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Friends and Rivals


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The story of four remarkable women traversing the literary landscape of the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Australia, from one of our nation's most eminent historians.

About the Author

Brenda Niall is one of Australia's foremost biographers. She is the author of five award-winning biographies, including her acclaimed accounts of the Boyd family and her portrait of the Durack sisters, True North. In 2016 she won the Australian Literature Society's Gold Medal and the National Biography Award for Mannix. In 2004 she was awarded the Order of Australia for 'services to Australian literature, as an academic, biographer and literary critic'.


'Deeply absorbing, fascinating and moving...now for the first time I have a sense of the women behind me...I loved the tone-detached and masterly but with a light touch, and a wit that's sharp but never cruel; and always sympathetically attuned to the strain of the women's attempts to find a balance between their inner and outer lives.' * Helen Garner *
'Few other writers have such an ability to understand and describe the relationships that create the characters of her subjects.' * Sydney Morning Herald *
'Brenda Niall is in a class of her own...Her books have all been works of insight and substance, their observations carefully considered.' * Michael McGirr, Age *
'Friends and Rivals goes beyond solitary portraiture and linear catalogue to place its subjects in their landscape...Rich and digressive, these portraits are open-seamed, their complex maps pointing towards other layers, other stories, named experience alongside the unnamed and the unnameable, elision and fiction jostling.' * Saturday Paper *
'[A] formidable combination of meticulous scholarship, reader-friendly lucidity, and ideas...about the nature of feminism, biography, and Australian literary and cultural history, and about the many places where those things intersect.' * Australian Book Review *
'Among living Australian biographers, only Philip Ayres matches Brenda Niall for painstaking research serving narratives at once spirited and judicious...Dr Niall ignores nothing.' * Spectator *
'An entertaining exploration of the overlapping lives of four of Australia's most admired women writers.' * Inside Story *

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