The Watch Tower by Elizabeth Harrower
Text Publishing, 1966, reissued 2012. ISBN 9781921922428.
(Age: Senior secondary - adult) The Watch Tower is shrouded in atmosphere and foreboding. Set after World War II breaks, Laura's mother pulls her out of school when her father dies and takes the two sisters to Sydney where she treats them as servants. Intelligent, hard-working Laura is sent to Business College while younger girl, Clare, is allowed to remain at school for a time. Graduating first in her class, Laura accepts a demeaning local job at Shaw's Box Factory so that she can support her mother and sister. Their mother flaunts her exotic heritage and returns to England for a life that she thinks befits her, leaving Laura to marry her boss, Felix Shaw.
The character of Felix is one of the more disturbing and layered in Australian literature. Something of an entrepreneur, he builds up businesses (later with Laura's significant help) and fleeces himself, or allows others to cheat him, when he sells. He often appears urbane, particularly in public, but is manipulative, unbalanced and needy in private. He is significantly given a china figure of Bluebeard, and threatens the girls overtly and with sly psychological skill, even selling their beautiful house as an undeserved punishment.
As readers, we desperately look for means of escape for Laura and Clare. They seem powerless because of their lack of a nurturing family, incomplete education, gender and personality. But are there ways out?
Older female students should appreciate the nuanced writing in this re-issued classic and hopefully be empowered by this study in how not to live.