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Ink in Her Veins: the troubled life of Aileen Palmer
Aileen Palmer – poet, translator, political activist, adventurer – was the daughter of two writers prominent in Australian literature in the first half of the twentieth century. Vance and Nettie Palmer were well known as novelists, poets, critics and journalists, and Nettie suspected that their eldest would grow up with ‘ink in her veins’.
Aileen certainly inherited her parents’ talents, publishing poetry, translating the work of Ho Chi Minh, and recording what she referred to as ‘semi fictional bits of egocentric writing’. She also absorbed their interest in leftist politics, joining the Communist Party at university. This, combined with her bravery, led to participation in the Spanish Civil War and the ambulance service in London during World War II.
The return to Australia was not easy, and Aileen never successfully reintegrated into civilian life. In Ink in Her Veins Sylvia Martin paints an honest and moving portrait in which we see a talented woman slowly brought down by war, family expectations, and psychiatric illness and the sometimes cruel ‘treatments’ common in the twentieth century.
Praise for Ink in Her Veins:
Martin’s scholarly text is interspersed with italicised extracts from Aileen’s poetry and diaries and novel drafts... They are vivid and bold, a troubling glance into the life of a woman who could find a way to be her irregular self during the crises of war, but not in post-war Melbourne.
DRUSILLA MODJESKA, THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
Aileen Palmer is a fascinating subject and Martin is an elegant biographer.
NATHAN HOBBY, WESTERLY MAGAZINE
I finished this book with sadness for a life and talent not realised. I wanted more for Aileen Palmer. A biographer cannot do better.
CHRISTINE BRETT VICKERS, FREUD IN OCEANIA
This life of Aileen Palmer is a meticulously researched and strikingly written demonstration of the tragedy of difference.PHILLIP HALL, CORDITE
One of Martin's biography's attractions is the literary tact with which she engages readers' empathy without special pleading. Importantly, Martin wears her scholarship lightly: the immense labour of sifting through the Aileen Palmer papers, now part of the great Palmer archive.LAURIE HERGENHAN, LETTER TO THE EDITOR, AUSTRALIAN BOOK REVIEW
An excellent and moving biography of Aileen Palmer.INGEBORG VAN TEESELING, HISTORY AUSTRALIA
Palmer died in 1988 in a psychiatric nursing home, aged 73. There were no obituaries or tributes. Martin’s book puts this to rights for Aileen Palmer, socialist and “poet of conscience”.PHIL SHANNON, GREEN LEFT WEEKLY
Ink in her Veins: The Troubled Life of Aileen Palmer...is a biography that should be read by every Australian feminist, every Australian gay person and should find an international readership.DEBORAH JORDAN, OUTSKIRTS
A feature and strength of the book is the way Martin enables Aileen to speak for herself by using extracts and quotes from the significant literary corpus, published and unpublished, Aileen left behind.ROWAN CAHILL, LABOUR HISTORY