, however, Collins increasingly resented Dickens’ refusal to acknowledge his creative contributions and sly habit of meeting publishers without him (Nayder 3-5). Dickens was mindful of his seniority and relished correcting the younger writer’s work. He also became critical of Collins’ scandalous private life, a case of gross hypocrisy given his own affair with actress Ellen Terry (1847-1928). Anxiety about textual authority and mutual vanity thus tarnished the collaboration and, eventually, the friendship itself. Yet if tensions of textual authority were absent in the Praed/McCarthy partnership, there were, as shall be seen, challenges of a very different nature to be surmounted.

What then does the Praed and McCarthy’s jointly authored text speak of? Their chosen vehicle was political romance, a genre popularized by Anthony Trollope (1815-1882), George Meredith (1829-1909) and McCarthy himself. Interestingly, Meredith had been Praed’s reader at the publishers, Chapman and Hall, giving invaluable feedback on her first novel,  An Australian Heroine (1880). The Victorians loved literary portrayals of the private lives of their political leaders, so The Right Honourable enjoyed considerable success with the reading public. Savouring her proximity to McCarthy’s Westminster career, Praed studied ‘the activities of the House of Commons, from every standpoint available to an outsider’ (Our Book of Memories 3). Yet equally imprinted in this novel is Praed’s concern with feminine disempowerment and the inequities created by the Matrimonial Causes Acts (1858- 1878).  Divorce is never a solution for Praed’s oppressed wives, but a punishment which can lead to loss of respectability, income and even custody of children. In The Bond of Wedlock (1887), Ariana Lomax stoically endures an abusive marriage because she fears the repercussions of divorce.  John Ruskin’s seminal essay Lilies Of Queens’ Gardens (1865) portrays the marital home as a sanctuary of wifely comfort which facilitates masculine success in the public domain. Praed, however, exposes the fault-lines in orthodox Victorian sexual ideology: home in The Right Honourable is a toxic abode, the scene of distressing bullying by a husband who blames his wife for a failed political career.

Mis-en-scène, two authors

Elegant and striking rather than conventionally beautiful, Rosa Praed’s immense vivacity and intellectual interests had made her very popular at London society soirées. Yet the whirlwind of receptions with authors and philanthropists, politicians and spiritualists, masked deep private unhappiness. She had been married to Campbell Praed for a decade but husband and wife were chronically incompatible: he was indifferent to her intellectual interests and frequently unfaithful, while she loathed sexual intimacy and felt emotionally isolated. The added burdens of financial worries and four young children, including a profoundly deaf daughter, led to frequent bouts of depression. Despite these difficulties, Praed had conquered London’s patriarchal publishing world with her novels of Queensland’s colonial society.  An Australian Heroine (1880) was followed by  Policy and Passion (1881) while her most recent work, Nadine: The Study of a Woman (1882), had established her reputation as a writer prepared to take risks. Nadine boldly explored domestic violence, illegitimacy and portrayed a heroine who flouted conventional codes of feminine sexual conduct.

At this juncture in her life, Praed needed an intimate friend with whom to share her intellectual and literary passions. During the summer of 1884, she was invited to a dinner party at Rushden Hall in Northamptonshire by her literary advisor, Frederick Sartoris. Among the guests was a fifty-three-year-old Westminster politician who had particularly requested an introduction to Mrs. Praed and disliked ‘…making dolls and pets of women – for feeding them metaphorically on sugar plums or treating them as if they were odalisques’ (Our book of Memories 5). Sophisticated, charming and erudite, Justin McCarthy would be Praed’s literary collaborator for six years and friend until his death in 1912. Although he claimed that a woman should be a man’s ‘companion’ and ‘comrade’(5), McCarthy’s attachment to the much youngerMrs.Campbell Praed became deeply romantic.

In 1884 McCarthy’s political career was flourishing although there was a void in his personal life, Mrs. McCarthy having died a few years previously. As Deputy Leader of the Irish Nationalist Party, he was closely associated with the charismatic Charles Stewart Parnell (1846-1891) and Irish Home Rule. When not speaking in the House of Commons, dining with the Prime Minister or attending to constituency business in Longford, Ireland, McCarthy wrote literary reviews for the Daily News (a journal started by Charles Dickens), constitutional history and political romances, including Dear Lady Disdain (1875) and Miss Misanthrope (1878) (Clarke 91). McCarthy had been impressed by Nadine and was keen to meet its young Australian author.  He might perhaps ‘help’ Praed in future literary endeavours, a relationship which Praed happily imagined as ‘master and pupil’ (Our Book of Memories 9). It was, from the very beginning, a friendship in which writing, both epistolary and narrative, played a nurturing role. Many years later, when frail and blind, McCarthy reminisced that ‘those memories of our work together carry me back to my brightest hopes and enjoyments…’ (Justin McCarthy to Rosa Praed, July 8 1906, Praed Papers, 8/10/43).

‘Master and pupil’ quickly settled into a relationship of equality and trust, where McCarthy relied on Praed as his political confidante and literary colleague, while Praed developed the confidence to critique his more ponderous prose. Many of McCarthy’s letters were written from the Members’ Lobby of the House of Commons while waiting for a division.  As the daughter of a Queensland cabinet minister, Praed was fascinated by Westminster and frequently sat in the Ladies’ Gallery, an enclosed, claustrophobic box where women could observe debates in the House. Afterwards, she would lunch with McCarthy in one of Westminster’s private dining rooms or enjoy afternoon tea on the Terrace. In 1886, Praed, with her husband as chaperone, even accompanied McCarthy on his successful political lecture tour of America.

As the Parnell crisis unfolded in the late 1880s, McCarthy shared its critical developments with his ‘dearest’ and ‘sweetest colleague’. Parnell’s political career was ruined when salacious details of his adulterous affair with Katherine (Kitty) O’Shea became public domain in a divorce case lodged by her husband, a one-time political colleague. The Irish Catholic Church viciously disowned Parnell, followed swiftly by the Irish Nationalist Party, so when Gladstone withdrew the British Government’s essential political support, Parnell’s career was destroyed and with it, quite tragically, the prospect of Irish Home Rule. McCarthy then assumed temporary leadership of the party but even before the crisis, many Nationalists favoured McCarthy’s leadership. In 1887 he confides that there is talk of ‘dethroning Parnell, if need should be, and setting me up as leader’ and begs Praed’s indulgence for his ‘pardonable vanity’ in sharing this with her (Justin McCarthy to Rosa Praed, November 1886, Praed Papers, 8/10/87).  He craves conversation with his ‘dearest friend’ or reproves her for complaining that he has been evasive about particular developments in the political drama, ‘do you think for a moment that I would keep anything secret from you? I have not seen you for days’ (Justin McCarthy to Rosa Praed, December 1888, Praed Papers, 8/9/58).

Such anecdotes demonstrate Praed’s intimate presence in McCarthy’s personal and political life. She, on the other hand, requests his editorial advice on draft manuscripts, including Miss Jacobsen’s Chance (1886) or The Bond of Wedlock’s controversial stage adaptation, Ariane.  McCarthy asks her to read Camiola (1888) to check descriptions of feminine dress or add her magical touch to wooden dialogue.  Recognizing one another as kindred spirits, the collaborative instinct was aroused after their first meeting.  McCarthy informs ‘dear Mrs. Praed’ that he is delighted to anticipate ‘working in literary companionship’ with her (Typed extracts, Justin McCarthy to Rosa Praed, July 1885, Praed Papers, 8/10/115).  He likes her ideas for plot but they can discuss further ‘the story of an ambitious man who is willing in the end to sacrifice everything to the sweet wild flower girl…’ (Our Book of Memories 10).

Collaboration was delayed for several months as both authors were already committed to separate literary projects but The Right Honourable’s embryonic manuscript was discussed at long meetings in Praed’s country residence, Chester House, Irchester. As writing commenced, each author would exchange pages of text for ‘touch-up’, ruthless scrutiny or revision. How did they manage to blend their very different literary styles?  McCarthy’s often pompous, self-conscious prose favoured political and social panoramas; Praed’s lyrical voice was at its best when constructing intimate emotional scenes. Yet somehow, combined, they achieved a seamless fusion in textual landscape. Praed is exhilarated by the co-writing project but proud of her own reputation and draws McCarthy’s attention to the glowing reviews she has received for Australian Life Black and White (1885). ‘I should not like to be abused,’ she writes firmly, ‘and then shelter myself under your name (Rosa Praed to Justin McCarthy, 26 February, 1885, Praed Papers, 8/10/91).

Scholars addressing the rhetoric of nineteenth-century literary collaboration have often privileged textual, rather than personal, dynamics. Whidden, in his elegant introduction to a series of essays on nineteenth-century French literary collaborations, focuses on ‘the very nature of collaborative texts’ (5) thus avoiding the more speculative territory implicated in the ‘mind of the writer’ trope. Yet the Praed/McCarthy collaboration is shaped by a convergence of the textual and personal because its writers are soul-mates. This dynamic infuses The Right Honourable when senior Westminster statesman, Sandham Morse, falls in love with Kooràli Kenway, the beautiful young wife of a political colleague. Long before their love is articulated, the two characters enjoy a deeply emotional and spiritual communion.

Much as she delighted  in such complicity with McCarthy, Praed shrank from sexual love. A typed extract from the summer of 1885 confirms this aversion – it is apparent she has reprimanded him for some transgression ‘I fancied that my frank speech had wounded you and I felt too…that you give me so much for so little that is material and satisfying for a man. My companionship, my sympathy even my affection you have indeed. For the rest, you understand me and why I shrink from a side of life that has always repelled me’ (Typed extracts, Rosa Praed to Justin McCarthy, Summer 1885, Praed Papers,18/13/1). During the collaboration, Praed’s moods are contrary and volatile, swinging from delight in McCarthy’s high regard for her, to rejection of his fervent emotion (and, let us be frank, desire). She oscillates between craving his attention while trying to temper it. I am convinced that Praed herself did not know what she wanted from McCarthy. At one point, she records the mutterings of her maid who tidies her boudoir while she reclines in bed writing to him. The maid sniffs disapprovingly ‘literary sympathy & partnership & looking after you & all that. It’s your husband that should do that for you….Oh I know where that kind of thing leads to’ (Typed extracts, Rosa Praed to Justin McCarthy, Praed Papers, 1887, 8/10/115). Why mention this when she was constantly guarding against ‘that kind of thing’?  Is it a faltering attempt at flirtation?  With Praed, of course, one never knows.

After three collaborative novels, the partnership ceased, although their friendship endured until McCarthy’s death. The Rebel Rose (1888) suffered in quality as narrative fusion fragmented. When reading its proofs, McCarthy flatly observes that ‘improved joinery’ is required because the novel has ‘all the defects of construction that might be looked for in a book put together by two authors who for months were thousands of miles asunder’ (Justin McCarthy to Rosa Praed, 2 March 1888, Praed Papers 8/9/19). Even allowing for delays in manuscripts reaching McCarthy on his political travels, or Praed’s preoccupation with family crises and literary obligations, ‘improved joinery’ was an alien phrase in their lexus and symptomatic of fragmentation. What a dramatic contrast to those heady summer days in 1885 when McCarthy had visited Praed at Chester House to synergize The Right Honourable. Yet perhaps nothing could have surpassed this first, almost-perfect, novel.  By 1888, McCarthy can no longer conceal his passionate love and, as I have observed in ‘Dialogic collaboration and atrophy’, Praed subsequently imposes rigid controls on their meetings and his emotions. Terrified of losing her, he complies. Had Praed reciprocated McCarthy’s romantic and sexual interest, the association might well have produced a procession of exceptional novels. It is a tantalizing thought.

Narrative mis-en-scène

The Right Honourable was described by Gladstone as ‘a very beautiful and interesting book’ (W.E. Gladstone to Justin McCarthy, November 1889, Praed Papers, 8/10/2).  It achieves a sophisticated synthesis in the styles two very different writers. Praed, always hyper-critical of her own literary productions, was delighted when the editing proofs arrived. ‘It’s quite curious,’ she triumphantly informs McCarthy, ‘how the styles blend. I don’t think anyone could tell, in this chapter, where you stop and where I go on’ (Typed extracts, Rosa Praed to Justin McCarthy, Summer 1885, Praed Papers, 2/10/115). Published by Chatto and Windus in three volumes, the novel enjoyed critical success in London. Its joint authorship provoked critical debate regarding the literary merits of co-writing. The Spectator, for example,  regards the ‘experiment of collaboration’ as offering ‘both writers at their best’ (15 May,1886: 661). The Morning Post admires the work’s collaborative writing and commends the authors’ portrayal of ‘the hot-bed of “London society”’ (10 May, 1886:2). The Age opines that Praed’s writing is of ‘marked individuality and of distinctively Australian (Queensland) colouring’ (12 June, 1886: 4). It admires her ‘risky experiment’ of collaborating with McCarthy, ‘a well-known contemporary litterateur and politician’ (4). The Melbourne reviewer regards Praed’s writing as superior to McCarthy’s more contrived prose, particularly regarding  ‘passion and fervency’ (4). The Argus, conversely, dislikes the authors’ collaborative art and ‘flavour of unwholesome sexuality’ (12 June, 1886:13).

Although this is a narrative whose plot is supplied by Praed and political details by McCarthy, Praed immerses herself in parliamentary affairs by attending House of Common’s debates so that she too can contribute to political mis-en-scène (Our Book of Memories 3). McCarthy, on the other hand, delights in adding touches to Kooràli’s engaging character. Working in dialogic collaborative mode, there is no formal division of labour because narrative tasks are co-shared, a point emphasized by the authors in their forward to the novel  ‘every character, incident, scene, and page is a joint work, and was thought out, and written in combination. Whatever the book is, it is not patchwork’.

The Right Honourable follows the career of Sandham Morse, former Premier of South Britain.  On the eve of his departure from Australia, Morse has a brief but significant encounter with the charming eighteen-year-old Kooràli Middlemist. He leaves Australia because his political destiny lies in Westminster and the House of Commons. Ten years intervene, during which time Morse marries the daughter of the Marquis of Germillion, Lady Betty and creates a parliamentary power-base. He becomes a cabinet minister and serves as Secretary of State. Morse, however, is a political radical and favours republicanism once the present incumbent of Buckingham Palace dies. This ideology shocks his aristocratic wife, her family and the conservative peers of his political acquaintance. His friendship with the socialist, Stephen Masterson, yields further conflicts of interest but the most poignant dynamic, in terms of the authors’ collaboration, resides in Morse’s personal life. This is complicated by the arrival from Australia of Mr. and Mrs. Crichton Kenway. Kenway is an ambitious career politician whose wife is none other than Kooràli, now a strikingly beautiful twenty-eight-year-old woman. Kenway, an unscrupulous opportunist, instructs her to network on his behalf in London’s salon society to facilitate political patronage for his faltering career. He will use any advantage, including Morse’s attraction to his wife, to achieve this.

The communion between Morse and Kooràli, where ‘conventional phrases jarred’ (64), and ‘silent sympathy and trust’ (67) prevail, contrasts dramatically with Kenway’s psychological abuse of his wife. The authors portray human emotions with extraordinary empathy and it is difficult, if not impossible, to identify their separate narrative voices. Consider, for example, chapter thirteen (‘The Terrace’) in which Kenway crudely instructs Kooràli to make herself agreeable to men who might advance his political career while, of course, preserving her virtue. This is suggestive of McCarthy’s voice.

‘We are in a hole, and we must get out of it. If I can’t persuade the banks to give me another leg-up I must go to the Jews.  Go to the House….and get Morse to give you some coffee. Go with him for a walk on the terrace, and make the running with him -in politics, my dear – as for flirtation, I suppose you are both above that – but keep an eye for my interests, and don’t shirk being introduced to any fellows worth knowing’  (112).

A glance, however, at the ‘Deleted Scenes’ for this chapter in Praed’s literary notes reveals her penmanship. Kenway expects  Kooràli to encourage Morse’s interest, confident that he has no ‘hidden’ (sexual) agenda because ‘if I thought he had, I would never allow it’ (Deleted Scenes from The Right Honourable, Praed Papers,12/6/61). Kenward neither wants nor respects his wife, but he certainly does not intend any other man to have her.  Kooràli enquires what he means by “motives” and Kenway replies, ‘I know that his feeling about you is only that he values you intellectually – that there is nothing else – if I thought there was he should never come here’ (12/6/61). Praed confides this has been a difficult chapter to write and welcomes McCarthy’s perspective. ‘I want the chapter to be closed.  It is my artistic self which fuels this strongly. I think you would teach me a great deal if we were together as we have been here – especially during the last two days.  But it is wiser if there is the re-reading’ (12/6/61). She concludes enthusiastically ‘tell me all you think of Morse, of Kenway, of Kooràli – tell me, tell me, all I want to know’ (12/6/61).

Kooràli Kenway’s rapport with Morse, her interest in his parliamentary career and sympathy for his radicalism, recalls Praed’s deep interest in McCarthy’s political life. As Kooràli’s marriage deteriorates, Kenway’s despicable weaknesses are accentuated by Morse’s integrity. He is the man she should have married (sub-text, McCarthy is the man Praed should have married). Morse is drawn to Kooràli’s beauty, intelligence and sympathy for his republican agenda. He will eventually consider sacrificing his political future as Prime Minister for a life in America with the woman he loves so deeply.

Praed’s complicity in this narrative landscape is rendered more complex by the irresistible parallels which may be drawn with the authors’ own lives: senior Westminster politician (McCarthy) meets vivacious young Australian (Praed) and they are instantly attracted; she supports his political agenda (Praed endorsed Irish Home Rule) and is unhappily married to an inferior man (Campbell Praed). When scripting scenes between Morse and Kooràli, Praed insists that ‘the love-making between them should be clear to the reader…it needs [to be] strong, subtle’ (Typed extracts, Rosa Praed to Justin McCarthy, Praed Papers, 8/10/115). This was written during the exhilarating summer of 1885 when Praed is flattered, but perhaps  not yet overwhelmed, by McCarthy’s interest.  He, however, fluctuates  hopelessly between companionable and romantic complicity.  As McCarthy quietly falls in love with his co-writer, Praed deftly scripts their protagonists’ love-scenes. The love affair in the narrative is doomed because of Kooràli’s selfless renunciation of Morse’s sacrifice and her  stout refusal to abandon her children. It may also be read as a love by proxy, one which the co-writers neither dare to articulate (McCarthy) nor wish to acknowledge (Praed).  Whether role-playing or genuinely exploring their narrative landscape, this was a heightened period of literary fusion, as indeed their letters attest.

Dialogic collaboration and atrophy

In her introduction to the political life of Justin McCarthy, published shortly after his death in 1912, Praed suggests that ‘long dissertations….upon the methods of producing a novel in collaboration would naturally bore the general reader’ (Our Book of Memories 10). The surviving extracts of her correspondence with McCarthy (summer of 1885) fortunately offer insight to the fellowship which animated their dialogic literary collaboration. Letters were often exchanged on a daily basis and when not corresponding, they were in one another’s company. At one point, having returned to political strife in Westminster, McCarthy has obviously mentioned sacrificing politics for a literary life.  Yet Praed is astute in her judgement of her friend and observes that he ‘…wouldn’t like to be away from it [parliament] for long.  The gaieties you could well dispense with, but not the politics and if you were in the “cool, quiet, darkened spot” you would soon want again the fret and fever and rush and scurry of London’ (Typed extracts, Rosa Praed to Justin McCarthy, July 1885, Praed Papers, 8/10/115).

Praed consciously links McCarthy with Morse, the republican politician who would willingly sacrifice his political career for Kooràli. As the daughter of a politician and familiar with the aggressive world of colonial politics, Praed understands the addiction of political power. She reminds McCarthy that their fictitious statesman ‘would not have been happy had he given up that fevered life. Morse was in mid-career, remember.  He was forty-five – a time when I think it must be hardest for a man to give up – even love….and love doesn’t last’ (8/10/115). The writers’ exhilaration is evident: McCarthy is delighted with their plans and sends Praed a gift of a pen, hoping that she approves of  his ‘little additions’ to the manuscript. ‘I begin to see our way,’ he exclaims in pleasure, ‘and it gladdens me’ (Justin McCarthy to Rosa Praed, August 1885, Praed Papers, 8/10/7). External, rather than personal factors interrupt writing flow. McCarthy’s love is, for the moment, prudently concealed. A parliamentary election in Longford, for example, necessitates his prolonged absence from London. Praed’s social commitments as the wife of an English country gentlemen, the absence of the children’s governess, Miss Callow and a concurrent writing commitment, The Head Station (1886), interfere with her work on their manuscript. Praed is a literary perfectionist and sends McCarthy what she fears are imperfect drafts of Kooràli’s character,  who is ‘too much the conventional child of nature’(Typed extracts, Rosa Praed to Justin McCarthy, 1885, Praed Papers 8/10/115). She also instructs McCarthy to add ‘a touch or two to Morse’ because ‘the plot needs strengthening and crystallising’ (8/10/115)

Their delight in each other is almost tangible and after another long walk along the River Nene, Praed happily acknowledges that ‘there is such true companionship of mind between us that I cease to remember you are Mr Justin McCarthy and I am Mrs Campbell Praed…we are just real friends, that’s all’ (Typed Extracts, Rosa Praed to Justin McCarthy, July 1885, 8/13/1). Later in this extract she affirms her deep contentment with their collaboration, ‘I know that I have nothing to fear or guard against and I wonder what I have done to deserve such real friendship’  (8/13/1).

Praed relishes the process of co-authoring with McCarthy. Writing from Chester House, she praises ‘additions and alterations’ from her  ‘dear Colleague’ and has ‘a peculiar pleasure’ reading her own writing after he has ‘touched it up’ (8/13/1). She adjusts Kooràli’s character but is uncertain about credibility; or rushes through a scene between Kooràli and Kenway because she wants it ready for McCarthy’s narrative review. ‘It amuses me,’ she writes ‘that you are being given the emotional scenes while I do the “descriptive ones” [parliamentary mis-en-scène]–and the emotional scenes were what I used to aim at….I feel that you are doing me a great deal of good as regards literary style and even if this book fails…I shall have gained much from my association with you’ (8/13/1). This is an excellent example of the dialogic mode of collaboration where one writer takes responsibility for an area regarded as the other’s expertise, and masters it. At this juncture, Praed playfully alludes to her contrary mood swings. ‘I wish you would lecture me on my faults’, she teases. ‘Don’t think too well of me – you will soon be disillusioned’  (8/13/1).

Praed fears that the writing flow of ‘Morse’, their working title, will suffer because McCarthy must rush off for election business in Ireland. She approves a suggestion he makes regarding Kenway’s treachery with the newspaper. Kenway is  pathologically jealous of the statesman’s eminence, social influence and wealth so when he discovers Morse’s friendship with the socialist demagogue, Masterson, and observes him leaving his house on the eve of violent radical riots in London, he sells the story to the gutter press. This leads to Morse’s impeachment in parliament, a plot device which had also occurred to Praed, although she had initially dismissed it because it resembled  Meredith’s Diana of the Crossways (1885).

Pausing in her literary work, Praed muses on the personal aspects of their collaboration. ‘Sometimes the thought comes over me with a flashing clarity that I have allowed myself to drift—or have been drawn into a most curious position in regard to you. Why should I trust you to take me from a different stand-point from that which you would hold in regard to any other woman?’ (Typed extracts, Rosa Praed to Justin McCarthy, Praed Papers, July 1885, 8/10/115). Personal complicity engenders psychological empathy in their cross-pollination of central characters thus offering another striking example of the dialogic mode: McCarthy adds colour to Kooràli, while Praed tweaks aspects of Morse. As both authors draft Masterson’s character, Praed insists their separate visions of this important character must harmonize and that they give each other honest, critical feedback. She is, remember, a perfectionist. ‘I think, anyhow, that you will like to know what strikes me at the moment, just as I do in your case, although I fancy that in criticising my writing you are a little afraid of hurting my feelings and won’t believe that in a sense I have no feelings at all – or that, if I had, I should be ashamed of having them’ (8/10/115).

The volume of literary work for each writer is huge as they constantly refine the narrative’s plot, tropes and characters. ‘If,’ Praed observes, ‘we can work in the same way, touching up each other, I have great hopes of doing good stuff.  It is really wonderful how harmoniously we go together’ (8/10/115).  Praed  looks forward to meeting McCarthy at the House of Commons and taking tea on the Terrace. She anticipates ‘new lights and fresh harmonies’ (8/10/115). Later, however, Praed is dissatisfied with McCarthy’s revisions and rather magnificently reminds this senior Westminster politician that ‘the politics in the book must be strong, true earnest’ or the readers  ‘will weary’ (8/10/115), a warning for McCarthy to avoid pompous prose. She also hazards a ‘dreadful’ observation: having worked over McCarthy’s ‘sheets’ by improving a particular scene with ‘a little colour and gesture’ she fears that his Masterson writing is ‘commonplace’ and the character, ‘is not strong: he is only fussy….I don’t quite know what he should be but I feel that he is not right’ (8/10/115).

Praed  knows what is contrived, what flows or what jars. ‘Why have I that instinctive feeling about your writing?  Generally, I am a bad critic of books—and yet I seem (to myself) to be able to put my finger in a second on what jars ever so little in yours and in like manner to appreciate.  Is it sympathy or that our minds supplement each other?’ (8/10/115).  She is invigorated by their joint venture and looks forward to being back in London where they ‘will consult seriously’ and face to face (8/10/115). So Praed is delighted when manuscript pages arrive by mail from McCarthy and exclaims ‘you have done just what I wanted in the dinner-party scene.  I like it ever so much.  I can’t help thinking that Kenway and Kooràli should come into that dinner.  We have three long chapters with her and this seems a good opportunity to bring both in – Kenway could go on to the Club’ (8/10/115).

As the Kooràli and Kenway scenes evolve, the writers focus on other critical aspects of the narrative. Even with separate careers, writing commitments and McCarthy’s onerous parliamentary duties, they find time for ‘Morse’. Clarke notes how very quickly The Right Honourable was written, six months from planning to completion and while co-authors were engaged with other literary projects (94). This alone makes the quality of their literary fusion exceptional.  Praed happily reports she has ‘the bones of a Morse and Kooràli scene’ and is adding to McCarthy’s pages the story of her great popularity in salon society. The following extract offers a glimpse of the time-consuming mechanics of the Victorian literary collaboration.

‘Now  I’m writing on to your pages upon Kooràli’s social success.  I cut your first page in half and have put in three or four more pages between without altering a word of yours….Then, after another page of yours three of four of mine about Morse and Kooràli comes in quite naturally.  I want to describe in narrative the strides of their intimacy….It’s quite curious how the styles blend.  I don’t think anyone could tell, in this chapter, where you stop and where I go on’’ (Typed extracts, Rosa Praed to Justin McCarthy, Praed Papers, 1885, 8/10/115).

McCarthy’s passion for the writing compact is surpassed only by love for Praed. Perhaps the two are inseparable. Later, he defends his love with dignity. ‘You,’ he writes, ‘are the only woman with whom I was ever in thorough sympathy. You are the only woman I ever loved – but there is nothing for you to be ashamed in that – nothing that you might not tell your daughter years hence…’ (Justin McCarthy to Rosa Praed, 1 June 1888, Praed Papers, 8/10/114). So when he occasionally breaches those codes of platonic love and must apologise, he is the epitome of chivalrous tact. ‘Why should you have any fear that you may make me unhappy? You are making me happy. There is no misunderstanding on my part, there can’t be any. I have your friendship – you have given me that.  I shall have it always – at least I shall never do anything to forfeit it’ (Typed extracts, Justin McCarthy to Rosa Pared, June 29 1885, Praed Papers, 8/10/90). A humbly phrased wish that they can continue with their work elicits a remorseful reply from Praed ‘I am glad that you understood the mood of mine yesterday. I was a little sorry afterwards that I had scribbled off in fiery impulse just what was in my mind’ (Typed extracts, Rosa Praed to Justin McCarthy, 1885, Praed Papers,8/10/11: 1885). Praed is indeed a woman of moods, impulses and deep emotion, characteristics with which McCarthy deliberately endows the lovely Kooràli. After all, he argues, ‘one of Morse’s (McCarthy’s?) turn of mind could not be really and deeply interested in a woman who had not moods – who was always just the same…’(Justin McCarthy to Rosa Pared, July 1885, Praed Papers, 8/9/67).

Reassured  for the moment, Praed re-engages with co-writing. She has a typically clear vision of the direction in which she wants scenes to progress: ‘I have written some slips of the Morse and Kooràli interview leaving a good deal for you to put in,’ and later, ‘I want you to make Kenway say or do something (he comes in while Morse is there) which makes Morse understand the man and the position – some characteristically mean thing on the part of Kenway’ (Typed extracts, Rosa Praed to Justin McCarthy, 1885, Praed Papers 8/10/11). Many of McCarthy’s letters to his dear comrade or dearest colleague are written from the House of Commons. In July 1885, he complains that parliamentary business has prevented him from starting work on a scene in Lady Betty Morse’s drawing room because ‘the House sat until after 5 o’clock this morning’. In consequence he left, ‘dull, morose, cross, disagreeable and got nothing done in the way of fiction’ and despairs because ‘business at the House dashes…wild hopes of returning down to see you tomorrow…’ (Justin McCarthy to Rosa Praed, July 1885, Praed Papers, 8/9/66).

By November, McCarthy is in Londonderry fighting an election for the Nationalists but delighted to receive a letter from Praed including manuscript pages. He endorses a scene involving Morse and Kooràli, which strikes him as ‘peculiarly happy’ and hopes to begin a description of the results of the elections ‘our imaginary elections and Morse’s attitude and his appreciation of their effect for his own position and his future – and he cannot make Lady Betty understand him, but the thought She [Kooràli] will approve of this, runs through all…’(Justin McCarthy to Rosa Praed, November 1885, Praed Papers, 8/9/70). He will visit Praed the moment he returns from Ireland and seems indifferent to parliamentary business, ‘why can’t I get excited?’ insinuating his preference for their imaginary political world. His irritation escalates as the extended Irish elections trespass on the collaborative writing project ‘I am making mental notes of many touches for Morse – at our election.  Oh! When shall we get to our delightful work again? I long for Morse and Kooràli. They are real and living (metaphors for Justin and Rosa?) – the people I see here are only shadows (Justin McCarthy to Rosa Praed, November 1885, Praed Papers, 8/9/71). This suggests that the world of fiction has acquired a lustre which McCarthy’s real life begins to lack. His passion for the characters (he has an excellent idea for a chapter on Morse and the depth of his love for Kooràli) offers an outlet for that real passion which must never be articulated and will never be consummated. Further delays in Dublin make him irate ‘this annoys me simply because I counted on getting home at once and getting back to our work – which I am so longing to do – long, long, longing to’ (Justin McCarthy to Rosa Praed, November 1885, Praed Papers, 8/9/71).

The intimacy of this writing partnership and the creative fusion it had yielded was gradually undermined by the contradictory dynamic which had plagued it from the outset: Praed felt unable to reciprocate McCarthy’s romantic love, but depended heavily upon it. As they commence work on The Rebel Rose in February, 1888, McCarthy can no longer conceal his passion for her. ‘I think of you always,’ he writes,  ‘you are never out of my mind. Just a week today since I saw you last’ (Justin McCarthy to Rosa Praed, February 1888, Praed Papers, 8/9/15). Throughout 1888, Praed becomes fractious and imperious with directives about how he should govern his feelings. In exasperation, McCarthy notes ‘you wish that I would not think so much about you, or care so much about you, as you fear you may make me unhappy. You seem to be afraid of some responsibility in obligation. When I get to London you shall tell me exactly what you wish, and whatever you wish for, I shall try to do’ (Justin McCarthy to Rosa Praed, 30 May 1888, Praed Papers 8/9/31).  Although McCarthy is considerate and rational when dealing with his beloved’s many emotional crises, he is incapable of addressing their cause by suppressing his love. She is, he confesses, always in his thoughts and in a context, ‘apart from books and plays and literary enterprises’ because she is ‘the one reality’ in his life’ (Justin McCarthy to Rosa Praed, February 1888, Praed Papers 8/9/19).

This was a particularly difficult time for Praed.  Bitter conflict with Campbell Praed, depression and chronic anxiety about the theatrical production of Ariane ensured that she was even more highly strung than usual. It is only when she complains of feeling bound by chains and having a duty to McCarthy  (the letter does not, unfortunately, survive) that he swiftly reassures his ‘dearest colleague’, that she is not chained to him but rather, their ‘companionship’ (unlike her detested marriage) leaves her utterly free (Justin McCarthy to Rosa Praed, 1 June 1888, Praed Papers, 8/10/114 ). Their companionship survives  Praed’s personal crisis but literary fusion is interrupted and the flow never resumes. ‘I enter into your own feeling even more thoroughly than you know’ he reminds her while gracefully accepting new constraints on their meetings. ‘We must, I suppose,’ he notes gloomily, ‘see less of each other. That will not change us’ (Justin McCarthy to Rosa Praed, January 1888, Praed Papers, 8/9/9). They write a further novel, The Ladies’ Gallery (1888) because of contractual obligations to their publishers, but it is inferior to The Rebel Rose and a galaxy away from The Right Honourable’s exceptional synergy.

It might be recalled that Clarke described the Praed/McCarthy collaboration as petering out when other pressures intervened to claimed the authors’ attention. I, however, would also suggest that this remarkable literary fusion disintegrated when a love too passionate to be concealed became its driving dynamic. Praed was a complex woman: hyper-sensitive and insecure, but brilliant and accomplished. She enjoyed close male companionship but disliked sexual intimacy. So while McCarthy’s love and literary fellowship satisfied her yearning for a soul-mate, she struggled with its inevitable sexual dimensions. His letters attest to the sensitive handling she required during crises which were often a function of her insecurities. McCarthy recognized this when he observed ‘I wish you to understand that you are only to see me when you want me and when you are free…It is so much for me to know that you are there; that you like me to be with you when it can be; that we feel with each other; that we trust each other’ (Justin McCarthy to Rosa Praed, 25 November, 1888, Praed Papers, 8/10/97).

The Praed/McCarthy dialogic collaboration was of the highest order, involving remarkable synergy in writing styles, unity of narrative vision and creative integrity. It also provided McCarthy with a vehicle through which love for Praed might be encoded in a poignant love story.  Romantic fantasy, however, rarely translates into reality, as Morse discovers when Kooràli firmly rejects his entreaties that they flee England for a life together in America. The authors, like the lovers in their novel, part company but like Kooràli herself, always remember their collaboration as ‘a joy…an ideal, which age cannot wither nor time disfigure nor life’s storms wear away’ (The Right Honourable 325).

From a portrait of Mrs. Campbell Praed by Joseph Jopling 1884 (it appears on p51 of Our Book of Memories).


Carter, David. ‘Critics, writers, intellectuals: Australian literature and its criticism’ in Webby, Elizabeth, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Australian Literature. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 2000. 258-94. Print.

Clarke,  Patricia. Rosa! Rosa! A life of Rosa Praed, Novelist and Spiritualist. Melbourne University Press: Carleton South, 1999. Print.

Ehnenn, Jill E.  Women’s Literary Collaboration, Queerness and Late Victorian Culture, Ashgate Publishing: Burlington, 2008. Print.

Ede, Lisa.E. and Lunsford, Andrea A. Singular Text/Plural Authority: Perspectives on Collaborative Writing. Southern Illinois University University Press: Carbondale, 1990. Print.

Mills, John Stuart.  Autobiography. Longmans, Green, Reader and Dyer: London, 1873. Print.

Nayder, Lillian. Unequal Partners: Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins and Victorian Authorship. Cornell University Press: New York, 2002. Print.

Praed, Rosa and McCarthy, Justin. The Right Honourable: A Romance of Society and Politics. Appleton and Company: New York, 1898. Print.

Praed, Rosa. Our Book of Memories: Letters of Justin McCarthy to Mrs. Campbell Praed. London: Chatto and Windus, 1912. Print.

Spender, Dale. Writing a New World: Two Centuries of Australian Women Writers. Pandora Press: London, 1988. Print.

Trodd, Anthea. ‘Collaborating in Open Boats: Dickens, Collins, Franklin and Blight’ Victorian Studies 42.2, (2000): 201-225. Print.

Whidden, Seth. Models of Collaboration in Nineteenth-Century French Literature: several authors, one pen. Burlington: Ashgate Publishing, 2009. Print.

Contemporary newspapers

The Spectator (15 May,1886).

Morning Post (10 May, 1886).

The Age (June 12, 1886).

The Argus (12 June, 1886).

Archive material

The Praed Papers, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, OM64-1. Boxes 8
and 12.

I wish to acknowledge Simon Farley and his wonderful team of librarians at the John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Brisbane. Their support over many months of research as I delved deeply into the Praed Papers was invaluable.

Author Biography

A recipient of an APA scholarship, Susan Laverick, is in the final stages of her PhD – the political fiction of nineteenth century Australian author, Rosa Praed.  She works under the supervision of Associate Professor Joy Wallace at Charles Sturt University.  In June 2012 Susan presented a paper on Praed’s vice-regal novels at the University of Melbourne’s Colonial Girlhood Conference.

Designed by Chris Orchard