Introduction by Fiona McFarlaneWritten with unerring skill and insight, The Dyehouse is a masterly portrait of postwar Australia, when industrial work was radically transformed by new technologies and society changed with it. Mena Calthorpe—who herself worked in a textile factory—takes us inside this world, vividly bringing to life the people of an inner-Sydney company inIntroduction by Fiona McFarlaneWritten with unerring skill and insight, The Dyehouse is a masterly portrait of postwar Australia, when industrial work was radically transformed by new technologies and society changed with it. Mena Calthorpe—who herself worked in a textile factory—takes us inside this world, vividly bringing to life the people of an inner-Sydney company in the mid-1950s: the bosses, middlemen and underlings; their dramatic struggles and their loves.This powerful and affecting novel was first published in 1961, and is the hundredth book in the Text Classics series. The new edition comes with an introduction by Fiona McFarlane, acclaimed author of The Night Guest....
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The Dyehouse Reviews
“There was something disturbing about his expressionless face. The fair, straight hair, the shrill eyes, the droop of the mouth. He picked up a pen and began doodling. A circle. Then another and another. And suddenly the eyes, withdrawn, opened wide. The dead mask of the face was swept away. The smile was sudden and electric”The Dyehouse is the first of only three novels ever written by Australian author, Mena (Philomena) Calthorpe. It was first published in 1961, and this Text Classics edition (which is their 100th Text Classics book) sports a gorgeous colourful cover by the talented W H Chong, and an introduction by Fiona McFarlane. It is set in post-war Sydney, a supposedly fictitious suburb called Macdonaldtown, the site of many factories including the dyehouse of the Southern Textiles Dye Works. It takes intimate dips into the lives of the employees: the office ladies, the manager, the pressers, the Company Secretary, the head dyer, the General Manager, the engineer, the Chairman of Directors, the setters.Competition and changes wrought by the introduction of nylon and the difficulty it presents to dyers underlie the dramas in the lives of the dyehouse employees: a late-in life pregnancy, a seduction, unrequited love, poverty, the threat of unemployment. Calthorpe highlights the management’s “us and them” mindset. Poor working conditions, compete and callous disregard by management of employee loyalty, experience and expertise, management’s lack of compassion, sexual harassment, all fuel the imminent industrial action that is hinted at but does not yet happen. Calthorpe’s personal experience working in a textile factory is apparent on every page. Calthorpe describes a time when ladies always wore hats and gloves and stockings, when all records were written by hand, when a telephone call was almost an event, when few owned cars and most walked or took public transport, when calculations were done by adding machine. This will undoubtedly resonate with readers of a certain vintage Her descriptive prose is economical and evocative: “To the south of the sandy waste a row of dilapidated houses with broken windows looked out to the sea. In these shambles human beings lived. They went to work. They were known in factory and mill. They helped create beauty and colour that found no echo in their own lives” This is an impressive debut that was unquestionably topical when it was first published fifty-five years ago.
A time capsule of Australian working life portrayed through the staff in the Southern Textiles Dye Works. The boss molests the pretty lady staff members and bullies everyone (even his boss). The women work until they get married. The men are mostly happy to be employed but few can handle the hot, wet, smelly working conditions. Those with ambitions or who class with the boss leave. The Unions are mostly ineffective. Disputes are solved through fisticuffs. The great class divide of "staff" and "employees" exist. Towards the end, the time-and-motion experts arrive and loyal staff are shown the door.This book does not contain the greatest writing but for it's historical picture of the impact of new technology, new management ideas and working conditions in Sydney 1950s, this is a gem of a book.
We are very excited to announce the 100th Text Classic: The Dyehouse by Mena Calthorpe.It's another long-out-of-print and forgotten novel, first published in 1961, and now with a new introduction by Fiona McFarlane, author of The Night Guest and The High Places.‘[The Dyehouse] is executed with a singular combination of charm, grace and tough-mindedness.’Meanjin‘The Dyehouse is an extraordinary book—a true ensemble novel, written with astonishing control and animated by compassionate intelligence. With its indelible Sydney setting, it deserves—more than deserves—to take its place among the great Australian novels about work, and to be celebrated as the 100th Text Classic.’Fiona McFarlane‘In Mena Calthorpe’s unforgettable novel work and workers’ lives are portrayed with visceral, Zola-like clarity.’Gabrielle Carey‘[The Dyehouse is] a reminder of how rarely these days fiction tackles the world of work that so dominates our lives…Worth reading as much for its social history and its understanding of human nature as its rendering of the labour/capital clash.’Australian‘Vivid, fresh and utterly unsentimental…Re-reading The Dyehouse now I am struck by how technically accomplished it is, and how each of its many characters is made distinct and alive with extraordinary economy…Calthorpe’s own experience of factory and office work provides The Dyehouse with many authentic touches (including much detail about the dyeing process) but that is not what generates this novel’s compelling power. What is so remarkable is how it captures and presents a microcosmic world, in which the human elements are all parts of a moving whole.’Sydney Morning Herald‘The Dyehouse has themes that are as true today as they were at the time of writing…Beautifully written.’Booksellers New Zealand‘[Calthorpe’s] descriptive prose is economical and evocative…An impressive debut.’BookMooch‘A masterly portrait of post-war Australia…vividly bringing to life the people of an inner-Sydney company in the mid-1950s.’Womankind‘The Dyehouse is the perfect novel for the Text Classics centenary. It’s a shining example of a book ‘we’ve never heard of’ that is very good reading indeed…I started reading The Dyehouse last night when I went to bed at 10 o’clock. I became so absorbed in it, that I didn’t turn the light out till four o’clock in the morning. That speaks for itself, I think!’ANZ LitLovers
A true gem of a book. Probably the best I ever read about the relations with work, job and workplace. Beautifully written by someone that clearly knew the industry, a former textile worker herself. Far from being a political pamphlet, the characters are vivid, complex and evolving at every page. A magnificent book.
This book is the best I've read in ages. Well-written but not too 'literary', with actual storylines and characters that you want to follow and get to know and cheer for. As I was reading, I realised how much I have been missing stories by and about real worker-type people. The so-called proletariat. Calthorpe's The Dyehouse makes a refreshing change from same-same stories by university MFA authors who rather too often overlook the experiences of ordinary folk. I very much enjoyed the accurate and informative descriptions of factory life in inner-city Sydney, Australia, including some of the technical details (told in passing as part of the general description rather than in a didactic manner), and I loved the charming scenes later in the book about one of the characters visiting his wife in hospital. I also found the descriptions of bullying by some of the factory management unsettling and rather close to the bone. It's all very well done. I'm now planning to chase up another of Mena Calthorpe's novels to read although I suspect this is the best of them. She only wrote three and this, her debut, was written and published when she was 64. I'm also hoping to unearth other novels about working class folks now my appetite is well and truly whet.
Thedyehouse got me in from its first paragraph, and I enjoyed it immensely. Its subject is, to put it broadly (and baldly!), the impact of capitalism-at-all-costs on workers. That could make for a dry, didactic book, but Calthorpe’s writing and characterisation bring the story to life. Her political message is unavoidable but it’s tempered by a cast of believable people (ranging from the cold chairman-of-the-board to the lowliest labourers), a well-controlled story that contains tragedy and romance without turning into melodrama, and writing that’s fresh and lively. For my full review, please see: https://whisperinggums.com/2017/03/15...
There was something about this that I really enjoyed but can’t put my finger on it ... not something I’d normally read but I’m pleased it was in Book Club this month ... characters were real, complications were real ... scarily enough, another Aussie novel I’ve enjoyed!
Mena Calthorpe’s debut novel The Dyehouse (1961) has a special place in Australian publishing history: it’s the 100th reissued title in the Text Classics collection, which is in itself a remarkable success story. It seems like only yesterday that I was reading Geordie Williamson’s The Burning Library – a plea for the rescue of Australia’s forgotten literary achievement, a book which I feared would have very little impact despite his eloquence. I am delighted to have been wrong about this: the Text Classics series has done more than reissue some long-forgotten titles, it has introduced new generations to some of Australia’s finest authors, and even resurrected the long dormant writing career of Elizabeth Harrower.IMO The Dyehouse is the perfect novel for the Text Classics centenary. It’s a shining example of a book ‘we’ve never heard of’ that is very good reading indeed.(I can assert that it’s a book we’ve never heard of with some authority: it’s not listed in The Burning Library, nor is it in Jane Gleeson-White’s Australian Classics. It doesn’t get a mention in Jay Vernay’s A Brief Take on the Australian Novel or his The Great Australian Novel, a Panorama. Michael Orthorfer doesn’t include it in The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World Fiction, (though to be fair, Australia only gets 10 pages in that, and we have to share them with New Zealand and the Pacific). And although The Dyehouse was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award, you won’t find it listed on Wikipedia because the records aren’t comprehensive for that era and so the shortlists are only included after 1980. I think there’s probably a very interesting story in how this particular book was (a) rediscovered and (b) chosen for the honour of being the 100th title…)According to the Text Classics website: Mena Calthorpe (1905–1996) was born in Goulburn, New South Wales, in 1905, and grew up there. After marrying, Calthorpe moved to Sydney and lived for most of her life in the Sutherland Shire. Working in office jobs and writing in her spare time, she was active in literary groups and in the Labor Party—for some years she was a member of the Communist Party, and she opposed B. A. Santamaria’s attempts to stop communism in trade unions.The Dyehouse (1961) was followed by The Defectors (1969), which dramatised unions’ internal power struggles. Mena Calthorpe’s third and final novel was The Plain of Ala, an Irish migrant story, which was published in 1989.The Dyehouse is a vivid picture of postwar Australia.
This was a pretty good read about the lives and working conditions in a dye factory i guess in about the 1930s or maybe later. It was reasonably interesting but not overly compelling and because there were so many characters you never delved really deeply into any of them. but i would still recommend it as a good lefty read.