Saturday, March 18, 2023

Norman Lindsay’s Age of Consent (1938 novel)

Norman Lindsay (1879-1969) was the one truly great painter that Australia produced (and he was arguably the finest painter of erotic art of the 20th century). While his fame rests mainly on his painting he was also a very successful writer. His novel Age of Consent was published in 1938.

Age of Consent was filmed in 1969. It was an Anglo-Australian co-production directed by Michael Powell and it’s a movie that deserves a lot more recognition.

Both novel and movie deal with a meeting between a painter and a young woman. She becomes his model, and his muse. In the novel Bradly Mudgett is forty years old and he’s broke. He’s always broke. He ekes out a precarious existence as a painter. In the movie he becomes Bradley Morahan, a much older man and an internationally acclaimed artist who decides to turn his back on the New York art world and return to his home country, Australia.

In the book Bradly rents a shack at a place called Margoola Beach. It’s primitive but it’s cheap and it’s isolated. Bradly does not like the company of people. He has his dog, Edmund. Edmund is more than enough company. The shack is surrounded on one side by the ocean and on the other by a lagoon. It’s not quite an island, but almost.

Bradly is slowly coming to realise that he’s reached a crisis in his career. He has never achieved anything approaching real success. He is afraid to take risks. He knows how to produce paintings that will sell for a few pounds. He has found a safe formula which is at least enough to keep starvation at bay.

Then he sees the girl. At first he’s horrified that there are other people in the vicinity of his hideaway. Then something about the girl strikes him. In the past he’s done nothing but landscapes. He hasn’t done figure work since he was a student. But now he thinks he wants to paint the girl. She seems to be the missing ingredient that will bring his paintings to life. She agrees to pose for him.

The girl is Cora. She’s almost feral. She lives with her foul-tempered gin-sodden grandmother. Cora is not exactly socialised. Like Bradly she doesn’t know how to deal with people. She is however a perfect model.

And he makes an amazing discovery. He is now painting pictures that are better than anything he’s ever done before. Much better. He is finally finding himself as a painter. And he’s starting to consider taking a few risks. He’s done a painting of Cora and he decides he’ll ask twenty pounds for this one. He’s not just doing good work. He’s doing work that he suspects will be saleable, at decent prices.

Then the first disaster strikes. Young Hodson shows up. Bradly had met him, briefly, in Jillabong. Now Hodson expects to be greeted like an old friend and he expects Bradly to put him up. Which is a problem. Bradly has just enough money to last him for a few months, precious months to spend painting. Now he has to feed Hodson as well. He can’t turn Hodson out. The police are after him. Bradly doesn’t have many principles but he dislikes the police and would never turn a man over to them. Not even an annoying pest like Hodson.

A bigger problem is Cora’s grandmother. She’s convinced that Cora is whoring herself out to Bradly. Cora is under-age. That gives the grandmother a lever with which to blackmail Bradly. In fact Bradly hasn’t laid a finger on the girl. She just poses for him. But Bradly is terrified of the grandmother’s threats.

This is of course (like the movie) a coming-of-age story. Cora is just becoming aware of herself as a woman. It’s all very confusing for her.

It’s also, in a way, a coming-of-age story for Bradly Mudgett. At the age of forty he knows nothing of women. His experiences with women have been confined to a few encounters with prostitutes. But Cora is getting under his skin. He thinks it’s just because she’s such a good model but unwittingly he’s getting used to having her around and he’s growing fond of her.

It’s also a story of an artist belatedly coming of age as an artist, slowly learning that maybe he is a real artist after all.

This is a very lighthearted semi-comic novel. It’s charming and throughly enjoyable and it’s highly recommended.

I’ve reviewed Michel Powell's very good movie adaptation here - Age of Consent (1969).

No comments:

Post a Comment