Three Little Maids by Ethel Turner

I was looking around for an Australian classic novel to read, when my eyes came to rest on ‘Three Little Maids’ by Ethel Turner.  First published in 1900, according to one source.  A novel that my grandmother (born in 1894) quite possible read not long after it was first published.  I know that my grandmother liked Ethel Turner’s novels.  I clearly remember reading my mother’s childhood copy of ‘Flower O’ the Pine’ fifty years ago and enjoying it.  I can no longer remember whether there were other Ethel Turner novels on my grandparents’ bookshelves.

So, ‘Three Little Maids’.  I enjoyed the novel because it made me feel closer to both my mother and grandmother.  Aspects of Ethel Turner’s late 19th century story translate easily into the early 21st century, other aspects don’t.  I would have loved this novel if I’d read it fifty years ago: the main characters are female, and they are writing when they can!


‘There was the listening hush of midnight in the house.’

After the death of Mr Conway leaves her in straitened circumstances, Mrs Conway and her three daughters, Dolly, Phyl and Weenie, move to Australia.  It’s the end of the nineteenth century, and Mrs Conway hopes to make a new life for her little family. How successful will the move be?  How will the family establish itself?

I enjoyed this novel.  I may not recognise all aspects of the setting, but that really isn’t necessary.  It’s the challenges the little family faces which make the story interesting.  And comparatively happy endings (for most) are always welcome.

In this novel, first published in 1900, Ethel Turner draws on her own upbringing.  After her father died, just before she turned two, Mrs Turner moved to Sydney with her two daughters.  In many ways, this novel reflects the time in which it is set and was written.  It reminded me (in some ways) of Louisa May Alcott’s ‘Little Women’ and ‘The Katy Books’ by Susan Coolidge (Sarah Chauncey Woolsey).

This is only the second Ethel Turner novel I have read.  Over fifty years ago, I read a copy of ‘Flower O’ the Pine’ (published in 1914).  It was one of my mother’s childhood books, and I loved it.

One day I’ll read ‘Seven Little Australians’.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

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