Good morning teachers and welcome to the 2018 HSC English seminar on Module B. Today I am going to be speaking to you about Marele Day’s 1988 novel The Life And Crimes Of Harry Lavender. Distinctive ideas are an intriguing and central aspect of every novel. This novel explores the composers’ political agenda of gender inequality, and the crime and corruption of the dominant patriarchy evident in the 1980’s, reflecting the failure of the dominant patriarchy to curb its destructive impact on society. Day also investigates the theme of facades throughout this novel in relation to the disguises of Sydney and the criminality we see in society. The subversion of female characters is utilized to challenge our perception of gender stereotypes.
The crime genre is usually distinguished due to the male protagonist, femme fatal, alcohol and murders. Day uses her political agenda of female inequality to change the crime fiction genre to improve women’s status and show the corruption of the dominant patriarchy in this society. She skilfully subverts the crime fiction genre to make her political point through the masculine portrayal of female protagonist Claudia Valentine; where Claudia is initially presented as a tough talking, no nonsense male who wakes up with a hangover with a “good looking blonde”. Day has changed the expectations of a traditional tough-talking, dry witted charming male protagonist to a female, challenging the traditions of the crime fiction genre and drawing the audience in. This subverts the classic hard-boiled text, where women are often portrayed as victims; often cast as the vulnerable and sometimes dangerous and seductive femme fatale. Claudia is presented as a male character through her use of masculine language in the quote “Time to go sweetheart” and again in “C’mon mate, wake up. I’ve got to go to a funeral”. In these quotes, Day expertly challenges the crime fiction genre by subverting the famous male detective to a female investigator, and the original blonde femme fatale from being a female to now being a male. The subversion of the crime fiction genre is also shown through the setting and context of the novel. Day subverts the typical hard-boiled setting from the 1930’s and 40’s in Chicago and LA to the city of Sydney during the 1980’s. This is a significant change as it makes the problems of her fictional world relevant to the world we know today. Day’s characterisation of the female protagonist causes us to reconsider the gender roles in our own world in terms of contemporary notions about feminism.
In addition, Day expertly uses the idiomatic Australian slang to capture the authentic voice of the Australian vernacular. For example, “C’mon mate. They’re not gonna get any greener” illustrates how Day uses Australian slang and phrases to express the Australian way of speaking. Understanding the way in which Claudia lives in the male dominant world helps readers to fully appreciate the way Day subverts the crime fiction genre.
Day represents her political agenda of the corruption and failure of the dominant patriarchy through the use of a parallel narrative structure that includes the first-person narrative of protagonist Claudia Valentine and the inclusion of five italicised excerpts from Harry Lavenders biography narrative. This unusual structure helps to bring in an aspect of mystery and danger to the novel, intriguing the audience throughout. In these excerpts, Harry expresses his egocentricity and narcissism through the use of similes and metaphors, and the use of intertextual allusions throughout his biography, such as that of the allusion to the Ode to Remembrance; “the people hold sprigs of lavender, like rosemary on Anzac Day. They will remember me. At the going down of the city’s son and in the morning, they will remember me.” This represents the egocentricity of Harry and highlights Day’s political agenda; that the dominant patriarchy in society are all corrupt and full of crime. Additionally, the predominant use of impersonal pronouns, such as “me” and “I” illustrates Harry’s inflated sense of self-worth and egocentricity. Through Day’s use of the juxtaposition of the diametrically opposed characters; Claudia and Harry, we can see the crime and corruption of Harry more clearly. Furthermore, Day’s use of the traditional first person narration allows the reader to gain insight into the thoughts and motivations of Claudia Valentine and enables her to subvert the genre.
Facades is another important concept highlighted by Day throughout this novel as she explores the crime and corruption in society.
The ideas of crime and corruption is further explored in the third excerpt of Lavender’s biography where he openly admits to his criminality and experiences of multiple murders; “in the beginning it was my finger on the trigger. Now I plan and its someone else’s finger on the trigger.” The impact of Lavenders’ criminality and killings is evident in the lavender metaphor. This metaphor is a powerful representation of reality by describing the spreading and infectious nature of lavender being a depiction of the spreading nature of Harry’s crimes. When Harry “dreams” of his funeral, he believes he is important and will be remembered as a hero, not a murderer. “Rosemary for remembrance. Lavender for… me.” This extensive and ongoing metaphor of lavender symbolises the wide-spreading, violent nature of his crimes.
The life and crimes of Harry Lavender by Marele Day powerfully engages with the audience with it distinct ideas about the corruption and gender inequality in society today. Day achieves this by subverting the gender roles and conventions of the crime fiction genre through the juxtaposition of various characters and the use of intertextual allusions in several italicised experts. Despite the ongoing masculine tone and form of the narrative, Day’s thesis of replacing the dominant patriarchy with a dominant matriarchy is effective in showing the crime and corruption associated with the dominant men in society.